marie howe | prayer

26 11 2009

Poetry Dispatch No.301 | November 26, 2009 | THANKSGIVING DAY



by Marie Howe

Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important

calls for my attention—the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage

I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here

among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.

The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

[from THE KINGDOM OF ORDINARY TIME, W.W. Norton & Co. 2008, $13.95]]

ed markowski | photo in a junk drawer

24 11 2009

PoetryDispatch No. 300 | November 24, 2009


photo in a junk drawer

i show up under a tangle
of shoe strings rubber bands
& holy cards left over from
my mother’s funeral wearing
a long sleeve black flannel shirt
mime’s make-up & black wayfarers
that on this frigid january 11, 2008
still reflect the light of an explosion
dead center in both lenses back into
a drooping smile that disguised two
fractured eyes as my third grazed
blinked & wept in the seductive scent
of a malignant blossom before waking
as i slept in an aluminum lawn chair
on skinny jimmy’s sagging porch under
a pewter moon gripping a flame tempered
tea spoon that held the delicate & delirious
soup we fed each other under lock & key
in a cellophane bubble of oxygen
deprivation rocketing back to that
deserted planet we discovered in a
sun starved upper flat above jupiter
avenue the night of july 22nd, 1972
thirty sad & suffocating days before mary
splashed down somewhere off the coast
of nowhere & drowned in the shallow
golden bowl of a souvenier spoon from
coney island on the hood of doc magee’s
64 galaxy in an alley with no exit behind
vito’s tel-star bar & pizza.

vaclav havel | writer and ‘revolution’

18 11 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 203 | November 17, 2009


(Writer and ‘Revolution’)

This is the 20th Anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, which led to the downfall of the Soviets in Czechoslovakia and the creation of the Czech Republic. Havel, one of my heroes, who speaks to a large part of my heritage, the human condition, the artist as statesman, not to mention the ‘writer as witness’…ailing, much older, was there to deliver the opening remarks in celebration of the student uprising that took place in Prague on November 17, 1989.

Times there have changed—for better and worse—but Havel lives on. Still speaks with such power, depth, common sense, that I thought it perfect and appropriate to go back to his book of 1990 and revisit the real poetry of power. If you have never read him, seen his plays, heard him interviewed…you will sense immediately the man’s heart, vision…self-deprecation.

Not many artists or writers of his caliber find themselves thrust into the role of national politics. I sometimes speculate / compare one American playwright who might have been our Havel had circumstances here proved similar.

Only one man of words comes close: Arthur Miller. –norbert blei

You’ve evaluated yourself as a playwright; how would you evaluate yourself as a person? …perhaps this might be an occasion for some self-reflection…

It’s a diabolical task, and the first and only thing I can say about it right now is that my life, my work, my position, everything I’ve done, seems intertwined with a suspiciously large number of paradoxes. Take this one, for instance: I get involved in many things, yet I’m an expert in none of them. Over the years, for example, I’ve become known as a political activist, but I’ve never been a politician, never wanted to be one; I don’t have any of the necessary qualities for it. Both my opponents and my supporters see me as a political phenomenon, though nothing I do can be considered real politics. Every once in a while I philosophize—yet what kind of philosopher am I anyway? Certainly I’ve enjoyed reading philosophical books since my youth, but my philosophical education is more than shaky, and thoroughly piecemeal. I occasionally write about literature—yet, if there’s anything I most certainly am not, it’s a literary critic. There are times when I even stick my nose into music, and yet, if anything, my musicality is only a source of general amusement. Even in what I would consider my chief, original vocation—theatre— I’m not really an expert. I went through theatre school quickly and without much interest; I don’t like reading plays or books on theatre; I don’t enjoy going to most theatre; I have a personal opinion, of sorts, about the kind of theatre I like, and I write my plays in that spirit, but that’s all.

