Evelyn Schlag

The Austrian poet and prose artist Evelyn Schlag was born in 1952 in Waidhofen an der Ybbs. She studied German and American literature at the University of Vienna, and taught Mittelschule in Vienna before returning to Waidhofen and taking a part-time position teaching German and English at the Bundeshandelsakademie. She has produced a steady stream of volumes since her debut publication in 1981. These include, in addition to her volumes of poetry and prose, a translation of the Scottish poet Douglas Dunn’s Elegies in 1991 and, in 1993, theoretical writings entitled Keiner fragt mich je, wozu ich diese Krankheit denn brauche, a work consisting of her 1993 Graz lectures about literature.

Among her many public recognitions, Schlag has received the Bremer Förderpreis (1988), the Anton Wildgans Prize (1997), and the Otto Stoessl Prize (1998). She has also been short-listed for the Aristeion prize (1998).

Schlag’s prose texts treat themes of isolation and longing. In her 1984 story Beim Hüter des Schattens, for example, she describes a woman painter’s month-long visit to a flute maker living in the wilds of Quebec and her failure to break through her host’s self-imposed isolation and to establish a lasting relationship. In Die Kränkung (1987), the heroine is isolated by illness, and her most meaningful interaction is with the English writer Katherine Mansfield, who died of tuberculosis in 1923. In her trilogy Unsichtbare Frauen (1995) women are invisible in the biographies of their famous lovers; as individuals, however, Schlag reveals that all are fascinating women who demonstrate humor, intelligence, and creativity. Schlag downplays neither a woman’s intelligence nor her sexuality. Erotic love represents an individual’s attempt to break through the barriers that otherwise separate men and women from one another and to capture, if only fleetingly, a sense of completeness. As a consequence, Schlag never denigrates the erotic drive of either her female or her male figures. Instead, she is concerned with showing how differently two people perceive each other in a relationship, and how little one person can ever know another. In two of her works, Brandstetters Reise (1985) and Die göttliche Ordnung der Begierden (1998) she even has male protagonists: the one a man who is tired of his job and out of touch with his family; the other a Roman Catholic priest whose life is thrown into disarray by his unexpected encounters with physical love.

In addition to her prose texts, Schlag has published four volumes of poetry. Many of these poems deal with the rural landscape, love, and longing, but she has also explored topics in her verse as varied as Austria’s Nazi past, suicide, and childlessness. Many of Schlag’s poems are cyclical, grouped under topics such as "Orpheus weiblich," "Soziallehre," and "Das Gedicht im Krieg." She is constantly experimenting with new forms; her collection entitled Ortswechsel des Herzens (1989) includes 84 verses in single seven-line stanzas, while the volume Der Schnabelberg (1992) includes eleven sonnets. Increasingly, Schlag is leaving her verse without punctuation; this forces the reader to read both forwards and backwards from a phrase and to recognize the deliberate ambiguities of the written text. More recently she has been writing longer, more narrative poems.

At present, Schlag’s novel Die Kränkung is available in English (with the English title Quotations of a Body, published by Ariadne Press); her short story "Touché" and several of her poems have also been translated into English and are available on the internet. She has a volume of Selected and New Poems forthcoming from Carcanet Press in 2003.

Beverley Driver Eddy