Being German

Foto: Goethe-Institut / Andrea Fernandes
Foto: Goethe-Institut / Andrea Fernandes

Being German it seems to be slightly awkward to be writing a letter from Germany, joining the voices of so many visitors – but, alas, being a German who has lived in England for some time now it seems equally natural and strange at once. When I met Basudev Sunani from Orissa, Naseem Shafaie from Kashmir, Aruna Dhere from Mumbai, who had been one of my fellow poets in the translators’ workshop in Mumbai in July last year, and the German poets Almut Sandig and Anja Utler in Tübingen last week, I felt quite up-rooted, part neither of one or the other group. Which was, as soon turned out, just wonderfully right, because standing between languages immediately propulses you to the core of poetry and/or translation.

Our first reading took place in the Hölderlinturm at Tübingen, a small, towerlike building where “poor” Friedrich Hölderlin, one of the most wonderful poets of German tongue, said to have been struck with madness, spent the last decades of his life. It was dark and fairly cold when we started, the room rather small, but perfect for our audience of about twenty poetry enthusiasts. And enthusiasts they were: when the reading stopped after approx. 90 minutes, half of them left – but the other half smilingly came closer and wanted to hear more, showing vivid interest in the process of translating each other across linguistic and cultural clashes – with the help of interlinear translators, interpreters and the Goethe Institute.

Something fairly “Indian” seemed to take place: all of a sudden there was time. Poetry needs it. Time to talk in detail, to explain, to marvel at the fact that translation, famous for being impossible, yet again had proved to be manageable. And so much more than that: combining good fun, great adventure and hard work opening up dazzlingly new perspectives.
It was the (German) chair of the evening who finally, at about 10.30 pm, decided to put an end to the evening – he was afraid of fainting of hunger if we continued. And right he was! Luckily enough we had wonderful hosts, the director of the Hölderlinturm, Helge Noack, invited us to her home where her husband had prepared lovely Indian curries.

All of us went to Munich the next morning – and we were glad to make it, including a change of one local swabian train into another for which we had 4 extremely generous minutes - quite an experience if you have to drag heavy suitcases downstairs and upstairs. We even survived the arrival at Munich, when, after Naseem had already got out, the doors of the train suddenly closed and the rest of the group was shoved off to Munich main station. Never mind: it was great to reassemble in the evening to take part in Munich’s all female poetry festival Schamrock. Wonderful atmosphere there – many poets, an attentive audience, a beautiful lecture theatre. Again poets-translating-poets came alive just through the sheer variety of voices and languages. It felt so rich and rewarding to be there – and I hope that Basudev as the only male author around enjoyed it as well!

Ulrike Draesner