Tom Schulz

Germany

Tom Schulz is a German author and translator. He was born on August 18, 1970 in Großröhrsdorf.

 

Tom Schulz grew up in East Berlin. Since 2002 he works as a freelance author. Before that he earned his living doing diverse jobs in the construction industry. Since 2008, he also works as a lecturer for Kreatives Schreiben (Creative Writing) and as Head of the Poetry Workshop open poems at the Literaturwerkstatt. Schulz has published his texts in several magazines and anthologies. Additionally, Schulz is active as a translator for Spanish, American and Dutch poets and also as an editor. Lastly, he works for the Kneipenbuchreihe at Berliner Taschenbuchverlag (Berlin Paper Books Publishers).

 

Recently published: „Lichtveränderung“. Poems. Hanser. Berlin 2015. „We're here now. New Hikes through the Mark Brandenburg. “ (Together with Björn Kuhligk). Hanser. Berlin 2014.


“Alleinstellungsmerkmale unter Apfelbäumen” (“Unique Selling Points under Apple Trees”) is the title of a chapter in Tom Schulz’ 2012 collection of poetry, Innere Musik (Inner Music), which contains the beautiful, autobiographic lines: “I live a life like / that of an inhabitant / of trees & air.”  That these lines arise neither from the romanticizing affectations of a dreamer nor the superordinating fantasies of an ironic (for whom nothing is holy), but rather that they should be understood veritably and precisely as Tom Schulz purports, is an argument which I would like to call to your attention. And I would prove it to you, as well, if that were only possible. But as this is thankfully an impossibility – poems have as much to do with substantiation as rivers do with bridges – let me instead highlight a few details from the richness of that unusually resplendent poetry which has – in my humble opinion – rendered Tom Schulz one of the most significant voices in contemporary German-language poetry.

 

I would like to introduce you briefly to Tom Schulz and his poetic works in two ways: firstly, through fragments of the fictional autobiography that we encounter in his poetry and prose – and, so to speak, allow you to bend in wonder to these elusively shimmering fragments and grasp them in your hands, the better to observe them. Secondly, through the exploration of a motif which – both latently and transparently – proves central to Schulz’ work. I speak here of the motif of grass which has appeared in various guises in his seven collections of poetry published since 1997 and in his handful of additional books of narratives and travel memoires as well. Grass is, for Schulz, an unruly metaphor; it stands for the vibrancy ascribed to the elapse of time in its innumerable manifestations. “[In] thinning air we / understand the breathing techniques of a shallow meadow” reads the opening poem of Innere Musik. But this passage speaks in no way of Zen, or only of Zen: Schulz is a master in the art of adapting every figure of speech, and his grass, too, is often incendiary, as demonstrated in the concluding lines of “Schwieriges Gedicht” (“Difficult Poem”): “I would like to show you something / that does not exist; the granite trees // before the entryway, the roots in the asphalt / the wind blows, from these defeats / grows replenishment, grass for all.”

 

Do not let yourselves be deceived, honored guests, when you read or hear that Tom Schulz was born in 1970 in the former band-weaving capital of Großröhrsdorf in Bautzen and grew up in East Berlin. While this may be factually accurate information, the truth looks somewhat different, for it is a labor of love. And so one can read in the prose-poem “Lichtveränderung” (“Change in Light”), from the 2015 collection of the same name, how Tom Schulz truly came into the world: “Once I was a cuckoo. Shot from the clock and every time of the world was my own. Sea of all seas. Land of all lands. As one and none belong no more to us. If we do as we desire. Disowning this. We, the possessors, merchants, resellers. If we do as we desire, the trees will yet be as red and blue and green as any discarded dress. Beneath them we are naked and opened to the half-burned grass in which we lay. The sweet grass that grows and sings.”

 

You don’t believe that grass can sing? Do you then find it easier to believe that Tom Schulz was trained as an industrial management assistant, served in the National People’s Army of East Germany, and was employed for ten years in the construction industry? I believe, Tom, that you are still active in the construction business; one must only consider the refined and artful engineering in the multifaceted design of his poems. I would compare his military service, then, to a potato. “An das Pampasgras” (“On Pampas Grass”), one of Schulz’ most peculiar and idiosyncratic poetic-political works, is a poem with which he recalls Hölderlin’s hymns to love and the motif therein of a society of trees: “Grow and become a forest! an inspired, / blossomed and decaying world! Language of lovers / Be the language of the land.” For Schulz it is rather: “The field becomes a field for all who desire it / a field for all who till it // a field for all who inhabit it, or have / nibbled on its grass, under the damaged roof of stars / a field in those demarcations writ as free, as indeterminate / no one individual’s property // You could, for a few days, be a potato / then you would know, how life is in the depths – you would come / from deep below, pulled forth one day, the life in the depths / taught to you by grass, the root system.”