So I’m not at all certain that theatre is my very own, unique and indispensable mission. I can easily imagine that, if an irresistible opportunity were to come my way, I could just as easily devote the same amount of energy to another discipline. I certainly don’t feel like a professional theatre person, one inevitably drawn to theatre, whose destiny is forever linked with the theatre. And rather than be a dramaturge in any old theatre just because I’ve been trained to be one, I’d prefer to go back to working in a brewery. In any case, as a dramatist I’m somewhat suspect: I can write in my own highly particular way, within the limits of my narrowly defined poetics, but if I had to write something that even slightly departed from that, I would probably be a miserable failure.

In general, then, though I have a presence in many places, I don’t really have a firm, predestined place anywhere, in terms of neither my employment, nor my expertise, nor my education and upbringing, nor my qualities and skills. I’m not saying that airborne, unrooted, disturbing existences such as mine are not necessary. But this alters nothing in the paradoxical tension between the seriousness with which I am accepted and my amateurism. The list of my private paradoxes doesn’t end here, it’s just the beginning. Some others, at random: I have chosen a rather agitated way of life, and I myself am always ruffling the surface somewhere, yet I long for nothing more than peace and quiet. I have an extraordinary love of harmony, comfort, agreement, and friendly mutual understanding between people (I’d be happiest if everyone simply liked everyone else, always); tension, conflict, misunderstanding, uncertainty, and confusion upset me; yet my position in the world always has been and continues to be deeply controversial. I’ve been in conflict with the state and with various institutions and organizations all my life; my reputation is that of an eternal rebel and protester, to whom nothing is sacred; and my plays are anything but a picture of peace and harmony. I’m very unsure of myself, almost a neurotic. I tend to panic easily; I’m always terrified of something, scared even that the telephone might ring; I’m plagued by self-doubts, and I’m always masochistically blaming or cursing myself for something; yet I appear to many (and to a degree rightly so!) as someone who is sure of himself, with an enviable equanimity, quiet, levelheaded, constant, persistent, down-to-earth, always standing up for himself. I am rational and systematic, I love order and orderliness; I am disciplined and reliable, at times almost bureaucratically pedantic; at the same time I’m oversensitive, almost a little sentimental, someone who’s always been drawn by everything mysterious, magic, irrational, inexplicable, grotesque, and absurd, everything that escapes order and makes it problematic. I’m a sociable person who likes being with people, organizing events, bringing people together; a cheerful fellow, sometimes the conversational life of the party, one who enjoys drinking and the various pleasures and trespasses of life—and at the same time I’m happiest when alone, and consequently my life is a constant escape into solitude and quiet introspection.

You pointed to another paradox yourself a while ago, and even though I was able to show that it wasn’t really a paradox, I admit that it must seem that way: I write mercilessly skeptical, even cruel plays—and yet in other matters I behave almost like a Don Quixote and an eternal dreamer, foolishly struggling for some ideal or another. At my core I’m shy and timid—and yet in some forums I’m notorious as a rabble-rouser who is not afraid to say the toughest things right to someone’s face. Or something else, which I’ve already mentioned in another connection: for many people I’m a constant source of hope, and yet I’m always succumbing to depressions, uncertainties, and doubts, and I’m constantly having to look hard for my own inner hope and revive it, win it back from myself with great difficulty, so that I scarcely seem to have any to give away. So I’m not really comfortable in the role of a distributor of hope and encouragement to those around me, since I’m always on the lookout for some encouragement myself. I come across as one who is steadfast and brave, if not hardheaded, who did not hesitate to choose prison when far more attractive options were offered him— and there are times when I have to laugh at my reputation. The fact is, I’m always afraid of something, and even my alleged courage and stamina spring from fear: fear of my own conscience, which delights in tormenting me for real and imaginary failures. And all that heroic time in prison was in fact one long chain of worries, fears, and terrors: I was a frightened, terrified child, confusedly present on this earth, afraid of life, and eternally doubting the rightness of his place in the order of things; I probably bore prison worse than most of those who admired me would. Whenever I heard the familiar shout in the hallways, “Havel!,” I would panic. Once, after hearing my name yelled out like that, I jumped out of bed without thinking and cracked my skull on the window. And with all this, and despite all this, I know that, if it were necessary, I would go back to prison again, and I would survive.

