Rolf Hermann, born in 1973, studied English and German Literature in Berne and Fribourg, Switzerland, as well as in Iowa, USA. He writes poetry, prose, and radio-plays in German. He lives with his family in Biel, Switzerland.
Hermann’s publications include three books of poetry: Homage to Backstroke Swimming in Chicago and Elsewhere (2007), Chronicles of a Crash-Landing (2011), and Cartography of Snow (2014). He has also published several CDs of radio plays and spoken word performances. His poems have been translated into Arabic, English, French, Lithuanian, Polish and Spanish and have been included in various literary magazines and anthologies.
Angelika Overath, a writer and literary critic from the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, described his works as follows: “Hermann hotwires space and time. And something flashes into being: a new sense, a beauty, something which often makes us smile. … his work belongs among the most exciting reads in contemporary German-language poetry.”
Rolf Hermann is a member of the Poetry Group Basel which organizes an annual lyric festival. Furthermore, he teaches creative writing at the Swiss Literature Institute in Biel.
For his creative work, Rolf Hermann has received recognition through a number of literary awards which include: the Cultural Encouragement Prize of the Canton of Valais (2009), Writer-in-Residence for Poetry in Tübingen (2010), the Rilke Encouragement Prize (2012), the Literature Prize of the Canton of Berne (2015) as well as a writing grant from Pro Helvetia (2015).
From the Review of Kurze Chronik einer Bruchlandung. Gedichte. (Short Chronicle of a Crash Landing. Poems.) by Angelika Overath, first appeared in Neue Züricher Zeitung, January 18, 2012.
For years, Rolf Hermann has been working on a “museum catalogue” in which to collect his picture collages. He attributes them to imaginary artists and displays them in fictive museums. Hermann excises gestures and postures out of images and combines these with fragmentary nature photographs, snapshots from the fields of architecture or technology. In this way, he brings together the pipe-smoking petit bourgeois in the idyllic rural landscape from Carl Spitzweg’s “Friedlicher Abend” (“Peaceful Evening”) with a high rise juggernaut, and then titles his creation “Happiness on the 37th Floor / Escape from the Concrete Capsule” (“Happiness on the 37th Floor / Raus aus der Betonkapsel”) [according to Hermann, the painting, by an R.J. Carlos, hangs in the Guggenheim Museum in Hausach, Germany]. Moments in images separated from one another by centuries collide. In “Peeping John / Johannes der Spanner,” John the Baptist (à la Rogier van der Weyden) contemplates Ingres’ “The Small Bather” through his window.
Hermann hotwires space and time. And something flashes into being: a new sense, a beauty, something which often makes us smile. What is immediately apparent in a single picture collage becomes more abstract in their succession, particularly as Hermann likes to write without punctuation. The reader can expect a dizzy spell. There lies a lyrical I “stark naked and / rolled together in a defective laundry drum / an El Greco in which the heavens / like blood vessels in the early morning / I sort the clothing hang the white laundry / on the cork oak and the brights / on the holly oak until it all flutters above me / in the dry wind which gathers speed.” This poem, “Duplication Attempt” (“Verdoppelungsversuch”), concludes: “so we are carbon copies / what he does I do as well and the other way around I strike / a match and he calls up the firemen.”
This is a doubling of the lyrical I. To say the least. Just as every picture collage has a different artist, the lyrical I in the texts struggles over its identity. It lives with its “Extended Family of Things in Danger of Collapsing,” it stumbles and falls: “The impact threw me head over heels / in a thousand pieces luckily I / was not alone / and the month was right / we three were two rats / and the multiplicity of my Is.” This lyrical I is “born in every place” in which it writes itself. And yet, it finds its surest footing in the vicinity of the unspectacular and the linguistic nuance it so fully expresses.
“He who doesn’t know his own furniture by its first name / should move into a smaller apartment,” his poem, “Small Advisor for the Rectification of a Burst Pipe” (“Kleiner Ratgeber zur Behebung eines Rohrbruchs”). It is completely absurd to ask after the name of the advisor. Is it also absurd to move into a smaller apartment? Creative sparks radiate out from this point. For where should one move to? “Better yet, into the toolshed / surrounded by buttercups and blackberry bushes / sheet weaver spiders.” Unexpected intensity hides in the miniatures of small relations. In the end, characterful reifications beckon against the impersonality of the plural “furniture”: “Here he measures the changes of the leaf veins / memorizes the contents of the toolbox / above all the lever mechanism of the pipe wrench.”
