Categories
Essay

The Idiot, Goethe, and the Comet

By Helga Neumayer

I believe in stories. I am looking for stories.  And, yes. I can describe myself as a story lover. But, naturally, there are some stories I don’t want to know anything at all about. “Net so genau-au (Not too many details)” as Austrian artist Ostbahn-Kurti used to sing.

Stories have a life of their own. Suddenly, they come and bewitch you. It is useless to ignore them. You are surrounded by them. When you close your eyes, they come back in dreams.

Failing

Offended and frustrated, I left “my” German class. I had offered a proper elected lesson out of a textbook dated 2015 with exercises. The class did not participate.  They made fun of my lesson. They now wanted to learn something about love, etc. One of them complained noisily in front of the class:

“Teachings would be out-of-date!”

That hit!

There was some consolation in the trainers’ room.  My colleagues understand such situations. Anyhow, it affected me. 

I had some questions stashed away into my backpack:

“Do I do antiquated work?”

“What can I still expect from teaching classes?” 

“Is it worth the expenditure?”

Diversion

Anyway, I had to go to the public library.

I had to be surrounded by books. I needed to gaze on the soft hills of the Wiener Wald — the Vienna Forest. They calm me down.  For me, it has the same effect zapping through TV channels.

I can beam myself away, for example, among the bookshelves between I and K, let’s say, between a new Kaminer and an early Kaestner.  Then, I can glance at the DAF/DAZ shelf, at the textbooks for German as a foreign or second language.

Something new?

There was: The Complete Idiot. Simple speech. 

One guy does everything wrong. A drunkard.  Always talking about sex, something that he does not have.  No friendships to care about. Impolite. No luck in life.

Hefty language.  

I took the book. It helped.  For the next lesson, after a weekend of stomach ache and migraine, I had three different proposals for the class. In the so called “open-learning class,” participants are motivated to choose their own learning matter; they will choose what they like to learn at the moment. At the end, they are even allowed to play cards. Cards are in vogue — and, even at break times groups of card-players can be seen focussing on the game at hand.

Not this time. The participants concentrated mainly on the three stories of The Complete Idiot which I had offered them in copy form.  By themselves, they came to ask for expressions in detail, to be sure to understand everything properly.

Two close friends finished the three stories quickly and asked for the whole book, to retire with it in the leisure corner on the sofa. At the end of the lesson, they asked me where to buy the book.

A book!

With this experience, I gathered new courage. Finally, I was not at a very wrong spot.  Not old-fashioned. Not entirely in the wrong universe. 

The story could go on.

A few weeks passed.  The borders of The Complete Idiot — thus mine — could expand, furthermore, in the area of language.

The rail of love is a rail, which does not know limits.

Next time, I found Goethe’s Werther on the shelf.

 An audio book.

I cannot claim that in my younger years classical literature spoiled my love for literature, in general.  Those years just passed by. Consciously, I read one or another text as considered “advanced” only. For example, Goethe’s West-East Divan, after having inhaled Hafez.

It was pure joy.

Werther, however, fell into my hands for the first time now.  It was a simple version for the young people from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe whom I had to bring closer to the German language. So, we started with the beginning of the story when you can already adumbrate a passionate approach, but you already feel that the darling sweetheart is in other hands.

Listen two times.

Re-narrate once.

Read once. 

And then it was getting exciting.

How would the story proceed?

The feedback was gorgeous.

Stories over stories.

They embraced continents, generations, and fiction.

Exactly what turns out to be literature.

Prevailing tenor: love is surely no reason for suicide!

The quiet young man from the Ivory Coast in the back row got very emotional. He recounted about his brother, who left all his kin, because his love for the woman of his heart was refused by his family.  He emigrated to Germany and does not even answer the phone when a family member calls. 

A young Syrian woman believes that an arranged engagement with an unloved person can surely be cancelled, and everything will work out fine. And the young Ukrainian — the most radical of all — without further ado — navigates a comet out of the infinite nothing into the ballroom of the society of lovers, and extinguishes the whole raunchy bunch and brings the story to an early end.

And myself?