I could make a long list of such paradoxes, but my reluctance to talk about myself in public is gradually winning out over my good will in wishing to answer your questions truthfully, so I’ll conclude with some questions that I sometimes ask myself: How does it all fit together? Why don’t these paradoxical qualities cancel each other out instead of coexisting and cooperating with each other? What does all this mean? What should I think about it all? How can I—this odd mix of the most curious opposites—get through life, and by all reports successfully?

One final question. Given this awareness of yourself, how do you see your future? What do you think is awaiting you? What do you hope for, and what do you expect?

The paradoxes will continue. I’ll go on, as I’ve always done, sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper with distaste; I will try everything to avoid writing, always terrified of those first words on the page. I will continue to find artificial ways of giving myself the courage to write. I will despair that it’s not coming, yet I’ll always manage to write a new play. The mysterious inner furies who have invented these torments will probably not leave me in peace and will have their own way in the end. As always, I will be upset by all the expectations (many of which are out of proportion and even foolish) that I’m burdened with, and all the roles, from the representative to the Good Samaritan, that are prescribed for me. I will continue to revolt against them and reclaim my right to peace—and I will ultimately carry out all these tasks and even find sincere delight in doing so. I will go on being bothered by things, fearing some things, getting into states, blaming myself, cursing, and despairing—and, as always, I will be found reliable and will be seen where my place is. I’ll always end up paying for it, but, oddly enough, I’ll survive and be there, causing disruption wherever necessary.

I can only conclude this prediction, and our conversation, by attempting to articulate the final and obviously the most paradoxical paradox of my life: I suspect that somewhere, deep down, I find this paradoxical life of mine terribly entertaining.

[from DISTURBING THE PEACE, Václav Havel, A Conversation with Karel Hvίžďala. translated by Paul Wilson. Knopf, 1990]

mark terrill | part II germany

15 11 2009

Poetry Dispatch No. 299 | November 15, 2009


Editor’s Note: The Atlanta Review and the guest editor for this issue, Mark Terrill, are to be congratulated for bringing together a special International Features Section: “The Poetry of Germany.” In all honesty, there isn’t a bad poem in the batch. I could have easily chosen six other poems, six other poets. Every poem in this collection says it…gets it right, holds you still in time and place, leaves you both wondering…and in a state of wonder. Germany, for certain, past, present, future lives and breathes in these lines.

Anyone who knows me, my history, work, websites, workshops, talks, passions, knows I am a lover and advocate of the literature of other countries and cultures. I think it was there from the very beginning, having gown up in an ethnic family, another language and way of life. When I began to write (my first stories for sure) it was other cultures, I turned to for a sense of story, structure, theme: Russian, Czech, Polish, German, Hungarian, Jewish, Greek, Scandinavian, South American, Far Eastern…

I wish there were more of this these days, more translations in New York publishing circles. More publishers willing to take the risk. We need to share each other’s stories and poems. We had this once, back in the 70’s, when Phillip Roth edited a series of translations (mass market paperbacks…f$2.95 up), “Writers from the Other Europe” for Penquin Books.

Roth described his efforts and reasons in part: “The purpose of this paperback series is to bring together outstanding and influential works of fiction by Eastern European writers. In many instances they will be writers who, though recognized as powerful forces in their on cultures, are virtually unknown in America. It is hoped that by reprinting selected Eastern European writers in this format and with introductions that place each work in its literary and historical context, the literature that has evolved in “the other Europe” during the postwar decades will be made more accessible to an interested American readership.”

Two of the books from that series that I treasure most are Milan Kunderas’, LAUGHABLE LOVES and Bruno Schulz’s, THE STREET OF CROCODILES.

Here are six contemporary poets from a collection of almost forty chosen by Mark Terrill—an American writer living in German since the 1980’s. (Scroll down or seek: “Poetry Dispatch #297”). He has a good eye. A good sense of what remains in the heart and soul of Germany today. One thing for certain—a past that continues to haunt.

