Sun Spots

German writer Ni Gudix's first encounter with Gerald Dawe would have a lasting effect

In September 1999, having just turned 24, I first stepped on Irish soil. I had applied from the University of Constance for a year abroad and had been awarded a residence scholarship to Trinity College, Dublin.

I was a Ulysses expert, loved Wilde and O’Casey, and wanted to deepen my knowledge of Irish literature and culture. I wanted to learn the Irish language and study poets, whom I had found it difficult to find out about in Germany.

I walked into the Arts Building in Trinity, studied the lecture plans, and immediately encountered a problem.

as a ‘foreign student’ I did not have universal access to courses and seminars but was only allowed to attend introductory courses in which sufficient places were available.

These were mostly courses for junior sophisters. However, I had already passed the Zwischenpruefung (BA) in Constance, and was familiar with what was presented in the introductory courses like ‘Intoduction to Irish literature’.

I sat in the upholstered seats of the large auditoria, often dozing off.

I had not come to Ireland to sleep. I discovered an interesting course on a list displayed beside the office of the English Department, called ‘Irish Writing and the Critical Debate’, taught by one Gerald Dawe.

There were no vacant places, but I didn’t care. I took down the time and room and appeared at the alotted time. I sat on a chair and simply waited.

I thought they were hardly likely to throw me out, or that even, perhaps, they wouldn't notice me. Dawe did notice, however, because I didn't reply to any of the names he called out.

He looked at me and all heads turned towards me at the same time. I decided to tell the truth: I was a German exchange student and wanted to sit in on the course and listen.

‘Okay’, said Dawe to my surprise, ‘no problem, well, what’s your name?’

This was my first encounter with Gerald Dawe. I stayed on in his course – it was the only one I regularly attended, having skipped all other ‘introductions’ – and thereby came into contact with writers and works, who I had not previously known: early Beckett , Francis Stuart, Elizabeth Bowen, Brian Friel, Eugene McCabe, Thomas Kinsella, Stewart Parker, and others.

We looked much closer at the ‘Irish’ and ‘Northern Irish’ questions, dissected essays on this subject (a really good one was called Writing in the S**t) and were supplied by Dawe with newspaper articles whenever a contemporary writer gave a reading or made the headlines.

For the last seminar before the end of term, Dawe brought along a friend and fellow writer who sat in front, laughed, talked and read.

Dawe’s book The Morning Train had just been issued. When I browsed in the Dublin bookshops, I spotted Dawe’s collections on the shelves – I only didn’t buy them because they were too expensive at the time.

But I stood for long periods of time in front of the shelves and read.

I liked Dawe’s poetry. His poems did not rhyme, but are so clear that you can almost see sun spots in front of your eyes when you read them.

This was the reason why I thought of Dawe five years later, when I started to build a career as a literary translator.

Strangely, in the summer 2004, I was also in touch with people who brought me back to my time in Dublin, and I came across my old folder with the notes from Dawe’s course.

I read the poems, which I had copied, and had an idea. I sent an email to Dawe and asked him how he would feel if I was to translate a selection of his poems into German.

I was delighted when he responded immediately – ‘Oh indeed, I remember you!’ – and sent me copies of his books so I could get to work.

My collection, The Visible World/Die Sichtbare Welt, contains the best of Dawe’s poems from 1973 to 2003.

From Dawe’s first collection, Sheltering Places (1978), I only translated the title poem, as Dawe considered the other poems lacking.

From the other five collections, The Lundys Letter (1985), Sunday School (1991), Heart of Hearts (1995), The Morning Train (1999) and Lake Geneva (2003), I made what I believe to be a representative selection for our bilingual edition.

Many of the poems exist today in two versions, as Dawe reworked some of his early poems, including radical cuts and restructuring. Where they made sense to me, I took over these edits and structural changes.

The sequence of the poems in this German edition is not chronological; instead there is a list in the appendix that refers to the collection in which the poems were originally published.

The beautiful aspect of Dawe’s poetry is for me its clarity, brightness and lack of cliché. Dawe is not losing himself in statements or overused metaphors, instead he burns a bright image of that what is onto the eye of the mind.

This is why the book is named The Visible World. I hope that I have been able to come close to this succinctness.

The Visible World is published by Morgana Verlag, and we plan German-Irish-Swiss readings in Dublin, Belfast, Berlin, Konstanz, and Zurich in the autumn.

Ni Gudix is the writer’s pseudonym of Gudrun Rupp. She was born in South Germany in 1975, studied in Konstanz and Dublin and is currently living in Berlin.

She also has translated several songs and poems of Brendan Behan, Robert Burns, and Irish Folk classics into German. She sings and reads them from time to time on Berlin stages.