Thursday, October 31, 2013

Welcome to my 21st century sweatshop




a generation vibrated

with its age and mortalitywe knew the wreckage of drugs & rock music

we never won the battle of sex and soulstronger than images sounds are our legacy

turn up the volume to drown out the weepingtexting condolences with old friends and lovers

across borders and oceanssurprised we could still feel


30 October 2013He was an artist to measure our lives by. Already an icon in my student days in the Seventies, his 70th birthday in 2012 was a news item that prompted a poem. It belongs to Song of Age, my poem series in progress.RED SQUARE HOT LIPS

on Lou Reed's 70th birthday

bought me a lipstick called Red Square

thinking of you, Lou Reed,

walking thereno longer stalking down the wild side

no more lonesome cowboys

nowhere to run & hideunderground flirtations long gone

in high & mighty corridors

consorting with onetime dissenters

celebrating heroin orgies

in abandoned factories

media mingle alter egos

what's it all about

world turned upside downBerlin on your birthday

riding the U-Bahn

pneumatically lifted

come sit beside meeyes up to onboard tv:

King Kong premiere

New York, 2 March 1933

--Germany notes the year--

cover versions followed sporadicallyurban commemoration

before lyrical deconstruction

robbed the rhymes and rhythms

of poetic endeavour

leaving word scraps floating in guttersWhat else happened

on 2 March this year?

It snowed in Jerusalem,

big soft flakes

covering the ground

where my beloved Etta lies

--who is sheltering her street cats now?Lou Reed is 70

Putin rules the Kremlin

the ghost of an era

howls in Berlin

Berlin, 2 March 2012These ancient days of mourning the dead, if you hear singing with the angels it's probably Lou Reed.Text & cloud photos (c) Karen Margolis 2013

posted 31 October 2013.coming up.coming up.coming up. coming up.UPCOMING #1 AND LAUNCHING

Berlin-Mitte, October 2013This year the clocks changing to winter time seems the signal for a frenzy of activity. Ask my friends how they are doing and they'll mostly answer with just one word: busy.TBP = Terribly Busy Person has replaced VIP in the parlance of the 21st Century Sweatshop and signifies a new pecking order. She who is not busy is failing. Luckily I have just managed to edge into the TBP ranks. With hardly time to update my diary I'm trying to keep pace. The tireless activity of my friends and myself is simply exhausting.

It may be, of course, that we're all doing it --consciously or not-- to annoy the NSA, BND, GCHQ, and other illegal state eavesdroppers by being so active they can't keep up. Carry on communicating, should be our motto. Maybe sexting or snapchat can bring the secret listeners to implosion during the dark of the moon. Some of my correspondents specialize in long mails about commas. Let's entanglethe monitoring peeping toms in chains of commas and knock 'em out with the Chicago style manual.

Another plus is the preview of a post-Facebook era. It feels good to be so busy that it doesn't matter what people are doing in the social media. Life is elsewhere and the last rays of autumn sun are out there waiting to be caught. Sometimes the world, even in a grimy central European city, is almost too overwhelmingly beautiful. Trying to capture it with a camera is an understandable compulsion. Most of all, there is the urge to just stand and look. And the sheer natural pleasure of throwing off the TBP persona and succumbing to something that really deserves the word "awesome".Berlin-Mitte, October 2013Good news from Los Angeles:

*ERASURE NOIR ANTHOLOGY* will be published in December by Silver Birch Press with erasure poems by 40 poets (including me) based on pages from classical noir novels. The book (digital and print) includes pictures of every erasure page. Details soon. For now, I can only tell you erasure poetry is one of those bright, fascinating ideas that simply devours time. Hard to create but delightful to read, an odd kind of parallel text sensation that tickles in places normal writing doesn't. (Photo should keep you guessing ).VIVAT READUX!

And now for the week's big achievement: the READUX books launch. READUX is a homegrown Berlin venture. A small independent digital /print publisher started by US expat Amanda de Marco, it concentrates on translations into English of short books, essays, and other forms that don't fit the usual publishing mould.Amanda launched last week with a package of four titles..

