BOOKS: With the Eyes of Love, by Christa Blanke
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2012:
With the Eyes of Love, by Christa Blanke, translated by Sheelagh D. Graham Animals’ Angels Press (Rossertstraße 8, D-60323 Frankfurt a. Main, Germany), 2011. 168 pages, hardcover. $16.76
For 21 years, before co-founding ANIMAL PEOPLE in 1992, I moonlighted as a literary editor and publisher, chiefly of poetry, after hours on mostly animal-related news beats. Works by many authors I helped to introduce to print now claim shelf space in major book stores–but few of them won readership as poets.
There was an aspiring fictionist, who reads ANIMAL PEOPLE, whose first story I cut back into a much anthologized poem, but there were many would-be poets to whom I pointed out that they were really writing journalism, polemics, or diaries in line form. My success as an editor was mostly persuading would-be poets to write what they were actually writing, without imagining that it was poetry.
The advent of free verse almost a century ago mercifully euthanized the awkward and stilted language formerly characterizing most bad poetry. Unfortunately, the seeming ease of writing free verse seems to have killed any understanding among the majority of would-be poets that successful poems are, as Ezra Pound put it, “language condensed,” in which every word evokes images, ideas, and understandings going far beyond what the same word would mean in a simple prose sentence.
With the Eyes of Love, by Animals’ Angels’ founder Christa Blanke, is a diary in line form documenting investigations of live animal transport to slaughter, 1996-2011. Animals’ Angels investigative work, often mentioned in ANIMAL PEOPLE, has often introduced aspects of animal industry activity to public awareness for the very first time, and has had huge influence, both politically, especially within the European Union, and within the animal welfare field. Most of the major international animal charities paid scant attention, if any, to livestock transport before Blanke started Animals’ Angels. Most of these same organizations today would like donors to believe that livestock transport has always been among their urgent concerns.
Blanke, an ordained minister, wrote With the Eyes of Love in her native German. Her work was translated into English by Sheelagh D. Graham. The translation appears to be accurate and competent. But, while there is some poetry among Blanke’s observations, the editing needed to bring the poetry forward –mostly cutting to focus–has not been done. What we are offered amounts to a bleak long compendium of notes about animal suffering.
Most of With the Eyes of Love might appear in an appeal or a newsletter, and probably did at some point–but an appeal or a newsletter item would be much shorter, and would aspire to leave readers with at least enough hope to send a donation. I quit editing and publishing poetry upon realizing that while good poems may lastingly move the reader, journalism does too, and few poems are ever read by a fraction as many people as read news.
Because poetry has a limited audience, it is critical that each poem with a message should at least reach some people to whom the message is unfamiliar. Had the most evocative fragments of With the Eyes of Love been published here and there in poetry journals and edited online poetry web sites, or even just been read aloud in bars during “poetry slam” competitions, Blanke might have reached a new audience of people not yet aware of the topics she discusses.
Unfortunately, as With the Eyes of Love exists, it is chiefly a souvenir for Blanke’s many admirers.