Despite the familiarity of the toolbox, writing remains a gamble of the first attempt. It is radical attention, a leap into an unexpected connection (the reality of aphids, mites, migratory butterflies). Constellations arise out of crash landings, shattering space and sense, then stitching them back together (“He who sinks into the observation of a paperclip / discovers there his own self portrait”); they provide assurance of a psychic reality. Even the love for Anna, the librarian, finds its place in words. Lapland, Helsinki; horizons of polar light become codes for departure into a shy happiness. Rolf Hermann has a dual aptitude for collages in both pictures and words; his work belongs among the most exciting reads in contemporary German-language poetry.
From the review of Cartography of Snow. Poems. (Kartographie des Schnees. Poems.) by Beat Mazenauer, first appeared in 041 Kulturmagazin, November, 2014.
In Swiss circles, Rolf Hermann is well known as a member of the Gebirgspoeten (mountain poets), along with Matto Kämpf and Achim Parterre. Together they advance folk poetry to a new level. But Rolf Hermann also writes lyric poems. Following the 2007 Hommage an das Rückenschwimmen… (Homage to the Backstroke…) and the 2011 Kurze Chronik einer Bruchlandung (Short Chronicle of a Crash Landing), Kartographie des Schnees (Cartography of Snow) is his third volume of poetry.
Hermann is a mountain poet who also displays great competence on the flatlands. For one thing, he lives in Biel, at the edge of the midlands; for another, he engages in a kind of “flat painting” on the accompanying vignettes in his newest collection. Under a pseudonym, he colors over the classics of oil painting with a roller and white dispersion paint. To this end, the collection begins with a sentence in white on its opening pages: “Soon it will snow, -” A sentence which can surely be attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche. And those who quote philosophers often philosophize themselves: an aspiration of Rolf Hermann’s, to be sure, though not without a touch of irony.
For this is about snow, after all, as the title would suggest. More specifically: a cartography of snow. The Swiss Society of Cartography defines the word “cartography” as a “model image of the world” in cardboard form. These models contain within them information concerning topographic, meteorological or sociological data. When covered in snow, the information disappears beneath a blanket of white. An approximation of the fundamental division between describing and mapping. A “fore word” further accentuates this point:
and deep in the inner ear
where the engraving stylus wanders
scars of snow
The pointy object that penetrates the eardrum breeds silence, deafness, a white rush of fear… so, too, these poems, whose commonality arises both from their propensity for winter whiteness, as well as from their complex lyrical forms. With this volume, Hermann furthers the poetic program of his initial publications. They achieve a topographic layer. Many of the poems are located concretely: in Swabian villages, Parisian streets, or even in Youtube.
unter dem gleichen himmel stands the air
unraveled from the snow
no further friends only acquaintances
The narrative, anecdotal of his earlier poems is replaced here by a collage combining images, symbols, and signals into new exemplars. The leitmotif is snow, whether as a silent carpet or in the swirling static of a blizzard. The lyrical perspective multiplies, acquiring hard fractures, sharp edges, and crooked layers: creating a trompe l’oeil effect. “every poem is an instruction manual” one poem reads, to some extant a challenge by the author to his readers to discover themselves in his lines and create something useful. Subject, verb, and object no longer follow one another in distinguishable form, but rather mark upheavals and truncations, spanning one another. “into the present i was i am / with you with me still long unfinished.”
In this rhythm less form, freed from punctuation, Hermann’s poems demand neither premature “under standing” nor joyous fun. Cartography of Snow plays with both noise and wonder, with quotations and embedded particles, with the comforting wisdom of snow.