So far I have read two of the first publications on my laptop, and enjoyed them. (I admit to knowing both the translators personally, so I'm not unbiased.) The first, In Berlin, Franz Hessel's sketches of life in Berlin's city center in the 1920s, was translated by Amanda herself. She really conveys the spirit of these short memoirs. Writing at the time of the Weimar Republic, Hessel recorded a kaleidoscope of impressions, a kind of literary urban ethnogeography ahead of its time. It's an encouragement to all of us trying to describe the complex, dubious excitement, the bright lights and shadows of life in a metropolis.The second book is a kind of historical biographical work set in the later 20th century. The author, Francis Nenik, is a contemporary German novelist. His book, The Marvel of Biographical Bookkeeping, tells parallel stories of two writers of very different origins who land up in a curious correspondence from their respective incarcerations. The short book has a weird, haunting atmosphere. Translator Katy Derbyshire has told the real-life story (worthy of the book!) of coincidences, investigations and other happenings that led to its translation and publication (see below **). Her account shows the vital role a dedicated, experienced translator can play in getting a book published in translation. Lucky the authors that Katy champions!

The short book form has distinct advantages for TBPs. It reminds me of broadcasting for the radio in the 1980s at the time when analogue recording was progressing inevitably towards digital. I began with a weekly five-minute slot on BFBS, the British Forces radio in Berlin. Five minutes is a lot of radio time. In the course of two years it was whittled down to four, then three, minutes. Finally the station boss announced the introduction of "bites" -- one and two-minute morsels that took ten times as long to make and that the listeners enjoyed as much but perhaps forgot twice as quickly.

READUX's little books are literary "bites". They will be produced in four-packs three times a year. On average they cost around the price of a cup of coffee. (Faced with looming inflation, I have adopted the price of a cup of coffee as my reliable personal currency.) This is the new, consumable form of literature for people who read mostly on a digital device, whose attention span may be limited, who often use fill-in time, waiting time, to catch up on their reading. The books can vary between light entertainment, verbal snapshots, or brief encounters with weighty concepts. Some poetry would be nice, too.

I think the idea can go a long way. I'll certainly be following it. And wish the READUX team great luck.**Katy Derbyshire's informative account of the making of her translation of Francis Nenik's book:

the READUX website:

>>Glad it's still there-- the street pump dragon (pictured below) was probably around at the time Franz Hessel was strolling the streets of BerlinWater pump carving, Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg, October 2013Text (c) Karen Margolis 2013

posted 27 October 2013//great.writers.&.berlin.again//great.writers.&.berlin.again//Golden October: making bubbles at Hackescher Markt, Berlin-MitteBerlin Nordbahnhof: the tunnel of a former ghost station close by the Berlin Wall"ARTIFICIAL CITY"

This year's Frankfurt Book Fair just closed its doors, leaving the publishing trade and book lovers reassured that the printed word is far from extinct, whatever future form it may emerge in. Actually it's becoming harder than ever to choose what to read. I have been meaning to write about literary criticism, a subject that's been in my mind for several weeks now. To do that, I'll have to go back to my early days as a critic in the 1970s in London. The welcome news that Alice Munro won this year's Nobel Prize for literature reminded me of the appreciative review I wrote for Time Out when the Women's Press reprinted her classic and only novel, Lives of Girls and Women in 1978.Alice MunroThe fiction of Munro and Doris Lessing was already part of the feminist canon back then. I can remember long and enthusiastic discussions about their works. Now they are ennobled and have entered the annals of world literature and the channels of school curricula, it's worth reminding ourselves that every author, great or minor, began with a first book in search of readers.

We owe thanks to the discerning critics who urged us to read Munro's and Lessing's works, and who picked out many other books we wouldn't have read and enjoyed otherwise. There is surely still a role for critics. But just as I started thinking seriously about that, the sun came out in Berlin and reminded me how glorious the city can be in autumn. Last night's electric storms washed away the grey, leaving clear blue skies and patches of sun lighting up the fallen leaves, flooding the wide avenues with light and making golden patches in the side streets. Like a great magnet, the sun draws the people out onto the streets and into the parks. On my way to the flea market at Mauerpark, crossing the metal stripes on the ground that mark where the Berlin Wall used to be, I saw people standing still at street corners with their faces lifted to catch the precious rays.CULT STATUSClosed for 40 years: the suburban line station Nordbahnhof in Berlin's inner cityNordbahnhof station: the original ticket office preserved by disuseIt was on days like this that I first started to enjoy Berlin in the late '70s, making a short trip here from Frankfurt after the Book Fair, exploring both sides of the divided city in the crisp clear autumn days when the last sun pours over the stern fa ades before the descent of winter. At that time Berlin was not on the general tourist map. A few cult stars like Nick Cave and Bowie, a handful of literati including Susan Sontag, Patricia Highsmith and, of course, the great Cold War thriller writers, recognised its weird charm and night life attractions. Highsmith, a lesbian, felt comfortable in the city's gay bars and appreciated the long tradition of homosexual culture in Berlin that had survived the Nazi attempts to wipe it out. Her biographer Andrew Wilson describes the author's relationship with Berlin in the mid- to late 1970s in terms of her famous fictional character, Tom Ripley. He says she found the city "a perfect geographical embodiment of Ripley's ambiguous personality: artificial, self-reinventing, its identity constantly in flux, a place split by the splintering of capitalist-communist ideology after the erection of the wall in 1961." To quote Ripley himself in Highsmith's novel, The Boy who Followed Ripley, "'The city of Berlin was bizarre enough, artificial enough - at least in its political status - and so maybe its citizens attempted to outdo it sometimes in their dress and behaviour. It was also a way for Berliners to say, "we exist"'."*Patricia HighsmithIn some ways this is true even today. Berlin still feels the need to claim special status and assert itself among the world's capitals; and it has still not found its place on the global "must visit" list (except as a cheap way station for young arty folk).

