by Gordon Walmsley

Angriff Auf Die Freiheit
by Ilija Trojanow and Juli Zeh.
Carl Hanser Verlag 2009.

The book emerges from Germany, a country that has some experience with what it is to be a police state. The writers are the novelist and poet Ilija Trojanow and Juli Zeh, who, apart from writing fiction, has a law degree which she has put to good use in this effort.

A prevailing thought in Germany for the past sixty or so years, that is to say post-Hitler Germany, has been, very simply, NEVER AGAIN. A mere twenty years ago, Germany was divided, something called Stasi existed in the eastern part. The secret police. Its intention was to know everything about every citizen. A police state.

Never again.

One reads this collaborative effort and comes away with the feeling that we are very close to the anathema we so assiduously have forsworn. That we are not far from the unthinkable.

One remembers activists being detained during the Copenhagen Climate Conference on the mere suspicion that they might carry out plans with nefarious intent, plans of Civil Disobedience, a principle which the Chief of Police described as alien to Denmark. We know nothing of that, up here, he said.

Angriff Auf Die Freiheit (Assault on Freedom) is a sober account of the dismantling process of basic individual rights of freedom and privacy that is underway now in the democratic west in the name of the war on terrorism. It describes the legal thinking that has permitted the inexorable encroachment of a surveillance society and the conceptual mind-set that has allowed it to emerge: technological advances and the superstition that all such advances are good and should be implemented, the abrogation of juridical principles that have encouraged the deterioration of hard-won legal rights and the ultimate triumph of the “when we say national security you don't have any rights” mentality. The book makes us aware of the atmosphere that has made all this possible, the encouragement of a mood of extreme fear and apprehension by the press who, more often than not, have an interest in selling their products, knowing full well that “fear sells”. The book chronicles, as well, the unfathomable laziness of politicians who exhibit impressive ignorance as to the details of the legislation they so breezily enact, whisking through the most draconian laws with little or no debate. Laws that are very very difficult to revoke once they are in place. It demonstrates how laws intended for one purpose (anti-terrorism) have been misapplied in areas in which they were not conceived, the prime example being the freezing of Icelandic bank-accounts in England by use of anti-terrorism provisions.

The book should be translated into, at least, English. It's tone is one of equanimity, reflection and intelligence as it carefully examines a progression that will no doubt, in four or five years, be perceived as THE critical issue of our present society: the loss of individual freedoms and the diminution of democratic principles in contemporary western society.


Louis MacNeice. Collected Poems. Faber and Faber. 2008

Bookstores are the custodians of surprise. I was pointed to a poet I didn't know. In Dublin, about a year ago. It turns out the poet is famous. Louis MacNeice. Sorry, his name has eluded me- through University, years ago, and even in the poetic circles I move through in the United States, Ireland, Denmark, Germany- never heard the name. Thus, I am a fool. Or just unlucky. His collected poems appeared a couple of years ago, and have remedied my lapse.

I opened the tome and fell upon a poem called Autumn Journal, a sort of rambling disquisition, a flow of introspection. The poem was long and filled over sixty pages.

How little I know about him.

Spider, spider, twisting tight
But the watch is wary beneath the pillow
I was afraid in the web of night
When the wind is fingered by the shadow of branches
When the lions roar beneath the hill.
And the meter clicks and the cistern bubbles
And the gods are absent and the men are still--

He would get to the bottom of things. Thus he is relevant today.

                                                 The muses give
Nothing, for nothing, works of art, like men
Must be a little impure to live,.

And therefore accident-prone. No brush or pen,
Woodwind or strings, can pledge a constant truth
That may not lapse into untruth again.

The funny thing about him is that he sticks to the form (in this case tercets) while subverting it with words like “hanger-on”, “alter-ego”, words of the day. They abound within the confines of the palace.

Thus there is cavorting where one would expect decorum.

The metre is implied, not always pounded out. Sometimes a line is allowed to dissipate or just end. We can be thrown back - in a suddenly halt – to, say, Sappho. More often we are travelling with Whitman in the sovereign domain of Wordsworth.

I have a better plan
to hit the target straight without circumlocution
If you can equate Being in its purest form
With denial of all appearance.

