Beautiful Things, Menno Wigman, translated by David Colmer
Arc Publications, 2020 £6.30
The miracle of life, understood at its end
Menno Wigman died aged 51 from a heart condition. David Colmer’s translation of his work is described as a ‘memorial pamphlet’.
The publication opens with an introduction by the translator about Wigman, whose writing often centres around the experience of illness, and about the regrets that come with knowing his life will be limited. While it’s unashamedly bleak in many ways, there’s an atmosphere of tender beauty, which means the writing doesn’t feel embittered. This subtle difference is hard to pull off. It provokes sympathy, and allows the reader a means for reflecting personally on weakness and regret.
This is a short work of just eight poems, set out so the original text is on one page and Colmer’s translation opposite. In ‘After the Reading’, we get the comic angst of listening in to a poet’s thoughts:
It went okay. Okay, I guess.
But the desolation round my words!
And that mercilessly amped-up voice!
The audience’s way of weighing everything
I say and am or seem while I just make
a monkey of myself with something as defenceless,
as hard not to despise, as craftsmanlike as poetry.
And then we get the regrets that can torment a person, such as in ‘Goodbye to my body’:
Why, my body, did I never believe in you?
Why did I insist on living in my head
It’s as if the narrator only truly sees and learns to appreciate his life when it is too late. The poems display the narrator’s startled clarity as his body begins to fail. In ‘Infinitely awake,’ he notices:
Beautiful things, all beautiful things:
your hand when you first dared to stroke a cat
your mother gently bandaging your knee
Ostensibly small moments now resonate with bitter-sweet significance, listed as if trying to hold onto them like water clutched by fingers. He speaks them:
beautiful things and my mouth brings them back
before I bow to that dumb black.