Colonies of Paradise: Poems

Image of Colonies of Paradise: Poems
Release Date: 
October 18, 2022
Reviewed by: 

Ranging across the globe and excavating past and present, Colonies of Paradise by Matthias Göritz is a personal journey of self-discovery. Granted, that previous line sounds unbelievably trite and unabashedly vague, but Göritz has created a personal poetics with narrative fragments replete with idiosyncratic metaphors. How has traveling across the globe and attempts to recapture memories of his mother create his unique literary perspective? Thrust into this situation is Mary Jo Bang, renowned translator of Dante. Bang, an alum of Northwestern University, where TriQuarterly is located, provides a personal and organizational link to the poems. Included in Colonies of Paradise is a series called “Loops: Chicago.”

In the poem “Cruiser,” Göritz explores street names on Chicago’s grid:

“Put out to sea

in a summer full of sweat beads


in the Land of the Lincoln

I know I’m right here


here at the crossroads

State at Grant


turn right off Grant at Wabash

turn right off Wabash at Illinois


and keep turning right off

Illinois at State


Perfected corners

Perpetual spinning top”

A paradox emerges from the poem. It is about perpetual motion and turning corners, yet the narrative seems stillborn, a fragment. Non-stop motion, yet the story can’t start.

Prior to “Loops: Chicago” is “Crows: Paris.” A titular nod to Crow by Ted Hughes, it is a journey through Paris in narrative fragments and sporadic memories. The opening poem, “Primal Crow” ends with these words:

“the birds

obscuring the air,

the question marks,

and likewise what seems to be trees,


isolated trees,

with bare limbs,

a shrine of coarse cries.”

What does he mean by “seems to be trees”? The “seems” adds a layer of ambiguity to the stark portrait of birds on trees. A previous stanza paints this picture: “In the windows / of the bistros and cafés, / something missing.” The narrative, what should be nostalgic, is pockmarked with absence and ambiguity. Forgetting slowly eats away at the poet’s memories, only to be left with disjointed shards.

“Cathartic Osmotic” is a short poem, laden with meaning and enigma. Here it is in its entirety:

“Where life exhibits utmost frailty at its outer extreme

Where hard water collects itself

Mornings in the saucepan-teakettle



Hereupon the disappearing I am

Heated liquid sunshine

Torn by a cloud of two minds”

It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Paul Celan in something brief, jagged, and hallucinatory. Again the reiteration of the concept of a fragmentary narrative. A story attempting to start but stumbling into language’s traps. The catcalls of “What does it mean?” echo against the brief assemblage of images. Attempting to explain this poem seems both an exercise in futility and a betrayal of whatever obscure alchemy is at work with the language. In her Translator’s Note, Mary Jo Bang compares Göritz’s work to a novel, “a fragmented, lyricized, contemporary Bildungsroman.”

Since this is contemporary poetry, Bang conversed with Göritz “about how to make them [the poems] act in English as they act auf Deutsch.” These conversations come as a refreshing antidote to the modern robo-hysteria involving Google Translate and ChatGPT. With poetry and literature, not only is human experience hard to replicate, but so is the art created from the reaction to the selfsame human experience. There is probably a way to translate Colonies of Paradise from its original German into English using a technological shortcut, but how accurate would it be? Could a machine understand wordplay or understand how the art of translation isn’t simply a literal conversion? “[Y]our turn / to discover in terms of the sentence / no comment[.]”