Archive for April, 2008

Else Lasker-Schuler

Franz Marc Grazing Horses

“This was the Black Swan, the Prince of Thebes, Jussuf, Tino of Baghdad.” So wrote German poet Gottfried Benn about his ex-lover Else Lasker-Schuler, the erratic, impoverished, fantastical German-Jewish poet. Lasker-Schuler, one of interwar Berlin’s most prominent poets, fled Germany in 1933 after being beaten by Nazi thugs with an iron rod. She was sixty-four. She fled to Switzerland and, eventually, Israel. She looked, in the memorable words of Jerusalem friend Heinz Politzer, “…like a solitary, exotic nightbird, with enormous eyes in an ageless face. The whole of her seemed as if carved from a mandrake root.”  At her funeral on the Mount of Olives, her poem “I Know” was recited in German, unheard of in the Jerusalem of 1945.

O God

Everywhere only brief sleep
in man, in green leaves, in the chalice of the wind.
Each turns homeward into his dead heart.

Would that the world were still a child–
and could tell me of its very first breath.

Long ago there was a great goodness in heaven,
the stars gave each other the Bible to read.
If only once I could grasp God’s hand,
or see the moon perched on his finger.

O God, O God, how far I am from thee!

Translation and biographical notes taken from the volume Else Lasker-Schuler, Selected Poems, Green Integer 2002.

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Chinese Clothes

I woke up in a hard bed—not mine.
It was a mouse that startled me out of a dream
that I was home in my mother’s laundry room,
listening to the swish of water in the machine.

I turned to see my lover sloshing clothes
in a small red soapy bucket. 
Before I could speak, the paperboy howled
through the window: morning paper, morning paper,
not in my language. I wondered
how many miles stretch between here and home.

He rolled his eyes toward the window.
Every day, he said, using a Chinese phrase
I’d only learned a week before.
He carried the bucket with scuttle steps
to the plastic clothesline that was half outdoors and half in.

I watched him hang white T-shirts and jeans
with creaky clothespins. There was no breeze
to dry them or chase the smoke from my cigarette.

Brenna Dugan


Contrasting Views

"Literalism is a feature of boorish translators." Cicero "The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase." Nabokov

The Faerie Queene

"John Ashbery said reading the Faerie Queene was like reading an endless beautiful comic strip." Kenneth Koch

Sigmund Freud

"Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me."

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