The International Literary Quarterly

February 2010


Rose Ausländer
Charles Bernstein
Amy Bloom
Jean Boase-Beier
Carmen Bugan
Moira Burgess
Larry Butler
James Byrne
Jim Carruth
Neil Charleton
Ronald Christ
A.C. Clarke
David Dawnay
Patricia Delmar
Des Dillon
Anne Donovan
Gerrie Fellows
Cheryl Follon
Ronald Frame
Hazel Frew
Rodge Glass
David Goldie
Jane Goldman
Martin Goodman
Siobhan Harvey
Beatriz Hausner
Kusay Hussein
A.B. Jackson
Kapka Kassabova
Velimir Khlebnikov
David Kinloch
Micaela Lewitt
Zhimin Li
Gerry Loose
James McGonigal
Gerry McGrath
Donal McLaughlin
Kate McLoughlin
Andrea McNicoll
Willy Maley
Peter Manson
Laura Marney
Ernst Meister
Lina Meruane
Edwin Morgan
Ewan Morrison
Laura Muetzelfeldt
Hom Paribag
Mario Petrucci
Clare Pollard
Sheila Puri
Claire Quigley
Elizabeth Reeder
Alan Riach
Dilys Rose
Suhayl Saadi
Sue Reid Sexton
Bina Shah
Yasir Shah
Jim Stewart
Zoë Strachan
Chiew-Siah Tei
Valerie Thornton
Anthony Vivis
Marshall Walker
Zoë Wicomb
Xu Xi

40 Glasgow Voices

Volta: A Multilingual Anthology
(One poem: 82 languages)

Issue 10 Guest Artist:
John Hoyland RA

Founding Editor: Peter Robertson
Deputy Editor: Jill Dawson
Art Editor: Calum Colvin

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Frank Ankersmit
Rosemary Ashton
Reza Aslan
Leonard Barkan
Michael Barry
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Mario Biagioli
Jean Boase-Beier
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boulossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jenni Calder
Stanley Cavell
Hollis Clayson
Sarah Churchwell
Kristina Cordero
Drucilla Cornell
Junot Díaz
André Dombrowski
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Klaus Ebner
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Orlando Figes
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Nancy Fraser
Maureen Freely
Michael Fried
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Lydia Goehr
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Lawrence Grossberg
Edith Grossman
Elizabeth Grosz
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
François Hartog
Molly Haskell
Selina Hastings
Beatriz Hausner
Valerie Henitiuk
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
Kapka Kassabova
John Kelly
Martin Kern
Mimi Khalvati
Joseph Koerner
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Mabel Lee
Linda Leith
Suzanne Jill Levine
Lydia Liu
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Willy Maley
Alberto Manguel
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Marina Mayoral
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Edie Meidav
Jack Miles
Toril Moi
Susana Moore
Laura Mulvey
Azar Nafisi
Martha Nussbaum
Sari Nusseibeh
Tim Parks
Clare Pettitt
Caryl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Elena Poniatowska
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
François Rigolot
Geoffrey Robertson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Carla Sassi
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Hadaa Sendoo
Miranda Seymour
Mimi Sheller
Elaine Showalter
Penelope Shuttle
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Julian Stallabrass
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marjorie Trusted
Lidia Vianu
Victor Vitanza
Marina Warner
David Wellbery
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Associate Editor: Jeff Barry
Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Assistant Editor: Siska Rappé
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Three Poems by Ernst Meister, translated by Jean Boase-Beier  

Ernst Meister, according to poet and translator Michael Hamburger, wrote poetry that was “among the best German poetry” written in the 20 years after the Second World War. His was a poetry that, as he often said, arose out of nothing, the nothing that exists between words, the space between a word and a concept, the silence where language ceases to speak.

     Meister was born in 1911 in Haspe, near Hagen in Germany. He studied theology, philosophy and German, and published his first volume of poetry in 1932. During the war, he served in France and Italy, returning to his studies and to work in the family factory when it was over. He published no poems between 1932 and 1954, but, as he began to publish again, he also began to win literary prizes. Besides being a poet, Meister was also a painter whose work was shown in many exhibitions around this time. He died in 1979.

     His poetry is often regarded as philosophical, and critics have sometimes said they could not understand it. But it is not in fact difficult poetry or, if there is difficulty in it, it lies in the fact that it demands a great deal of work on the part of the reader. Full of religious imagery, his poetry plays with words and explores the way ambiguities in language give rise to alternative trains of thought.

     The three translations here are from my 2003 book Between Nothing and Nothing (Arc Publications), and I have chosen them because they illustrate the characteristic challenges of translating Meister fairly well. The first is typical of the succinct reflection on a natural phenomenon, which leads to a comparison with his own state and is a poem in which, as in many of Meister’s poems, layout is crucial. The second poem contains the line from which the title of the English collection is taken, and is, perhaps, an unusually optimistic poem, but typical of the incantatory repetition Meister often favoured. In the third poem a typical Meister word “aufgehoben” (which means both “undone, crossed-out” and “kept, preserved”) has no equivalent in English, and so in this version the line-layout is called into service in a way the poet uses elsewhere to assist in creating the ambiguity: here it is the ambiguity between “is and is not” and “is and is not held”.

     Meister’s poetry is both serious and playful. He deals with the big issues of life, love, and death, but he delights in catching the reader out. A particular trick was to hide his name, in anagrams, in his poems. His poetry is characterised, more than anything, by compression: he is sparing with language, leaving the greatest possible space for poetic effects on the mind of his reader.


That Flickering

That flickering, that
of light conjured
by a wind-moved leaf

Evening comes
and I –
weighted with being human –
walk up
and down.


Das Geflimmer

Das geflimmer, das
des Scheins dank
windbewegten Blattes.

Der Abend kommt,
wo ich,
am Menschen schleppend,
hin und
her geh.



bent double
between nothing and nothing
I say love.
Here, on the
roundabout chance
I say love.
Here, battered by
hollow heavens
holding fast
to blades of earth,
here, born of
sighs, conceived
of edge
upon edge
I say love.



zwischen zwei Nichtsen,
sage ich Liebe.
Hier, auf dem
sage ich Liebe.
Hier, von den hohlen
Himmeln bedrängt,
an Halmen
des Erdreichs mich haltend,
hier, aus dem
Seufzer geboren,
von Abhang
und Abhang gezeugt,
sage ich Liebe.


To Be A Ghost

To Be A Ghost
or dust: all one
in the universe.

Nothing is there
in the void, to
touch its edge.

Which is not
there at all.
What is is

and is not
held in the wall-less vessel
of space.


Geist Zu Sein

Geist Zu Sein
oder Staub, es ist
dasselbe im All.

Nichts ist, um
an den Rand zu reichen
der Leere.

gibt es ihn nicht.
Was ist, ist

und ist aufgehoben
im wandlosen Gefäβ
des Raums.