There are interesting historical and psychological reasons for this. I don't have time to delve into that fascinating topic now. Instead, I'll leave you with a poem from the current sequence in progress, Smiles Wide Open.The Berlin Wall gap filled by a history lesson.YOU & ME@SPACE & TIME


If we met at the world clock at Alexanderplatz

you would have broken your vow

not to come to Berlinwe could check the time in Azerbaijan

or Buenos Aires if you prefer

it doesn't matter where you are any morethe message is gone already

before you arrive

and I have stayed

suspended in the kiss

you brushed aside

at a place called Italy

the view from the window

imprinted with waitingtime and space are all we have left

after we switch off the devices

that bore holes in our minds

time we give ourselves and space we make.II.

My soul (or sense) lost in a taxi

stuck in the rush hour

on the p riph rique

the rain drumming on the roof.

Later I remembered

the magnum bottle

half empty by the bed.

-- What might not have happened

had I drunk my part, sharing

the tired morning after motto:

je ne regrette / I always did it rightI'm @space already, the rare luxury

I conjured for myself.

you're driving on the circuit

of your self made business

juggling & secrets. The occupied man

running parallel lives

has no room for hobbies,

sees plenty of moviesstill, not in Berlin --

a curse hangs over the city

fear breeds in memorial forests

attracting history trail followers

the frisson of flirting with evil

ghost walls and rubble mounds

bunker tourism, spectres of buried terror

beneath lawns and playgrounds

swept by chill winds and cosmic gloom.

Persephone weeps here half the yearYou trawl your mailboxes

for a different kind of thrill

a clichwithout frills

stolen afternoons in a love hotelIII.

All the while you're taking orders

cell phone glued to your ear

I'm here for pleasure

just arrived @space I'm aching

to unpack my memories

fling open the window

and send them flying in free falllet the present hold me now

in its arms entirely

stroking, gliding, swooping, diving

exploring every hidden need

with eager hands and lips and all

so long wrapped in each other

we fill our space togethercoming in to land

at no place for old gambits any more

why continue playing @time

pretending not to notice

the assonance of life and lie. (c) Karen Margolis2013A propos of nothing, there are other cities known for their towers rather than their walls. Eiffel Tower 1888Details on half-built Eiffel Tower

Image: Louis- mile Durandelle, photographer [French, 1839 - 1917] , Exposition universelle de 1889 /tat d'avancement.

French, November 23, 1888

Image: 43.2 x 34.6 cm (17 x 13 5/8 in.) Mount: 65 x 50 cm (25 9/16 x 19 11/16 in.) Mat: 71.1 x 55.9 cm (28 x 22 in.), 87.XM.121.16

The photos of Berlin in this article show the area around the former Berlin Wall near the Wall memorial at Bernauer Strasse. They were taken by the author in the summer of 2013.

*Andrew Wilson, Beautiful Shadow - a life of Patricia Highsmith, Bloomsbury 2004, p. 360.

Footnote: This is a case where criticism has done its work (largely) well and thoroughly, and the creator herself should have the last word. If you haven't read Alice Munro, now's the time! If you want to get a feel of her personality, here's a sound clip of her phone call last week with a member of the Nobel Committee:

Posted 14 October 2013::listen to the whispering wind::listen to the whispering wind::


Windgefl ster - Thomas H llmann's translations of old Chinese poemsGerman readers should look out for something special among the new books on display in German bookshops this autumn.The slim volume Windgefl ster (Whispering of the Wind) is a collection of sixty poems from early China. Eminent Sinologist Thomas H llmann, professor at Munich University, collected and translated the poems over years of researching old Chinese manuscripts. Some of my English translations of his German versions have already appeared on this website.H llmann's love of Chinese arts and culture and his eye for detail are evident in the whole production of the book. The selection begins with a calligraphic heading:The Chinese character "shi" reproduced here stands for "poem", and is taken from a calligraphy by Huang Tinjian (1045-1105).

