I spent World Poetry Day this year with two excellent, German-language collections: Grenzwerte by Max Czollek and Mein Name ist Ausländer by Semra Ertan
Semra Ertan was a poet and migrant worker who came to Germany from Turkey in the 1970s. Her poetry is a poetic encapsulation of the experience of a so-called guest worker (Gastarbeiter) in Germany, and she writes impactfully about fears, hopes, and uncertainties. Like her writing, this volume is bilingual, with both the German and Turkish versions of Ertan’s poem. Most well-known is her poem “Mein Name ist Ausländer” (rough translation: My Name Is Foreigner) Besides her impactful language on racism and life as a Turksh worker in Germany, I was really impressed by the way she made it clear just how urgent and necessary poetry is (for her and the reader).
Gezwungenermaßen bin ich Dichterin geworden,
Habe meine Sorgen auf Papier gebracht,
Das hilft auch nicht,
Habe ich gesagt,
So wurde ich ERDRÜCKT.Meine Rebellion
I had to become a poet
Put my worries on paper
This doesn’t help either
so I got CRUSHED.
Poetry is also a form of necessary resistance in this collection by contemporary Jewish, German poet and essayist Max Czollek. He’s by now probably most well-known for his political concepts and books of Desintegriert Euch (a rebuttal to calls for integration) and Gegenwartsbewältigung (in brief a play on the German word Vergangenheitsbewätligung, the struggle to overcome the negatives of the past, but applied to the present; a unveiling of the myth of good German Vergangenheitsbewätigung; and a call for a different kind of societal solidarity).
Both the ideas are represented in these inventive, smart, bracing lyric and prose poems Grenzwerte. Sometimes scathing, sometimes funny, I’ll have to return to these a few times.
Seit ich weiß, dass dichtung fliegen lehrt, trage ich die ironie wie blei an der hüfte
Ever since I’ve known that poetry teaches you to fly, I’ve been wearing irony like lead on my hipsnachrichten aus marathon: 28. September