Book review: ‘Across the Land and the Water’ by W.G. Sebald

Selected poems, 1964–2001.

‘Across the Land and the Water’ by W.G. Sebald.

As a huge fan of W.G. Sebald’s haunting prose, I’ve been dipping into his poetry of late. As with his prose, it’s difficult to categorise, other than with the label Sebaldian.

This collection, translated from the original German by Iain Galbraith, is easy enough to read, but contains many allusions that aren’t obvious to the English reader. Fortunately, Galbraith provides some useful notes for each poem, which give you at least some chance of working out what’s going on. That said, it always seemed to me one of the joys of reading Sebald is not understanding all the allusions. As with his prose, it’s perfectly acceptable to let the poems simply wash over you.

The early poems in the collection were entertaining enough, but I much preferred the later ones, which seemed far more reminiscent of Sebald’s prose. Indeed, a couple of the poems concern events described in his prose books. As always with Sebald, there’s plenty of train-travel, observing landscapes, cityscapes, and fellow passengers.

I very much struggled with this collection the first time I read it. But, by the time I came to read it for third time, several years later, I enjoyed it very much indeed. Not that I could claim to understand everything that’s going on in there.

Sebaldian in the every sense of the word.

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By Richard Carter

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Website · Facebook · Twitter · Newsletter · Book

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