W G Sebald – poem

This week it is 20 years since the writer W G (Max) Sebald died, aged 57.
Propolis, the publishing arm of Norwich-based The Book Hive, published Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W G Sebald (2014). This memoir was written by Philippa Comber. She met Sebald in 1981 in Norwich where they both lived. They hit it off and became friends.


Philippa and I met in Manchester late 2004 at a series of poetry workshops and we hit it off too: both practising psychotherapists with several shared interests. I remember Philippa telling me she was planning a visit to the German museum dedicated to Sebald to read the letters that she had sent him over the years.


Sebald died in a road-traffic accident near Norwich. According to the coroner’s report, he had died of a heart attack before colliding with a lorry. Memory, loss of memory, decay, exile are the main themes of his books with their unique blend of fact, recollection, and fiction.

Knowing and not knowing

I know I mustn’t eat grapefruit as it interferes
with the effect of the medication. I don’t need to know
the Table of Chemical Elements, though I do know
that a few elements have recently been added and
Rutherfordium is one of them.

I know and remember the view of the Wash and the silver
ribbon of the Broads as the plane turns. I don’t know
the names of narrowboats and yachts, but I do know
that the beach huts in Wells-next-the-Sea are on stilts.

I know someone who was a good friend of W G Sebald
and that her letters to Max are archived in a museum
near Stuttgart. I know where I was when I heard on
the radio that Sebald had died: the A17 heading for Norwich,
just before a round-about.

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