Tania Haberland, a tri-national poet (German-South African-Mauritian) is the hybrid of a Hamburg sailor and a Mauritian artist, born in Africa, raised in Arabia and matured in Europe. She publishes, performs and exhibits her poetry and multi-media collaborations across the globe, and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of CapeTown. Her first collection Hyphen won the Ingrid Jonker Prize in 2010 and her poem ‘Resurrection’ was short-listed for the Gerald Kraak Award in 2016. In 2019, Mille Grue editions published her first bilingual collection Water Flame / Fiamma d’acqua. Tania lives in Italy where she writes, teaches, sings and creates with the water as her element of connection to this world.
Tania Haberland’s poetry is transubstantial
When I say that Tania Haberland’s poetry is transubstantial, I mean that the poet’s creative consciousness doesn’t only give a magical dimension to the ordinary, but that the reader too becomes a participant in a ritualistic celebration converting the ordinary into the extra-ordinary, as real life experiences transubstantiate into words that become poetry, such as in the poem ‘Beloved’.
Tania Haberland’s glowing lines seem to draw - using letters of fire - a circle previously opened by Emily Dickinson’s words ‘Water is taught by thirst’, the quotation that sets alight the water flame of this collection. The thirst for freedom and the thirst for home, along with a sense of burning and fire teach us the poetic value of water and highlight the author’s rêverie – as Bachelard would say.
Tania Haberland feels, lives and tells the world in a fluid way, throwing us into a dimension out of time and space, which manifests itself in an ‘in-between’ miracle: an ‘in-between’ that is divine without being religious, provocative without showing-off, tender but not mushy.
She writes with the conceit of poetic wisdom, slicing open and splicing the ‘normal’ with lyrical powers of Eros, so distinctive that it’s hard to re-enter the ‘real’ world again unmoved from one’s perceptual axis.
(Grace Kim, Stellenbosch Literary Project)
Each section of Water Flame (Hyphen and Other) is opened by a mythological sea creature: a siren and Triton, two divinities serving as guardians of the poetic ‘gates’ of these two sections. The poem ‘Reading Zagajewski’, placed at the end of the collection, serves as a resounding (river) mouth for both of these mythic sources – it metaphorically ends both streams: ‘at last, the words spill. Drop by drop. / Putting out the fire.’
In 2010, when Hyphen was awarded the Ingrid Jonker Prize (the most important South African award for debut collections), the committee appreciated
The ‘quiet humour’, the delicate capturing of ‘human strangeness’, and the refusal to embellish; a rich addition to English South African writing… there is not a single poem in this volume that does not expand the reader’s conscious... lushly evocative and yet also understated... this is a literary poetry, rich in ideas which repays study and thought.
In the collection Other, this process of immersion in a ‘theatre’ of the ‘in - between’ continues by lighting up the sine qua non condition necessary to experience it: being inside the ‘other’, for the ‘other’, being ‘other’. This ‘other’ is also an ‘elsewhere’, beyond, and certainly offers an unexpected and strange but positive diversity, as well as a locus-logos where the reader can reflect, grow and converge.
In this ‘other’ amniotic liquid, Haberland’s poetry is even richer in sensuality when compared to Hyphen. It develops a gaze that drips with wonder, together with the concept of a strong tenderness, one she calls ‘the technology of tenderness’.
Her writing can’t be enclosed in a single category because her bittersweet tone, combined with a sharp accuracy, allows her to combine a sense of intimacy with punk traits, lyricism with pop, always moved by an anticlerical dizziness that, as a counterpoint brings her to compose verses bathed in a metaphysical and secular spirituality with a natural ease.
Her biography tells us a lot about this poet’s international background, whilst also allowing us to understand why these migrant pages, through their internal shifts and side-slipping meanings,wandering from land to land and travelling from memory to memory, consider water to be their home.
Tania Haberland moves smoothly from haiku to prose poetry – this technical detail reveals how much she passionately loves freedom, and not only the expressive kind. Her silver-tongued expressivity and her concept of a poetry spinning at 360 degrees, come from her ability to be totally alone with her writing, as well as to step into the shoes of a performance poet, always fully living the poetry rite, both as a social and a political state.
These translations are the results of a long journey that started in 2015, during the PoesiaPresente Festival (Monza, Italy), when I translated the first group of poems. These poems then increased in number, ‘til we came to the decision to publish them in this anthology.
Through immersing myself in these deep currents I have had the possibility to swim in the waters of this siren who lives in the ocean’s abysses and swims upstream with her ink in order to reach the source.
For the Italian version I adopted simple and linear solutions, trying to respect the meaning and sound of the original words, considering the general breath of the verse, as much as its internal beat.
In some cases I used a few neologisms, like ‘corallata’ (coraled) or new linguistic solutions like ‘pelle d’ocato’ (goose-bumped) or ‘neve-baciati’ (snow-kissed), compound words becoming adjectives, leading to combined experiences, a typical characteristic of Haberland’s poetry.
Without Tania’s collaboration, I would not have rendered proper service to her poetry and I would have never reached the quality I was looking for in these translations.
Thank you Tania for the strong experience we’ve shared.
Afterword to “Water Flame – Fiamma d’acqua”, Mille Gru Ed., 2019
Tania Haberland's poetry selection / (Untitled)