Those searching for rhyme and reason will—with a bit of patience and intuition—strike the jackpot here.
beneath the earth a
sky rests unhewn
Something / Book of Poems / Irgendwas / GedichtbandI open the mailboxand cross a street.You need to say something:the sidewalk’s solid concrete.It’s about 6pm. The witheredleaves of a birch tree in the front yard,like smooth sunlight,fortunately, no bills,scraps of paper upon the asphaltand thoughts about a womanwith long white hair,walking with a cane(today, her name is Friederike),or leaf through a book of poemsfor a whileand dream of Arezzo,on a dappled panoramic map,the tentative names of summits,a speaking-into-yourself,all around, the withered leavesin the front yard. They say: was hereand shifted the snow lineso that the eyes hurt,not far from the observation point.Translated from German into American-English by Paul-Henri CampbellIch öffne den Briefkastenund überquere eine Strasse.Irgendwas muss man sagen:Der hart betonierte Gehweg.Es ist ca. 18 Uhr. Die welkenBlätter der Birke im Vorgarten,wie sanftes Sonnenlicht,zum Glück, keine Rechnungen,Papierfetzen auf dem Asphaltund Gedanken an eine Fraumit langem weissen Haar,die an einem Stock geht(heute heisst sie Friederike),oder für eine Weilein einem Gedichtband blätternund von Arezzo träumen,auf der fleckigen Panoramakartedie vorläufigen Namen der Gipfel,ein In-sich-hinein-Sprechen,ringsherum, die welken Blätter,im Vorgarten. Es heisst: war hierund verschob eine Schneegrenze,dass die Augen schmerzten,unweit des Aussichtspunktes.
Greetings from Flanders / Grüsse aus FlandernActually, there should be more in the cardsthan a few words serendipitously thrown togetherand sentences that get lost again in a flurry,so I start comparing pricing on airfares to Amsterdamor Rotterdam and jot down holiday greetingsin the light burning candles on Advent wreathsor in view of inconspicuous lovers while they are ice-skatingon frozen over Flemish lakes of the 16th century,until I smell the fresh-fallen snow in your hair,otherwise nobodyˈd believe that I am alreadystanding outside while I gaze through the roof hatchand feed on snowflakes.Translated from German into American-English by Paul-Henri CampbellAn einem Samstag wie diesem sollte eigentlichmehr drin liegen als ein paar zusammen gewürfelte Wörterund Sätze die sich im Schneetreiben wieder verlierenalso vergleiche ich Flugpreise nach Amsterdamoder Rotterdam und schreibe Weihnachtskartenüber brennende Kerzen auf Adventskränzenoder über unscheinbare Liebespaare die Schlittschuh laufenauf gefrorenen flämischen Seen des 16. Jahrhundertsbis ich den frischen Schnee in deinen Haaren riechesonst glaubt mir sicher niemand dass ich beim Schauendurchs Dachfenster schon draussen steheund mich von Flocken ernähre
Prologue / PrologBehold! I put forth few novelties, I am lazylike a snail that only dares to go outon rainy days. Not even the cropwill change that. On the contrary!The shorter the leap,the more bountiful the fields.Such things I repeat whisperingas if I were seeing the longknown stretch for the first time.Translated from German into American-English by Paul-Henri CampbellSiehe, ich mache wenig Neues, bin faulwie eine Schnecke, die sich nur an Regentagennach draussen wagt. Daran ändert auchdie Ernte nichts. Im Gegenteil.Je kürzer der Sprung,desto einträglicher die Felder.Solches wiederhole ich im Flüsterton,als sähe ich die längstvertraute Strecke zum ersten Mal.
