JÜRGEN BECKER

brandenburg


Three Poems by Jürgen Becker

translated by Okla Elliott

Jürgen Becker was born in Köln, Germany, in 1932. He is the author of over thirty books—novels, story collections, poetry collections, and plays—all published by Germany’s premier publisher, Suhrkamp. He has won numerous prizes in Germany, including the Heinrich Böll Prize, the Uwe Johnson Prize, and the Hermann Lenz Prize, among others. Becker’s work often deals with his childhood experience of WWII and the political consequences of the postwar division of Germany.

I first discovered his work when I was a student for a year in Germany and only later decided to contact him about translating his work. I can say that spending as much time as I have with his poetry has been hugely rewarding, and there are days when I enjoy being the conduit for his work into English as much as I enjoy doing my own writing. The following three translations have all appeared in print journals (A Public Space, Absinthe, and Indiana Review, respectively). I hope they give some idea of how wide-ranging and engaging Becker’s work is.

***

In the Wind

Blackbirds, then other voices. It doesn’t stop
when it snows, when with the snow
a newness comes that is
entirely essential this morning. Or how
do you see it? I see the pear tree and how it
(the pear tree) reacts to the wind (to the
wind). This morning, yet again,
the decision fell. War
between magpies and crows, only this war,
no trappings, only this clear understanding.
Yet another voice, the next commentator; it’s all about
(yet again) the whole. Are you standing
in the garden? The you know, tsk tsk, the blackbird
warned above all else, you know, I’ll say it yet
again, in war, in the new snow, in the wind.

***

Belgian Coast

Toccata and tango; the afternoon
not bright. One hotel
weathered after another;
postcards of emigrants.
Doors, doors
are blown away by the sand,
disappear behind the sand. The calm
of anglers. Invisible England; reports
from the British transmitter, wartime.
Children run
with balls, wheels, propellers;
and paratroopers all about.

***

Oderbruch

The camera’s broken? It’s cold out,
and there are crows bigger than crows
usually are, scattering smoothly over there
across the fields.
Nothing over there. Twilight. Gold gray twilight
spreads out. A tree in Poland
is over there the lost barren tree.
Lighted and empty, the bus drives over the levee.
On the riverbank, two men with their backs
to the dam, which neither begins nor ends.
You don’t hear anything. You hear the slippage
of the floe, the circling floe. You hear
for a long time yet, later, in the dark, the drifting ice.
The camera’s broken, else why are the pictures
blurry now? Two men stood on the riverbank.

They came back. They could tell the story.

About Okla Elliott

I am currently an assistant professor at Misericordia University in northeast Pennsylvania. I hold a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Illinois, an MFA in creative writing from Ohio State University, and a legal studies certificate from Purdue University. My work has appeared in Cincinnati Review, Harvard Review, The Hill, Huffington Post, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, and Subtropics, as well as being listed as a "notable essay" in Best American Essays 2015. My books include From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a coauthored novel), Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker (translation), and Bernie Sanders: The Essential Guide (nonfiction).
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9 Responses to JÜRGEN BECKER

  1. sivanpoetry says:

    Thank you for introducing me to a poet I was not familiar with. I can only imagine the pleasure it must be to translate his work.

    – Sivan

  2. ingrid aquino says:

    TThank you for introducing a stellar poet ..just lovely ..and the translation seems just wonderful!!!

  3. evetoliman says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  4. oklaelliott says:

    thank you all for your kind words about the translations. becker is an amazing writer. it’s humbling to work with him.

    • Gustavo says:

      Hi,

      Congrats on your translation work. Is there a way you could share with me the original German texts. I want to translate some of Becker’s poem into Spanish and these do not appear in the collections I have by him.

      Thank you sincerely,

      Gus Chaves

  5. SK says:

    Nice poems. I’m sure there are certain journals that will regret passing up on these translations.

  6. peterln says:

    Congratulations, well done. Had known only a little of Becker’s work before. Good to see these translations on the net.

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