I was especially pleased to see that the final selection is, perhaps THE voice of Germany past, present, future: Günter Grass. –Norbert Blei


by Gerald Fiebig

The Second War, the war of 39 to 45,
Begins when you identify your own inner Third Reich
—Momus, Three Wars, 1987

& then, just like any other aging war criminal
who suddenly knows that his time’s up
you will feel the urge to foul yourself with self-pity
& indulge your remorse.
& then, when the sugar bowl next to your cup
will conjure up the sugar loaf mountain
of your picturesque exile—then
the girl from ipanema will fail to appear.

& then, just like any other arsonist with a cause to defend
you will feel the urge to talk about what you read
in the books, what you touched in the bodies
before you burned both.

& then, on a night perhaps, on a night just as hot
as this, as hot as the sand of the copacabana, as hot
as the bodies when you touched them, in fever,
as hot as their ashes, that only cooled when you’d gone
you may want somebody to listen to you
talking about the past that you tried to forget.
& then you may want to speak in a voice with a name
known only to you, the name from the passport you burned.
& then everyone will fail to appear. & then you will start
to talk to yourself. & just then you will notice
that whatever you wanted to forget all those years
but wanted to tell now in the voice you disowned

is already forgotten. your doctor has seen you;
not mengele, not goebbels—dr. alzheimer.
& then you will pause for breath, between silence
& silence. & then you will choke..

[From: Atlanta Review, GERMANY, edited by Mark Terrill, Spring / Summer 2009]…P.O. Box 8248, Atlanta, Georgia, 31106, $6]

I Live in Germany

by Kersten Flenter

I live in Germany but
Many say I look younger
With the calm of a scarecrow
I stand here and watch my life
From outside
Forget the number with the soul, man
Or the state of mind
It’s something organic—
In the womb you acquire
Heart lungs eyes arms
And later you grow angst disappointment
And melancholy as well
And still the question is:
Where to go while being watched by
Three Brandenburger skinheads
Where to look when
Refrigerator doors shut behind children
Take the reason
Why you’re here
And subtract it from what you see
And when you realize
That it’s your own feet
Which are standing in these shoes
Tell them they can go

translated by Mark Terrill and the author

[From: Atlanta Review, GERMANY, edited by Mark Terrill]

ice floes

by Norbert Hummelt

once again the ice is breaking and she tells
me again how something was dawning and
was at an end: the old stove… the cold war…
in my head the machine is running slowly then
all at once transformation’s there: body-warm
water is beginning to flow again ice riding in floes
on the rhine we can read about this in a chronicle
the cuban crisis not long past he was only in town
in the mornings you see there wasn’t so much
traffic then quiet in the crib or in his arms the one
born after his grandson listens to the sounds that
enclosed him we had only just got a telephone
and there was a stillness like the one just now
the call came as all the snow was already
thawing the earth split the way it was forty
years ago even if the fractures are not so visible
you sit in his armchair made of the old wood

translated by Catherine Hales

[from GERMANY, edited by Mark Terrill]

Miniatures (Three Excerpts)

by Marie T. Martin

Gastro II

The restaurant in the freight yard lies hidden behind an entire business of empty factories, which are not illuminated at night. Only in front of one restaurant are standing torches. While eating it can happen that a train passes through the dining room. screeching and loaded with empty tanks, so that for a while all conversation is impossible.


My pillow, I’ve discovered, makes noises at night. If I press my face into it, I can hear quite clearly: ocean sounds, the cry of the gulls, and somewhat less clearly, the cry of the sailors. Only once did I hear the voice of a woman.