The poems date back as far as 200 years before the Christian era. The latest in this selection is from around the year 1200. Most of my favourites are by the poets Li Bo (eighth century)and Bo Juyi, who lived in the first half of the ninth century.

Given the long historical span, H llmann has taken care to choose poems that age well. He calls these works, "poems of mortality" or "transience", and with these eternal poetic themes they are striking in their modernity and apparent timelessness.

This one has a particular charm for me:


Nicht mehr begierig

wie mit drei ig oder vierzig,

noch nicht gebrechlich

wie mit siebzig oder achtzig.

Gar nicht so schlecht

f gt sich's mit f nfzig oder sechzig,

wenn man entspannt ist

und mit sich im Reinen:

vorbei die Jagd nach

Ruhm und Geld;

die Altersmacken

noch in weiter Ferne.Stets gut bei Kr ften

erkund' ich die Natur,

genie e die Musik

und hebe zwanglos

manchen Becher.

Im Rausch entsinn' ich mich

der Poesie,

murmle die alten Verse

leise vor mich hin.

Freunde, ich sage Euch:

Die Sechziger sind

gar nicht zu verachten.


No longer wishful

like at thirty or forty

Not yet fragile

as at seventy or eighty

Life's not bad at all

when you're fifty or sixty

if you take it easy

and your conscience is clear.

The rat race for fame

and money is over;

old age's odd habits

are still far away.Healthy as ever

I visit the countryside,

enjoy music,

and relax with a drink

if I feel in the mood.

When I get tipsy

I remember poetry

and murmur old verses

to myself, softly.

My friends, I can tell you:

The sixties

are not to be scorned.

Bo Juyi (831)The back cover of the book displays the title poem:WHISPERING WIND

Like the whispering wind from the cool pine shadows

I hear the sound of the seven strings.

The old harmonies are dear to me, but today

I'm nearly alone in still feeling that way

Liu Changqing (709-785)Aside from the poems themselves, H llmann has included biographical notes on the poets and some explanatory comments and anecdotes. This little book has it all -- high quality paper with a good weighty feel to it; fine typography and printing; a beautiful cover in lovely colour tones -- in short, the tactile and visual pleasures book lovers miss when they read digital.

Lucky me, I got a complimentary copy. The rest of you who read German should go out and buy it for yourself or give it as a present. Highly recommended.German translations (c) Thomas O. H llmann 2013

English translations (c) Karen Margolis 2013

posted 8 October 2013#keywords#keywords#keywords#keywords#keywords#keywords

What Happens ?from the poetry sequence in progress, SMILES WIDE OPEN

THE RED PORN KEY (DON'T ASK ALICE)What happens when you press the red PORN key?

you grow very big

in places you always wanted to expand

you get everything you ever wanted

with the label "not safe for the office"

you cross the barrier of inhibition

to the zone of ambivalence

that some call liberation, others condemn

and many enjoy secretlyWhat happens when you press the red PORN key?

-- go on, I dare you. Try it and see.(c) Karen Margolis 2013


AUTUMN HAIKUthe heron flies south

let go of thieves and liars

fall is beautiful

(c) Karen Margolis September 2013posted 29 September BEAUTIFUL 27TH OF SEPTEMBERA POEM WRITES HISTORYMaxim Gorki - portrait by Mikhail NesterovOn 27 September 1960, the Moscow daily Izvestia issued a call to the world's writers to describe that day "as precisely as possible". The idea stemmed from Maxim Gorky, who had begun by documenting the day in 1936 under the heading "A Day of the World". At the height of the Cold War, it was obviously Soviet bloc writers who responded to the 1960 call.Among them was the East German writer Christa Wolf, who established the idea as an annual ritual for herself, and continued her diary of the 27th of September every year "for half of her adult life".Christa WolfTwenty years on, after Soviet tanks had crushed the Prague Spring in 1968, and the Solidarnosc movement in Poland was threatened with a similar fate, the hopes and aspirations of communism were deeply discredited. Dissidents and critical voices in a new generation of writers and poets were openly refusing to join in the loyal chorus demanded of state-controlled literature.