Well, me, I am now complying with the standard requirements of Marcel Reich-Ranicky,  a canonical literary critic, who in 2002, declared that every literate German speaker must have read Goethe’s “Werther”.  But quite possibly, my version, in simple speech, an audio book, would not have been acceptable to him …

(Translated from the German original to English by the author and Carol Yalcinkaya-Ferris)

Helga Neumayer (Austria) is an ethno-historian, author, editor, translator and multilingual radio activist. She edited a number of anthologies. For more than a decade she has been editing a renowned Austrian feminist magazine ‘Frauensolidarität‘.( Solidarity among Women) She is the co-founder of the radio editorial ‚Women on Air, a multiligual magazine that coveres issues on global power relations. She is a member of P.E.N. Austria and on editorial board of Words &Worlds. Helga Neumayer lives and works in Vienna.

Categories
Poetry

Happening and more…

By Vasile Baghiu

Happening

Yesterday, I met poetry 
on the stony Loch Long shore,
near Ardpeaton.
The place was empty, and I think
she felt very well as she was: ignored, 
neglected, abandoned among the wood pieces 
and dry sea wracks.
Though I had suspected for some time 
she was not just the kind of a thing written 
on a paper sheet, 
it was at that moment 
I viewed the truth.

The waves looked like real sea;
the breeze, kingfishers, 
the insistent wind bringing clouds, 
by heaps,
carrying them further away, like in 
a movie shown with high speed,
yet other details, not very easy 
to be described - 
all made me recognize her 
from the distance. 

I had my camera close at hand, so I took 
many photos 
thinking to impress my friends later, 
as I knew they would not believe my story.

In the evening, when 
the images were downloaded, 
nothing could be seen 
on the monitor.
I resigned then to sadness and insight,
and I confine myself to write here. 

Still I am sure I really met 
poetry yesterday.

Under Wave

It is as if I were ill sometimes,
feverish, lonely, 
abroad.  

I do not share myself between
me and my own person.

The world swishes inside;
and the heart, 
agreeing secretly with the brain,
makes waves to show I am still alive.

Despite the smile, 
I am not on the wave --
quite under it. 

Maybe I am in vacation
and try to take advantage of
the good weather. 

Striving to be at least 
a part of what I will never be,
I dare not venture too deep
but splash a bit with the oars here,
where I suppose the shore is nearby
helping me feel safe.










I Do Not Write
Today I do not write. 
I wish I could live a bit more than I do 
in normal circumstances. 
I put aside all the pencils and papers,
close the computer
and come into the midday sun. 
I do not write, 
so I go for a walk,
and think of the things 
concerning me closely
these days:
the life at home,
and the new British poetry
at “Bloodaxe”
I spent all the last evening.

This morning I sent e-mails 
to two persons who 
do not get along very well, 
hoping they would make up 
when seeing
they have a mutual friend in me. 

Wordsworth was right: long and solitary 
walks are good for inspiration,
but today I do not write. 
I feel good, but I would not pretend this 
comfortable feeling will infiltrate 
my writing too, 
in case tomorrow I begin
the story again. 

I get a bit more distant from myself
so that I can see me better. 
A fit of laughter seizes me. 

Today I do not write.

(First appeared in the volume Cât de departe a mers/ How Far Have I Gone, 2008)

Vasile Baghiu (b. 1965) is a Romanian writer, author of eight books of poetry, a collection of short stories and three novels published in his country. He has been awarded a few writers-in-residence grants, in Germany, Austria, Scotland and Switzerland. Some of his works have appeared in translation in magazines and anthologies such as Penmen Review, Magma Poetry, Southern Ocean Review, The Orange Room Review, Stellar Showcase Journal, L.A. Melange, Poetry Can, Banipal, Cordite Poetry Review, The Aalitra Review, Bordertown. Co-author of the poetry collection Transatlantic Crossings: The Constant Language of Poetry, (TJMF Publishing, USA, 2006). Vasile had in the past diverse work experiences as a nurse, including a sanatorium. A psychologist and a teacher now, married, he has a daughter and a son. He currently is working simultaneously on a new novel, a new collection of poems and a non-fiction book.