Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: A poem sampler from Ian Wedde’s The Little Ache — a German Notebook

The Little Ache — a German Notebook, Ian Wedde, Victoria University Press, 2021

From The Little Ache—a German notebook

2

Im Hochsummer besuchen die Bienen viele unterschiedliche Blüten

‘In high summer the bees seek many different flowers’

caught my eye on the jar of honey

in the organic shop around the corner

in Boxhagenerstrasse

but outside it was already getting dark

at 4.30 in the afternoon

and the warm bars were filling

with a buzz of patrons

dipping their lips

into fragrant brews

jostling each other in a kind of dance

I didn’t join

(I didn’t know how to

couldn’t ‘find my feet’)

but took home my jar of Buckweizenaroma

buckwheat/bookwise aroma

and sampled some on a slice

of Sonnenblumenbrot.

6

Von allem Leid, das diesen Bau erfüllt,

Ist unter Mauerwerk und Eisengittern

Ein hauchlebendig, ein geheimes Zittern.

‘From all the suffering that fills this building

there is under masonry and iron bars

a breath of life a secret tremor.’

In the Moabit Prison memorial

where Albrecht Haushofer’s words

incised in the back wall

already wear the weary patinas of time and weather

or more probably the perfunctory smears

of graffiti cleansing

I’m assailed by a nipping dog

whose owners apologise in terms I don’t quite understand

though the dog does

and retreats ahead of the half-hearted kick

I lack the words to say isn’t called for.

The horizon’s filled with gaunt cranes

resting from the work of tearing down or building up

the forgettable materiality of history

an exercise one might say

in removing that which was draughty

and replacing it with that which can be sealed.

Or as it may be

tearing down the sealed panopticon

but making space to train dogs in.

21

Oberbaumbrücke

is one of those contrapuntal German nouns

that should be simple but isn’t

unless you think

‘upper-tree-bridge’ is simple.

The long trailing tresses of the willows

have turned pale green

and are thrashing in the wind

on the Kreutzberg side

of die Oberbaumbrücke

over the storm-churned Spree.

They are the uneasy ghosts of spring.

Gritty gusts

blow rubbish along the embankment.

In a crappy nook

a graffitied child clenches a raised fist.

Yesterday at the Leipzig Book Fair

I listened to a fierce debate

about the situation in Ukraine

and later visited the Nikolaikirche

where Johann Sebastian Bach had played the organ.

One situation was loud with discord

the other’s efflatus a ghostly counterpoint.

On the train back to Berlin

I received a text from Donna

who’d been rocking our granddaughter Cara to sleep.

My bag from the Book Fair

had a paradoxical misquote from Ezra Pound on it:

‘Literatur ist Neues,

                                       das neu bleibt.’

The train was speeding at 200 kilometres an hour

towards the place I’m calling home

because it’s haunted by ancestors who left slowly

but surely

thereby established the first term

of my contrapuntal neologism:

Endeanfang.

26

The vanity of art

(Milan Kundera) –

In spring

I return to the Moabit Prison Memorial

Haushofer’s words are still there

writ large on the back wall

they seem a little faded

but that could be the effect

of lucid sunshine

which elongates the speeding shadows

of dogs chasing Frisbees

and picks out

the filigreed patterns of trees

beginning to be crowned

with pale baldachins of leaves.

The girl panhandling on the footpath

at Warschauer Strasse station

has scrawled an unambiguous request

on the cardboard placard

her dog’s sleeping head

seems to be dreaming:

‘cash for beer and weed

and food for the dog’.

What the ghosts of Moabit are saying

I find harder to understand.

The memorial park’s stark absences

move me

and the minimal architectural features

seem respectful and not vaunting.

But the silence here

which the happy dogs

vociferous nesting birds

industriously rebuilding cranes

and agitated railway station

do not fill

that silence

crowds into a place in the mind

that scepticism can’t reach

where ghosts gather obliviously

without caring if I sense them

or if any of this exists.

27

Patriotismus, Nationalismus, Kosmopolitismus, Dekadenz

are the words repeated over and over

by the artist Hanne Darboven

whose great work in the Hamburger Bahnhof

museum of contemporary art

like the nearby Moabit Prison Memorial

reduces what she knew

to the minimal utterances

the obsessive reductions

the repetitions

that anticipate the ghosts of themselves

in the silence of the archive.

Ian Wedde

Ian Wedde was born in 1946. He has published sixteen collections of poetry, most recently Selected Poems (2017). He was New Zealand’s Poet Laureate in 2011 and shared the New Zealand Book Award for poetry in 1978. The Little Ache — a German Notebook was begun while he had the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency 2013/2014 and often notes research done during that time, especially into his German great-grandmother Maria Josephine Catharina née Reepen who became the ghost that haunts the story of the character Josephina in Wedde’s novel The Reed Warbler.

Victoria University page

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