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Archive for October, 2018

Amtssprache

This week I read how the word ‘lügenpresse’, meaning ‘lying press’, which was used by the nazis to discredit any media outlets which were against them, has experienced a revival in German discourse. Those who use it are emboldened, of course, by the fact that another good translation fo the term might be ‘fake news’, as used by Donald Trump. Confusing people, so that they are no longer certain what is true, is one way to ensure complicity in fascism. When they are confused, too, people often look for a ‘strong’ leader. Making our own moral choices, taking responsibility, thinking – these things seem too difficult. It is much easier to be obedient, although a cursory glance at history tells us obedience is not a virtue.

These are frightening times. Today is the launch of the Extinction Rebellion, an international movement using mass civil disobedience to force governments to respond to the ecological crisis. I have no doubt that in the future those who are arrested will be seen, like Sophie Scholl of the White Rose movement, as heroic, as will those who have taken part in Black Lives Matter demonstrations, or anti-fascism marches in Charlottesville, or anti-fracking action in Lancashire. Those of us who are not so brave must reckon with ourselves. This poem I wrote a few years ago seems relevant.  ‘Amtssprache’ means ‘official talk’ and was a term used by Eichmann during the Nuremberg trials. Asked if it was hard to send those tens of thousands of people to their death, he answered: ‘To tell you the truth, it was easy. Our language made it easy.’

 

Amtssprache

 

So what would you pay to have your family safe

in that house with the garden and the clean running water –

and you walk in and hold them and kiss their faces?

Your life? Too easy, and nobody’s asking.

 

How about the life of an Afghan child,

a city, the birds in the sky?

Would you turn a blind eye? Would you turn off the news?

Would you run the trains to death camps?

 

Of course you would. You do.

You do these things.

 

 

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In the abundance

So the season of flu vaccines and soft play and parent’s evenings begins. My children have taken to their fluffy onesies. This weekend we had friends over for a roast dinner, with rainbow chard and a first crop of Jerusalem artichokes from our wet garden, and I wore my new cords. I’m back at Essex University as a Royal Literary Fellow again, two days a week, leaving the house when it’s still dark and Gruff waves goodbye from a glowing upstairs window. Pret porridge. The walk to the campus from Wivenhoe train station has been making me feel autumnal: grey skies; banks of fern turned to rose-gold; dark sloes; an egret in pale brown water; a flicker of yellow wagtail.

If you want to get into a similarly cosy mood, can I suggest you subscribe to MPT? Our new issue is at the printers as we speak, with this beautifully seasonal cover by Budapest illustrator Ilka Mészely.

Hungary cover

Hungarian poetry is full of mists and cups of coffee, and the issue also contains tributes to Ted Hughes’ translations by Polly Clark, Zaffar Kunial and Tara Bergin, new versions by Mona Arshi and Chris McCabe, and some seasonal poems such as this beautiful haiku by Yasuaki Inoue, translated by Katrina Naomi:

In the abundance
of autumn a baby cries
like a giant fire

 

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