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.



2 responses

16 11 2009
Robert M. Zoschke

It is my sincere hope that anyone reading this Blei Dispatch picks up on the message within the message. That message within the message is to be seen and digested in the quotes (chosen by Blei) from Philip Roth’s introduction to a Mass-Market Penguin Books series of translations from the 1970s. At that time, Roth, already a significantly heralded and awarded writer, said that he felt it was important for “selected” Eastern European writers to be translated, with “introductions that place each work in its literary and historical context.” Clearly, through Blei’s examples, Mark Terrill was intuitively keen to the same message and through Terrill’s serious commitment to the legacy of the printed word, he did an exceptional job with the gift of pages from Atlanta Review. Unfortunately, the Terrill/Atlanta Review issue is a Last of the Mohicans type of mission accomplished. Pick up any of the other academically-attached literary journals…I challenge one and all to find the editorial work of universally read-and-esteemed writers like Roth, or impeccable craft artisans not universally beholden to academia like Terrill, offering “selected” translations with “introductions” that place each work in its literary and historical context. What you will find as a reader is a flaccid boredom, produced via the most dour sour outgrowth of the MFA Aristocracy, the metastasizing tumor otherwise known as Dual MFA Holders. No longer is it routinely plausible for a future academician to attain merely an MFA in writing and latch onto the tactical path of consistent academic literary journal publications and perhaps a book or two by a University Press and thus tenured academic stature and tenured financial solvency. The countless MFA programs beehiving the land now deposit soooo many Single MFA Holders onto the academician scene that the plausible path to consistent academic literary journal publications and perhaps a book or two by a University Press and thus tenured financial solvency is the path of Two MFAs, one in writing and another in translations. The translated writing on display is not “selected” by heralded and esteemed mass-market writers whose livelihood is maintained by a commitment to the craft of writing embraced by countless readers around the globe. The translated writing on display is not “selected” and “introduced” with perspective on each work’s literary and historical context. The translated writing is most often produced by Dual MFA Holders desirous of a leg up on their academic competition for the living pension of academic tenure, and all too many of those Dual MFA Holders are grossly under-read, and all too many of those Dual MFA Holders are beholden to The Grant Application Process from which they seek to sustain themselves while battling for tenure, and whatever degree of commitment they have to the actual craft of writing-and-reading takes a firm seat at the back of the bus behind Grant and Tenure Searches. (At this point please note that I emphasize again the outstanding needle-in-the-haystack exemption to the current routine which Atlanta Review championed and Mark Terrill delivered with artisan care). Also unfortunately, the days of a mass-market publisher like Penguin producing a single edition or a series of mass-market books of translations featuring the work of multiple writers as chosen and introduced by a heralded and awarded writer is a thing of the past. What the Mass Market Publishing Junta now does is nearly as hideous as the output of the Dual MFA Holder Academician World…and that is best signified by Farrar, Straus & Giroux’s carefully constructed re-enactment in the literary world of the Epic Hollywood Tale known as A Star Is Born, via the “life” of Roberto Bolano. Before the string of Bolano book titles began being unleashed on the literary scene like bullets fired from a Gatling Gun, while the translations were in process, the Junta was fast at work, lining up full page New York Times and New Yorker ads for Bolano’s The Savage Detectives (a plethora of costly ads that of course came with reviews seemingly bought and paid for as part and parcel with the advertising). Before any Advance Reader Copies ever reached the hands of any independent bookstores across the land, before the hardcover first edition of The Savage Detectives reached any bookstore shelves, the literary world was beseiged with a “historical aura” of the “life” of Bolano that made him out to be the unearthed-until-then, modern day literary equivalent of Hemingway. Only now, after a Gatling Gun scattering of Bolano translations have flooded the marketplace, after Farrar, Straus & Giroux spent a huge amount of marketing dollars that could have gone to launching or sustaining still living writers, has the literary world begun questioning, finally in print, the validity of what is now deemed the “many myths” of Bolano’s life and the validity of whether there is any resounding and everlasting quality in much of Bolano’s work. Thus I close in saying, kudos to Blei for finding a rarity (Terrill/Atlanta Review) and remembering a singular classic (Roth’s series).

11 12 2009
Kenneth Garton

“Living History” is a strong poem with all of its descending darkness. Thanks for sharing!

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