Thursday, 25 November 2010

Evelyn Holloway's Shadowlights

In a tunnel-like building that smells of burnt coke and worked metal I imagine the dragon roar of the furnace and through the sparks and clouds I see the shadowlights lick the curved ceiling and walls.

I hear the clinks and taps of ghostly figures at work on their anvils. And the heat. The imagined heat is enormous. I wonder how many horseshoes would have been produced in a place such as this situated as it is in the chief metropolis of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the centuries before the horseless carriage appeared? It must run into millions.

A moment of truth finally arrived yesterday in the smithy where hundreds of tools comprising hammers, files, mallets, pincers, iron masks, wire brushes, pokers, clippers, chains, benders, straighteners, dowsers, blocks, rags, moulds and all manner of long-handled ironmongery, the required paraphernalia and tools of the trade were on display on the walls and work surfaces.

And there below the tools a row of formidable vices standing in line; sentries on a long workbench looking silently from below the rough limewashed bricks of this place which is the Alte Schmied.

I was delighted to be in that location to witness the presentation of the first volume of poetry from the pen of 55-year Evelyn Holloway, a Viennese poet and also a resident of St Ives in Cornwall who writes equally well in two languages; English and German.

Shadowlights (or Schattenlichter) is a handsome 128-page hardback and I found that the poems are conveniently set out for the bilingual reader like myself, with the original English versions on the left-hand pages and the translated-German versions on the right hand page. The poet under the glare of the ceiling spotlights read a small selection of her poems first in English and then in German.

Evelyn Holloway's work is influenced by a close encounter of the poetic kind with the playwright Samuel Beckett in Oxford in 1973. In a 3-page poem titled Meeting (Begegnung) she tells of this meeting and how the words of Beckett affected her future development as a writer.

And so he buys a dress for me,
green with splinters of glass stitched to the front.

It is a candid account of a young student meeting her literary hero. And that is Evelyn Holloway's way. In fact she is at times much more than candid. She is an honest and fearless writer. She is not afraid to meet her ghosts as in her poem Letter to the Past (Brief an die Vergangenheit). In another poem she writes of Virginia Woolf:

Beauty does not come from the surface.
It is loving each tree, each seagull,
loving the silence and the screaming winds.
. . .

Where is she?
Frozen by fear in bed last night
Obscene murmuring of an old man

A poem Figure in Landscape (Figur in Landschaft) was read by the author. It brought a Barbara Hepworth sculpture to life.

For me, Evelyn Holloway writes the most illuminating and revealing poetry to come from a female poet in Austria since the era of Christine Busta.

Probably as a result of her lengthy sojourns in Oxford and Cornwall she finds herself in the dualistic role of an insider and outsider looking in and out at the same time. From this unique vantage point she is now able to produce important work.

Shadowlights (Schattenlichter) may turn out to be one of the best debut collections of 2010 .
ISBN 978-3-85129-887-1 - Wieser Verlag, A-9020, Klagenfurt, Austria

Gwilym Williams


  1. I have known and loved Evelyn's work for several years - it touches the soul. I very much look forward to reading Shadowlights.

  2. I’ve found three poems by her online, ‘Letter to the Past’ on your own site, ‘Beyond the window’ at Labyrinth Poetry and ‘Dreams’ on page 21 of Shearsman 59.

  3. Thank you Steve.
    "it touches the soul" that's a lovely way to feel it.

    Jim, thanks for those links!


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