Poetry is a lonely endeavour. Not just its writing and editing, also its publishing. I once heard that the average German poetry collection has a first edition of 200. And even if these 200 sell out, their production cost won't be covered.
Poetry is the expensive tapestry that no one values; it has been hanging in the weekend house, collecting dust, and yet it is too precious to discard.
Most of the people I know who like poetry write their own, too. The audience of a poetry reading consists of these friends, other poets who hope for a reading, the hosts, perhaps a publisher, and, if you get lucky and there is no cover charge, one or two regulars. We poets know nobody cares.
I understand. Or, rather: I oscillate between a fair amount of sympathy for the public disinterest in my art form and its utter incomprehension. Editing line breaks is a quaint - albeit oddly satisfying - activity. And yet I'm still surprised to see that Google Maps knows of only one poetry museum and only one poetry library, in Washington D.C. and London respectively. Bookstores are dying, and with them narrow shelves of dated volumes. Soon, Plath and Hughes will be a distant memory. Already it feels like poetry never happened.
The educational system and the mainstream media don't help. To the wider public, poetry still is a country estate ruled by dying old white men, catered to by minority groups with immigrant accents.
There is a disconnect between what people see and poets say. No wonder that contemporary poetry remains unknown and, by extension, tragically irrelevant. Unless we add some music and a sexy dress, our work will go unnoticed.
And while we might be comfortable in our corners and desk chairs, we aren't comfortable in our inconsiderableness. By the inaccessible nature of our art, our influence on society is frustratingly limited. To the audience, we are not painters or photographers. More often than not, our peculiarities are too peculiar for the front page.
I can only speculate about the origin of this estrangement. A lack of visibility, perhaps a perpetual missing of the right place and time in world history, and no real opportunity for dialogue.
Let's talk. Let me approach the indifferent among you by sharing the story behind my new poetry collection's opening poem, "narcoses".
i walk out on you for
watching you sit is unstayable
forehead of yours and my eyes
as if glued to your chest and
in mine still a fear of the
three different types of narcosis
this moment so long still
you lie on our night when
you wallow like blood through
the cells (and space is but
the darkest blot on charts)
me walks away from you for
staying is unsitable and
thinking of sharing myself
with myself here won’t do me
Narcoses is a poem about consciousness. And a hot anesthetist I met over dinner one night. A mutual friend had invited us out for Korean. I was still relatively new to Berlin, in the final stretch of a relationship with a doctoral candidate and I could use the distraction.
The guy sat down opposite me and we started talking. Amongst other things, he told me about the three different ways he puts patients to sleep: by oral medication, gas, and injection. In a surprising pang of attraction, I regretted that he was off-limits.
I went home soon, pondering life in an alternate universe. The delta of chance, appeal and restraint was a little too much; the enigma of life too mysterious.
In its German original title, "narcoses" is "three kinds of numb". Clumsy sounding words throughout the poem ("unsitable", "unstayable") mimic the uneasy situation I was in. While last three lines, "thinking of sharing myself with myself here won't do me like you" are intentional references to masturbation and intercourse, I was actually referring to a notional connection between strangers.
The German Original
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