W.G. Sebald’s For Years Now
The publication of Sebald’s second book of poems, For Years Now, came shortly after his death. Published by Short Books in London in 2001, For Years Now was the only book written by Sebald in which the contents appeared first in English. (As of January 2007, the book still has not been translated into any other language.) The twenty-three poems in the volume are all very short; none are longer than ten lines (plus the title) and most of the lines contain fewer than four words. The haiku-like poems alternate with images by Vienna-born artist Tess Jaray, who now lives in London. Jaray’s images are rigidly geometric and colorful with each image being a single color. They seem to suggest the complex order of the cosmos and I find them stunningly beautiful. The book is described by the publisher’s website as a collaboration between Sebald and Jaray, who first met in 1999.
For Years Now is a delightful object, with fire engine red french wraps for a cover. The pages are of substantial, almost stiff paper and are well-suited to convey the lush, exotic colors of Jaray’s images. Because Sebald died shortly before final book production, there are no copies signed by him. But copies signed by artist Tess Jaray exist (I know, because I have one that is signed by the artist).
The pairing of each Sebald poem with a Jaray image appears to have been a methodology for the two artists’ work to appear together in book form on equal terms. In the same year, London’s Purdy Hicks Gallery published a set of eighteen paired screenprints by Jaray. Most (if not all) of the images in that portfolio were the same images that appear in For Years Now. But in the Purdy Hicks portfolio, they were paired with different texts by Sebald, suggesting that there isn’t a fixed relationship between the poems and images. In the portfolio, one half of each Jaray diptych consisted of a monochromatic geometric image, while the mate (a similarly colored screenprint) consisted of a brief printed quotation from The Rings of Saturn or Vertigo. The gallery also issued a small illustrated folder promoting the set.