I discover he has a broad range. If he is a kind of Whitman in Irish garb, he is more contained than Whitman, while possessing a poetic largesse that allows for the unpoetic. He has little to do with Irish domestic narrative or personal nostalgia. And he is urban.

He seems free within the constraints he has set himself. His Autumn sequences do rhyme. Yet he feels free enough sometimes to break the scheme. Perhaps his way is to adopt a well-bred, even traditional, comportment, yet be free to spill his drink every now and then.

At the beginning of one's journey into the poetic world of Louis MacNeice, one can only be grateful.


Schreibheft, Zeitschrift für Literatur, Nr. 74 (In Praise of Inger Christensen, eds)

Hanns Grössel and Norbert Wehr have put together a loving edition dedicated to the Danish poet Inger Christensen who died last year in January. The collection could be called Inger Christensen and Germany. Ninety-nine percent of the texts are in German. There are one or two in English. There are a contributions by the poet herself as well as by those who knew her. She spent a fair amount of time in Germany towards the end of her life and she was productive there. There are things she has written, which this volume includes, of which Danes have no idea. I remember her telling me that she had embarked on a writing project, while staying at Literaturhaus in Berlin and that she had never written so much. Well, now these things (Hängebrücken/Renshi) and others can be read. There are translations of her work into German, short contributions about her, or inspired by her, by Herta Müller, Niels Barfoed, Ernst Wichner, Dürs Grünbein and others. For those who imagine they have read all of Inger Christensen this volume is a must. There are things here that are not found anywhere else. GW

Det er med fornøjelse, at man åbner det tyske litterære tidsskrift “Schreibheft”, Zeitschrift für Literatur og finder et hyldestnummer for Inger Christensen. At hun var elsket fremstår klart og vi oplever hende igennem internationale forfatteres møder med hende og i hendes digte som vises oversat til tysk, nogle gange endda af hende selv! Kommentarer til Inger Christensens digte findes selvfølgelig på tysk, men også på engelsk. Det er dejligt med et tidsskrift, der tør bruge flere sprog - i forventning om at i hvert fald nogle læsere kan forstå det.

Korte breve stilet til Inger Christensens oversætter Hanns Grössel befinder sig velplaceret i tidsskriftet, vi får derigennem en fornemmelse af mennesket Inger Christensen. Pudsige fund af omslag fra tidsskriftet Chancen som Inger Christensen var med til at redigere, tillige med nogle af hendes egne allerførste offentliggjorte digte blandes med billeder af hende og hendes kollegaer.

Blandt disse findes et par fotos af Herta Müller og Oskar Pastior, hvor de er på besøg i en tidligere arbejdslejr i Ukraine. Disse to forfatteres samarbejde resulterede i Herta Müllers bog ”Atemschaukel”, hvori vi læser om tysktalendes rumæneres ophold i denne lejr i årene efter anden verdenskrig. Det gør et stort indtryk at læse om denne verden og ikke mindst om overgangene imellem tiden før opholdet og om at vende tilbage til en ”normal” livsførelse igen. Vi venter stadig på den danske oversættelse af ”Atemschaukel”, man kan roligt se frem til en meget interessant bog, som bidrager til informationen om livet under de ekstreme forhold, som herskede i fange- og arbejdslejrene. ”Atemschaukel” føjer sig fint supplerende ind i rækken af både Imre Kertész og Primo Levis værker og ikke at forglemme den danske Per Ulrichs bog om lignende emner. AB

can be ordered at schreibheft@netcologne.de


Birdsong On The Seabed.
Elena Shvarts
Translated by Sasha Dugdale
Bloodaxe Bookstores

We have only a short time, before going on line, to tell our readers that this book is a must. Elena Shvarts was spoken of - in the halls of northern writers - as an obvious choice for the Nobel Prize. She died, however in March of this year, but left behind a legacy of magical poems. She was a Jewish writer, who like Pasternak, could not be confined to any creed or religion. Her poems are both mystical and down to earth and reading her, one feels that here was a poet who was truly brushed by an angel's wing. This editor remembers Inger Christensen reading aloud a translation of Shvarts in Copenhagen, while the poet wandered about the stage looking at the ceiling, the statues, something she noticed, totally oblivious to the three or four hundred people in the audience. Inger Christensen looked over and noticed Elena Shvarts circumnavigations, shrugged her shoulders as if to say, well if she wants to do that it's fine, and continued to read.