Like many other cultural references of idealistic optimism, for some young writers the 27th of September idea became a mockery, a hollow memory of belief in a new, better world. In 1980, the East German poet Thomas Brasch, who had been imprisoned for protesting against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and eventually emigrated to the west in 1976, wrote his own, critical account of the 27th of September. The poem later became the title of a slim poetry volume published by prestigious Suhrkamp Verlag in West Germany. Irony was a major weapon of all the oppositional movements against communist domination, and Thomas Brasch was a master in wielding it, often caustically, against the East German regime's perversion of language for political ends. It is appropriately ironical that his twist on the idea of faithfully documenting the 27th of September should have led to his recognition as one of the major German poets of his generation.Thomas BraschBrasch's poem, "The Beautiful 27th of September", takes the day, the purportedly inspirational idea of the structured diary entry as the socialist writer's contribution to history, lays it on the mortuary table in the communist society morgue, and dissects it ruthlessly with a wicked scalpel. It is very difficult to translate because each word is like a vital organ in the body of the poem, loaded with significances, multifunctional, interlinked with the other words in this organic whole. Meanwhile, because the poem's origin and focus is everyday life in an ideological prison where everybody talks in double and triple tongues, in whispers, and decisions are made secretly behind closed doors, you have to read between the lines, to look for subscripts, superscripts, hidden messages, oblique allusions. In other words, you have to decode the poem, always aware that the poet's thoughts are moving between East and West, across the Berlin Wall, the inner-German border that divided minds, not only streets and people.


Below is a taster of the original poem in German and my translation. (I can't reproduce the whole here for copyright reasons.) The entire poem is only ten lines long. The terse brevity is typical of Brasch's style -- it looks so easy, almost throwaway. Yes, he's the son of the deputy minister of culture and he's curtly dismissing the idea of writing to an agenda set by cultural authorities and icons. Brasch grew up in the huge shadow of Bertolt Brecht and wavered between reverence and contempt for the great poet who defied fascism but later became a servant of Communist party dogma. The poem's title, announcing the day as "beautiful", is already in contradiction to the banality of the events it records.

The last line of Brasch's 27th of September poem has the punch-line quality of 1970s rock music, whose subversive power and fiercely independent, anti-establishment stance had an enormous influence on the dissident movement of that period in Eastern Europe. Not for nothing were albums of music by Dylan and the Rolling Stones confiscated from Western visitors at the border when entering East Berlin. I think I hear the Rolling Stones in the last line of his poem, but it's only a guess. His writing was deliberately cryptic as befits people followed by secret services (he often spoke of the Stasi, the East German secret police), and he played consciously with words to confuse, and with mixed cultural references. He meant to leave us guessing.


Ich habe keine Zeitung gelesen.

Ich habe keiner Frau nachgesehn.

Ich habe den Briefkasten nicht ge ffnet.

Ich habe keine Zeile geschrieben.

Ich habe keinen Stein ins Rollen gebracht.


I didn't read a newspaper.

I didn't gaze after any women

I didn't open the mailbox.I didn't write a line.

I didn't start any stones rolling.

Thomas Brasch (1980)

English translation (c) Karen Margolis 2013Thumbnail shows poster for Thomas Brash's film "Domino" (1982).BORN IN EXILE

Thomas Brasch was a vivid, memorable figure whose life story already became the basis of a film in 1987 (Ken Loach's "Fatherland"). Brasch was born in England in 1945. His parents were Jewish refugees from Hitler. After the war Brasch's father, a convinced Communist, took the family to East Germany and became a career party bureaucrat, eventually achieving the post of deputy cultural minister. The family was tragic. The three sons were all deeply self-destructive. Brasch, the eldest, a gifted man who wrote poetry all his life and was also a filmmaker, playwright and translator of Shakespeare for the German stage, became bitter and unfulfilled, but continued writing voluminously, almost feverishly. He died, too young, in 2001. His legacy of scattered writings and translations has been collected and edited into a single thick volume published by Suhrkamp Verlag. If you read German, it's a book for hours of pleasure, and a valuable document of a poet's life and fate in Germany in the later 20th century.Thomas Brasch - Collected Works