(Untitled) / (Untitled)As soon as the ink is drygo out onto the frozen earthpull your hat low into your facethat is washed up and widehurls away from itself likea swallow’s nest smashed uplay at your feetyou pick it up and go onwith hushed stepscontinuing your pathTranslated from German into American-English by Paul-Henri CampbellSobald die Tinte trocknetgeh auf gefrorenem Bodenzieh den Hut tief ins Gesichtdas angeschwemmt und weitvon sich geschleudert wieein Schwalbennest zertrümmertzu deinen Füssen liegtdu hebst es auf und gehstmit gedämpften Schrittenweiter deinen Weg
North of Alexandria / Nördlich von AlexandriaAre we walking on sand or treading on snowjust after five when the first trainleaves the station and bussesare floating circling on their routesit is early February in Alexandriacloudy in the low ̊60s with light showersand unnoticeably Sunday sneaks upon Saturday und my breathonto yours you say from dreamsnobody has become full so far andpass a glass of water on to me againwe go to bed in an inexperienced dayTranslated from German into American-English by Paul-Henri CampbellGehen wir auf Sand oder gehen wir auf Schneekurz nach fünf wenn der erste Zugden Bahnhof verlässt und die Busseschwebend ihre Runden drehenist es anfangs Februar in Alexandriabewölkt 16 Grad mit leichten Regenschauernund fast unbemerkt reiht sich der Sonntagan den Samstag und mein Atem sichan deinen du sagst vom Träumenist noch keiner satt geworden undreichst mir ein Wasserglas aufs Neuebetten wir uns in den unerfahrenen Tag
Epilogue / EpilogMy favorite animal, the mite,is studying a crooked panel paintingon a raw wall. It showsthe growth of a volcanic conebetween July and October 1767.Like no other creature it examinesthe transitions from laying to sittingand from sitting to laying.I am humbly standing at the stove,pour water into a pan, add salt,when it approaches its boiling pointI lay a bit of thread into the pan.Our decision is made.We want to write this book in a waking state.We count to ten.Our eyes shut at four.Translated from German into American-English by Paul-Henri CampbellMein Lieblingstier, die Milbe,studiert ein schräg hängendes Tafelbildauf unverputzter Wand. Gezeigt wirddas Wachstum eines Vulkankegelszwischen Juli und Oktober 1767.Wie kaum ein anderes Tier erforscht siedie Übergänge vom Liegen zum Sitzenund vom Sitzen zum Liegen.Ich stehe demütig am Herd,giesse Wasser in die Pfanne, streue Salz.Beim Erreichen des Siedepunktslege ich ein Stück Bindfaden hinein.Unser Entschluss steht fest.Dieses Buch wollen wir im Wachzustand schreiben.Wir zählen auf zehn.Bei vier fallen uns die Augen zu.
black forest in december / schwarzwald im dezembertree stumps a tunnel and the dayyawns across the rolling hills white and blackleafing through a penny novelnote down two titles in the darkness glowinga light my heart is at home with youmeanwhile place names pass bysomewhere between –ingen and -ach1where it’s snowinga few degrees below zeroTranslated from German into American-English by Paul-Henri Campbellbaumstümpfe ein tunnel und der taggähnt über hügeln weiss und schwarzblättert in zerlesenen groschenromanennotiere zwei titel in der dunkelheit leuchtetein licht bei dir ist jetzt mein herz daheimderweil die ortsbezeichnungen wechselnirgendwo zwischen -ingen und -achwo’s schneitdrei grad unter null
rue de la lune / rue de la lunei am peeling the forecasted rainand the world hits me as wind resistancethe moon that is the little shepherdit winks and fallsfive meters per secondthe violin leads the archivein my own mouthi rephrase things withinTranslated from German into American-English by Paul-Henri Campbellich schäle den angekündigten regenda trifft mich welt als luftwiderstandder mond der ist das schäferleindas winkt und fälltfünf meter pro sekundelenkt die geige das archivim eigenen mundich spreche dinge innen um
writing approach / schreibnäherungeverything is or notand we transcribestanding on our headinto rough approximationit is absolutely undesiredyou pick up the guitarplace it onto the tablemake a bow strokeagain all quiet the room is fullwith night that braidsinto the long mane of a white horsejust before its will is brokenTranslated from German into American-English by Paul-Henri Campbellalles ist oder nichtund wir transkribierenkopfstehendins ungefährees ist keinesfalls gewolltdu nimmst die gitarrelegst sie auf den tischmachst einen bogenstrichwiederum still ist das zimmer vollmit nacht die sich flichtin die mähne eines schimmelskurz bevor sein wille bricht
still life #2 / stilles leben 2a transition from coming to goingfrom misrecognition to recognition from mistakingto misstepping in view of the still lifeupon the wall as though one put upwith it as long as something without closurein the mind and thereunder continues to existfrom line to dot from dot to linesomething flashes up because the lightbehind the fruit constitutes itself anewand in it the nautilus shellin the pocket mirror to which at the marginsa beetle with outstretched feelershas been alluding to for centuriesTranslated from German into American-English by Paul-Henri Campbellein wechsel von kommen und gehenvon ver- und erkennen von versehenund vergehen vor dem stilllebenan der wand als nähme man’sin kauf so lange etwas unabschliessbaresim kopf und darunter weiter existiertvon strich zu punkt von punktzu strich etwas aufblitzt weil das lichthinterm obst sich neu konstituiertund darin die nautilusmuschelim taschenspiegel worauf am bildrandmit ausgestreckten fühlern ein hirschkäferseit jahrhunderten verweist