 

Because there are so few people nowadays who seriously (and not merely academically) occupy themselves with poetry, poets encounter few labels to adhere to their work. Tom Schulz has been sorted into the “Romantic” drawer, to which his multiform poetry belongs every bit as little as it would to the categories of “postmodern” or “pop.” His influences encompass works from poets of the previous five centuries: Georg Rodolf Weckherlin, Hoffmann von Hoffmannswaldau, Johann Christian Günther, Joseph von Eichendorff, Georg Trakl, Jakob van Hoddis, Georg Heym, Johannes Bobrowski, and Nicolas Born. He stands in close poetic exchange with Sylvia Geist, Björn Kuhligk, Jan Wagner, and Ron Winkler. I, myself, have had the privilege of working with Tom to edit the anthology Trakl und wir. 50 Blicke in einen Opal (Trakl and We. 50 Glances in an Opal), in which fifty contemporary poets respond to fifty of Georg Trakl’s works. Tom has undertaken literary journeys with Björn Kuhligk, resulting in the 2014 Wir sind jetzt hier. Neue Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg (We’re Here Now. New Wanderings through the Mark of Brandenburg). Just two weeks ago, they traveled together on the Rhine, for research purposes, but also as friends. Book by book, from poem to poem, one can observe in Schulz’ work how free writing transpires: consulting the old, attempting alternatives, and discovering new, unspoiled fields. That which is creative must create itself, John Keats one said.

 

One of the most resounding of Tom Schulz’ poems bears the name of the now Polish city once known as Neisse:

 

Nysa

 

the grass sleeps, the grass

sleeps here, i feel

the clouds sinking, every beast

 

joins in the silence

the syllables lie heavy

the voice tunes the bow

 

every song falls silent, it sleeps

the grass, the language of all fallen

things, grass

 

i see the sky go

down, to rest, to rest

the winds whisper to

 

in the reeds, i sleep like grass

the evening darkens, the shed

blood, it sleeps the grass

 

Something bright green flashes in the earth below this grass. When the light falls on it, four lines from Eichendorff gleam forth. Schulz does not reassemble the shards, yet his poem is restoration, perpetuation, proof of the vitality of Joseph von Eichendorff’s 180 year old poem, “Wünschelrute” (“Divining Rod”): “A song’s sleeping in all things, / That dream there onward, onward, / And the world begins to sing, / When you strike the magic word.”

 

The magic word! Tom Schulz believes in it, and in many of his remarkable poems, he seeks after this word. It points to a music of meanings which seems to resound in the very things themselves. Should that secret word which Novalis claims will chase away the entire inverted substance prove to be “grass,” “grass written as many words,” to follow Paul Celan? For whatever thing grass functions as a placeholder, it binds together living and dead, silence and speech, animals, people, all things, questions and answers. It demands the impossible. It suspends death. It permits love to triumph. It grows, simply grows onward. The lines: “Be a field, lie open, neighbor to the buckhorn / and this bountiful meadow belongs to all, all, all” conclude Schulz’ poem, “An das Pampasgras.” A great distance from the Central American pampa through which the poet traveled to old Neisse, and the Upper Silesian-Bohemian border. But Schulz is never concerned merely with geography or memory, period atmosphere or local color. Schulz follows Johannes Bobrowski’s perspective that a verse should again be more incantation, more magic spell – musically and magically recalling the treasures our childhood so generously afforded us.

 

In the old Jerusalem Cemetery in Nysa lie Eichendorff and his wife Louise, in grass read backwards, one might say.[1] In his journal, published this spring, Das Wunder von Sadagora. Eine polnisch-ukrainische Reise (The Wonder of Sadagora. A Polish-Ukrainian Journey) Schulz describes the haunting observations, sentiments, and reflections concentrated in his poem – even if “Nysa” was already composed before the poet visited the city, itself. There are no borders and no chronology in the imagination; there nothing is dead, everything lives. Johannes Bobrowski once described a sandy path in Berlin-Friedrichshagen in this way: “It transitions into the meadow. Or the meadow ends. Or it transitions into a path. How is this precisely? There are no borders. The path neither ends, nor does the meadow begin. This is not expressible, and yet this is the place we live.” Tom Schulz arrives in Nysa listening to music – an all but-unknown piano trio by the Liechstensteiner Josef Rhenberger, and he describes his arrival in the city thus: “The bus stops in Paczków, a tiny community with a central church and old city walls, a cemetery, gardens, beehives, yard dogs. A newly paved country road. Rheinberger, all but forgotten. The longer we live, the closer we approach forgetting. We accumulate forgetting all our lives. Without realization. And in the end, perhaps, we no longer know our names.”

 

Please allow me, honored guests, not to conclude with the end, but to return to the beginning and start anew. Further fragments hidden in his fictional autobiography reveal Tom Schulz to us as “too close to Silesia.” Silesia, for him: “a sea of green grass.” Everything in his work is living, has many pulsing names, can reveal with a slight of hand a new and unexpected form, and in this way echoes in memories for us all. In “Auf einer der Ameisenstraßen” (“On One of the Ant Trails”), he writes: “Grandfather caught behind the shed a ragged beast / which appeared upon the table accompanied by raisins,” continuing “everything floats; everything was only dreamed … // how weightlessly we blew over, like grass.”

 

The thousandfold grass is emblematic of that vibrancy to which Tom Schulz alludes: as rebellious as it is serene. We encounter it again in his newest collection. Die Verlegung der Stolpersteine (The Relocation of the Stumbling Blocks) will be published this coming January. In it, he writes: “I entered a meadow / where it was sloped // I strode along the slope // a waste heap opened there / of gladiolas and grass / the green bridge led over them.”

 

Dearest Tom, thank you for the green bridge of your exhilarating poetry. My deepest congratulations at this, your conferral of the Liechtenstein-Preis!

by Mirko Bonné

 

[1] Here the author makes a play on the German words “Gras” and “Sarg” (read in one direction: “grass,” in the other direction, “coffin”).

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by Tom Schulz