Day Trip

I went for a walk along the river with a friend. A boat was chained up at a dock. We sat in the boat to rock ourselves, then the chain loosened itself and the boat set off. Quickly we left the city and the land behind us and already with the appearance of the first star we found ourselves in foreign waters and from the shore we heard people calling, in a totally unknown language.

translated by Mark Terrill

[from GERMANY, edited by Mark Terrill]

This Winter

by Volker Sielaff

as you came
and I burned tangerine peels
and asked you where / have you been?
as I laid a bath towel around your shoulders
and said I don’t want / to know
as I smiled
and the black bow in your hair / loosened
as you said me neither

translated by Mark Terrill

[from GERMANY, edited by Mark Terrill]

Where to Flee

by Günter Grass

when all islands are sold,
aevery cave is watched by sleepless eyes,
aaand on grandmother’s skirt,
aaawhere occasionally refuge was to be found,
aaaaa note is stuck
aaaaaaon which capital letters spell out OCCUPIED?

Stay then,
aride out the changing weather
aaand, as learned,
aaaspit against the wind—
aaaanot yet
aaaaahas everything been said.

translated by Mark Terrill

[from GERMANY, edited by Mark Terrill]


Atlanta Review – German poetryThe Spring/Summer 2009 issue of the Atlanta Review with the international feature on Germany which I guest-edited is out now and available in tastefully and competently stocked bookstores or via the AR website. A single issue costs $6; a one-year subscription costs just $9.99 and includes one free issue. Check out the AR site for sample poems from the issue and ordering info. Includes previously unpublished translations of work by Günter Grass, Peter Handke, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, Silke Scheuermann, Nicolas Born, Jörg Fauser, Monika Rinck, Ernst Jandl, Anne Dorn and many others. Translators include Alistair Noon, Cathy Hales, Rosmarie Waldrop, Mark Terrill and many others.

norbert blei | die mauer

9 11 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 201 | November 9, 2009

Die Mauer
The 20th Anniversary of The Berlin Wall

46 Meditations on the Berlin Wall
Norbert Blei

LewAllen Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1993

dorothy terry | afghanistan

6 11 2009

PoetryDispatch No. 298 | November 6, 2009


by Dorothy Terry

Was smaller than before, the pebbles washed up
On the shore, and all we ever did adore was
Turned to wormwood. We walked along the stonewall then,
We did not talk; we knew not when our time would come —
But that was yesterday.

Above, the stars had hid from sight. The longest day returned to
Night – The moon came up with portent’s sigh,
The days grew long, the nights flew by,
We hid in grandma’s tower room, where crows still cawed
Their cries of doom — explicit nothingness of Hell!

Up there among the wreck and wrack, we listened
For the call, “Give Back”, give back the all you’ll ever know,
Return the crackling icy flow. Return the stinging summer heats,
The metronomic heart that beats. Return the simple, lasting things,
The moon that winks — the sun that sings….”

You are the lost and weary ones – the ones who threw away their
Guns, to die in haven’s craggy place, to die ascending rocky face,
To die alone, and scared and cold, to die too soon, before you’re
Old, to die tomorrow or today, in one
Portentous giveaway.

Editor’s Note: This is the first publication of “Afghanistan.” Dorothy Terry is a little known Chicago poet of great skill but relatively few credits. Not because she isn’t talented—but because she tired of the publishing game. Time, no longer on her side. Excerpts of her distinguished work based on the life of T.S. Eliot, THE FANTASTICAL TRAVELS OF TSE, was published in an anthology of works-in-progress, OTHER VOICES, Cross+Roads Press, 2007. A limited edition of her beautiful poems set in Mexico was privately printed this year, OAXACA, Mañana y Noche—highly recommend. Here are two short poems from that fine book.


We drink, don’t we?
Ay, we deserve
The best, we say!
Forget the dusty cementario!
All those madres
With boring pozole
And tattered, tear-worn pictures.

Pull up a chair!
Bring out the mescal.
Living or dead
It makes no difference tonight.

Old Roberto,
Yesterday, only bleached bones
But tonight, who cares?
He drinks with the worst of us
On Dia de los Muertos.


Squandered gold
In veins of lilac silk
A sure hand wove that sensuous pattern
Shade on shade Sigh on sigh
Thread / under / over / under
Life binding life
Until the final sigh of completion.