Sie Nennen das Schrei (They Call it Scream)Thomas Brasch: Sie nennen es SchreiChrista Wolf's book of the 27th September, One Day a Year:

and the sequel, Ein Tag im Jahr im neuen Jahrhundert / One Day a Year in the New Century (2001-2011):


posted 27 September

Nail It RedThis poem is part of the sequence in progress, "Smiles Wide Open".TABLEAU VIVANT IN RED AND PINK

how about a quick lick

in the toilet of the Louvre

or a cafonce frequentedI'll wear red varnish

on my toenails, and

peach pink on my fingers

you'll feast on seafood

bedded on creamed potato

-- delectable! ah, tell me again

how much you love my feet(c) Karen Margolis 2013posted 26 September 2013+autumn+equinox#autumn+equinox#autumn+equinox#autumn+equinox+VOID OF COURSE

The following poem is part of the sequence in progress, Smiles Wide Open (2012-13), which will appear in my forthcoming poetry collection.VOID OF COURSE AND WANING

Third person version (autumn equinox)Has she been banished to the land of spam

for a crime she only prevented?

Was she deleted before she began

in a game she never invented?The test she failed she hadn't entered

vultures grabbed her stake

small screen addicts grew demented

Three little bully goats trampled a snowflake.Tell me: where is the button to wipe out the heartache?Berlin, September 2013Fragile beauty of Wunderkammer objectsPhotos & poem (c) Karen Margolis 2013

posted 22 September 2013 events OD.eventsView from ME caf(Olbricht Collection) of the opening party underway in Auguststrasse

Art, Elections, Shows, Events100 years of fun: Old ballroom Cl rchens Ballhaus on Auguststrasse at the start of Berlin Art Week, 17 Sept 2013Truly we live in an events culture. September kicked off in Berlin with the 11-day International Literature Festival hosting luminaries from the world of letters such as J.M. Coetzee and Salman Rushdie and an enormous number of other exciting and worthy programme items.

After a two-day breather for the city's cultural nabobs and consumers. the show got underway again with Berlin Art Week, an extravaganza combining the forces of official culture (state galleries, museums, art schools etc.), and the hundreds of large and small private galleries and art spaces. Painting has been rediscovered, photography is booming and installations seem to be going though a tough patch. This relentless pursuit of culture punctuated with breaks for push-button espresso, flat sparkling wine and chilled pretzels (consumed standing up) is so absorbing and exhausting that you might sometimes forget there is a world outside where war is threatening and national economies may collapse.The skeleton of political discourse. (Seen at Olbricht Wunderkammer Collection during Berlin Art Week)ICONIC IMAGES RULE

The German election has succeeded in fitting smoothly into this relentless round of event culture. Political debate has been conducted as talk-show productions with audience participation online by mouse-click after the event. There is an almost subversive glee in the way the media seize on trivia to enliven the tepid proceedings: Merkel's odd necklace in German national colors worn during the main TV debate with her rival Steinbr ck, and his vulgar "fuck-off" middle finger gesture in a posed photo are still the main talking points. Iconic images dominate.It's hard to raise issues like poverty of children and the aged, the gap between rich and poor, inner-city gentrification, taxation, education or family policy, global warming, gender equality,secret state surveillance, the weapons industry -- anything, in fact, that might risk courting boredom by being too serious, or might alert voters by being too clear. Vagueness is all, as represented by Merkel's famous "lozenge", the shape made by her characteristic gesture of pressing her fingertips together to avoid other, more telling gestures. The ad people latched on to this during the final campaign stage and now you can see Merkel everywhere on billboards (or rather, the hands framed in lozenge position against her red jacket), as the biggest selling point for her conservative party, the CDU.Not quite a lozenge but you get the idea: German symbolic art (seen at Kunstwerke Gallery during Berlin Art Week).The weird thing is that if you detach the image from context it can become merged with details from pictures seen in some of those galleries and museums I've been in and out of during art week. Merkel's hands in that pose could easily belong to a monk in a medieval or Renaissance painting. Even her belly exudes the solidity of comfortable reassurance. Any relevance to the crucial issues of the day is about as far removed as the Middle Ages. If Merkel's party wins, that lozenge will come to stand for zero. A harsh angular zero devoid of curves. Zero win for the the people in Germany and Europe who desperately need change. People like you and me.THE CITY BELONGS TO EVERYBODY -- squatted house in Auguststrasse during the art party.Two days ago, crossing Berlin's biggest central square, Alexanderplatz, I came upon a cluster of people around a stage where a band of young men and women were giving their best in German sub-rapper style (i.e., raucous singing without the swear words). Opposite the stage, a man stood at the top of a cylindrical two-storey tower surrounded by media people with mikes. (At historic building sites in the city they call this kind of construction an "InfoBox". It's designed mainly for tourists.) At ground level, a small line of "ordinary voters" were waiting their turn to climb up and ask questions. The whole scene was so ritualised and lacklustre, so motionless, that at first I mistook it for an installation, part of Berlin Art Week. On closer inspection, flags, literature tables and leaflet distributors proclaimed it as a Social Democratic party (SPD) election event. The busy shoppers and commuters all around didn't stop to give it a glance. The lack of interest in this election event was indicative.

That's life in Berlin, at least in the public domain. Politics has come to imitate art. And neither are particularly interesting except to the initiated or those getting paid to participate.DEUTSCHE BANK SPONSORS ART: SO WHAT?

On the opening night of Art Week, the first person to take the open-air stage erected in Auguststrasse, which is home to many city centre galleries, was the mayor, Klaus Wowereit, Mr. Arty-Party himself. Flanked by tall, handsome bodyguards, his silhouette bathed in flattering silver floodlights, the mayor expressed his regret that rapid urban renewal is driving artists out of Berlin. They can't afford homes any more, let alone studios.This is partly a result of Wowereit's policies -- the SPD mayor has been in office for more than a decade and culture has become a bureaucrat's dream. But there's also the widespread misconception that artists are happy to starve for their art (and writers and poets, too). They're lucky enough to be creative so why are they complaining about the cost?Mayor Wowereit: "You could at least clap."From the stage, Wowereit expressed thanks to the Deutsche Bank for its "generous" support for Art Week and the opening party. This was greeted by silence. Wowereit surveyed the audience, lining the street in thousands for the fun. "Well, you could at least clap," he scolded. Still silence. No boos, no jeers, no screams. Such is the current state of cultural political discourse in the German capital. Take the money and keep your mouth shut. It's a litany we know all too well from the economy.Footnote. I won't be going to the polls on Sunday. I have been resident in Berlin for 30 years now, but even longtime resident EU nationals like me, who are fully integrated into the tax and welfare system, are disenfranchised in German general elections. Universal suffrage, anybody? Did I hear you say migrants' rights?Self portrait of the poet as a politically disenfranchised art lover (seen in a gallery in Linienstrasse, Berlin Art Week 2013).Text and pictures (c) Karen Margolis 2013 on with the new.on with the new.on with the new

Shock Of The Old?

How wonderful to be a child today! - as a teenager I used to take afternoon walks after school on Hampstead Heath with my baby brother in his pram. We used to sing Beatles songs and other '60s sounds as I pushed him up the hills and down the vales of that beautiful place, our local park. On the way back home, still pushing, tired and breathless, I would envy him the comfort of his pram and long to be a toddler again, to be pushed and waited on.

Nowadays some lucky children in Berlin can ride in the fantasy vehicle of their choice. While the big engines in the fire station roll out for emergency calls, at the bike hire shop across the way the kiddies can pile into their own firefighting model and dream of daring action and brave rescues.Dream ride for kids, Oderberger Strasse BerlinGrowing older today isn't bad either. Refreshed from celebrating another birthday (how fast they come and go!), I'm reflecting on the future more than the past. Still, there's a coda to the glorious summer we just had in central Europe, a poem that didn't get published in the place it was written for because prose was required instead. Now it stands proud on its own, as poetry will do, capturing a moment and transforming it into something that will outlast the winter. (Caution: it rhymes!) It is waiting to be read, and later to be picked up, put in the right place, and collected.MIDSUMMER ELEGY

up the street they're all upbeat

nobody's problem they can't treat

the cure: more sushi than you can eatdown the road they changed the code

to fit the latest egophone mode

toilet texting while they offloadbeyond the fence some pick and choose

the mirror offers lifestyle views

cowards block and then accuseover the hill it's quiet and still

the summer evening drinks its fill

vultures circle for the kill

a woman leans from a window silleach verse holds a tale to unfold

most of them will remain untold

that, my friends, is the shock of the oldKaren Margolis

Berlin, June 2013These days I always carry my little pocket camera with me. On the streets around me in this strange border zone area there's usually a sight to open the eyes wider.Recently it was another vehicle. This time under the heading TOYS FOR BOYS:The real celebration has to be that the world has got through another week without starting a major war. The future looks possible.Text and pictures (c) Karen Margolis 2013

posted 15 September 2013#collecting.old.poetry#collecting.old.poetry#collecting.old.poetry#collecting.old.poetry#Collecting And CompilingThere is a green chair far awayAll those poems. Hundreds of them, piled up in folders in my storage archive, or nestling in digital files in Dropbox.

Collecting and selecting for a forthcoming poetry book means first finding the poems where I last laid them down.

After recovery comes the delight of rediscovery.

Reading through these poems written long ago means reliving life in snatches or batches or cycles of experience.

Aside from all their other qualities, poems are records of the moment they were written in.Like an unforgotten bar of music, a whiff of scent, a line from a song, the shape of a shadow, a poem or its parts can bring back all kinds of emotions.

The poems I found today come from a group called The Tyranny of the Victim after the title of the first one. Written at various times, they reflect facets of love and family relationships.

But the content is only one aspect. What struck me, reading them again, is that I could hear the music I was listening to at the time I wrote the poems.THE TYRANNY OF THE VICTIM

(the day the doll's house smashed)

The tyranny of the self-appointed victim

I can only fight my way

with my pen a swordThe vampire fury of the forsaken wife

I can only fight my way

with my mind a razorThe helpless cruelty of the soft male ego

I can only fight my way

with my strength a harbour"Come in", she said, "I'll give you / shelter from the storm"**Quoted from the Bob Dylan album, Blood on the Tracks, 1976(c) Karen Margolis 1997 / 2013Between poems: Feeding crumbs to the sparrows at caftablesLET'S DANCEYou take the lead

as long as you can

I won't always followyou my man

could bring me sorrow

we both sow the seedand fill the hollow

with love our creed

and pleasure our planwe challenge tomorrow

and laugh all we can.

Let's dance. Take the lead(c) Karen Margolis 1997/2013

If there's a picture that sums me up, it's this (my visual mascot):Edward Hopper "Automat" (1927)Text (c) Karen Margolis 2013

posted 10 September 2013summer's almost gone:summer's almost gone:summer's almost goneADIEU TO THE PAPER MONSTERFarewell salute: reading the Paper Monster poem (photo: Thomas Schliesser)

The late late store (known affectionately in Berlin as the Spaeti, short for "Sp tkauf") is the poor person's pub and caf . Open well into the small hours, it's the place for the whole neighbourhood to shop at or stop at.Young people dash in and out for soft drinks and crisps, candy bars or party wine. It's always crowded during the break in soccer game screenings.And at weekends. Sp tis sell everything from newspapers, magazines, beer, wine and spirits, to sweets, cosmetics, toilet articles and washing up liquid. At the Adalbertstrasse 86 Sp ti you can pick up a Nescafor hot tea and some fresh bakery as well. Local brews such as original Berlin cider (drinkable) and various kinds of carbonated fermented fruit juices (an acquired taste) are also on offer.Friday evening at the late late store on Adalbertstrasse: Games for the locals and culture for the arts sceneThe Spaetis in Berlin's Kreuzberg and Neuk lln district are mainly run by Turks, the biggest local minority. Somehow Carolina Cruz, a Berliner from Chile, together with a group of other young artists, managed to persuade some Sp ti proprietors four years ago to allow their shops to become art venues in the lazy slow summer month of August. It's a win-win idea that's gained neighborhood support from customers and enthusiastic applause from the arts community.This year the Spaeti at Adalbertstrasse 86 in the heart of the famous Oranienstrasse scene was Carolina's own venture. The Sp tkauf event began in various venues on 31 August 2013 (scroll down to see the story below). As I explained at the farewell evening on 6 September,my part began with a phone call from Carolina asking if I would write a poem for her paper monster. She described vaguely what she was making painstakingly with strips of newsprint, and I duly wrote and recorded the short poem. After the paper monster was installed, the poem was played to the accompaniment of recorded tweeting birds until it drove the vendors crazy. Throughout, the paper monster occupied the back of the shop, letting its limbs be tugged by eager children and toleratingthe competition from the presiding picture of Che Guevara that remained firmly in place and has survived the whole episode with bravour.Pulling the strings: this movable monster has a future ahead in animationThe farewell (dignified with the label "finissage" in the invitations), was a mixture of street party and poetry reading. The invited company sat outside amid the resident drinkers and backgammon players. We incidentally witnessed the excitement of several Turkish wedding motorcades doing the traditional Kreuzberg round on this balmy Friday evening, with hooting and shouts and general merriment. At the appointed time we crowded into the little shop and I read the poem standing on a small two-step ladder.

Several attempts to record the event on iPhones failed. Otherwise everything worked perfectly.POEM OF THE PAPER MONSTER

for Carolina

papers at the late l
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