the muse apprentice guild
--expanding the canon into the 21st century



I won't ask
         (some questions Bertolt Brecht missed)

I won't ask: where are the fronts in the war of words?
but: who shows us the faces of violence?
I won't ask: who's winning the battle of hearts & minds?
but: how long till the poets are forced to silence?

Part 1:

The Phoney War against Terrorism

Song of Emotional Correctness

We're emotionally correct
intellectually select
we check our feelings carefully:
to make sure we don't upset;
we don't show too much love or hate
we try not to overreact
we care what other people think
we hope the emotional temperature sinks.

We pray for all & sundry
to fill our memory holes;
we pray first for the evildoers
to ease our guilty souls.

We mourn the hapless victims
with candles and with flowers
then go back home to watch TV
-- sensational symbolic towers.

We sigh & talk of karma
or fate or god's revenge
we wish the dalai lama
would journey to stonehenge:

We hope the great alliance
clad in robes of royal blue
will join hands in a holy ring
of all the good and true.

We're emotionally discreet
oh-so-nice & sweet
we damp our feelings vigorously
to shield them from the heat
we shudder at the suffering
but try to keep our distance:
we hear the sound of marching feet
and hope discreetly they'll retreat.

We're careful not to scold or blame
-- the devil is a victim too --
he's damned to permanent perdition.
He might as well be me or you.

We're champions of human rights
and take care of minorities
don't intervene in ethnic fights
except for strong priorities.

We mourn disasters soberly
in decent plain grey suits,
tone down our mirror images
go back to natural roots.

We're emotionally perfekt
we think before we connect
we check our feelings graciously:
we'd like to show respect.
We talk & talk of tolerance
-- hell's always other people --
We try to ward off anxiety
with yoga & emotional piety

We're emotionally protected
in our specially chosen sect
We pray to towering phalluses
each bigger than the next;
we keep wet dreams well under wraps
and press down dark desires
a modest woman accepts her sex
and strives to be erotically correct.

When markets crash, colossi crumble
and banks withdraw their backing
we conjure ancient hostile images:
scapegoats are never lacking.

We fight the pangs of prejudice
we struggle with our conscience
this is a time of threat and terror
no choice but to bow to justice.

We welcome laws that curb our rights
we understand they're necessary
we obey calls to national unity
for war in the name of democracy.

We're emotionally correct
impeccably indirect
we smooth out quarrels instantly
and act like the elect;
strictly avoiding relevance
we look for a neutral subject,
and softly chanting 'Give peace a chance'
we sway in a sympathetic trance.

All for one, one for all:
we've read the writing on the wall
So let's have a round of meditation
to end barbarism & save civilisation.

And when we're flooded by news of destruction
we surf worldwide for the best reconstruction
find a course in emotional correction
and log in for redemption & resurrection.


                        for Jean-Claude Jones & his forwarded e-mail

Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu
Adonai Echod
Hear O Israel, the Lord our God,
the Lord is One
"6 words -- 6 seconds -- say it",
urged the chain mail from Jerusalem:
Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu
Adonai Echod

the One Jewish Family
is calling for solidarity
Do I belong or am I cast out?
(I don't go to shul and I live in Germany)

the One Jewish Family
like many a clan or tribe
remembers its blood ties & prodigal sons
at the very whisper of genocide

the One Jewish Family
is wary (look at history)
it doesn't want a bad repeat
of the unmourned 20th century

the One Jewish family
is deeply sensitised
it's played the scapegoat long enough
it's tired of being victimised

the One Jewish family
is asking its friends & relations
to say six words that bind their feelings
-- an unequivocal declaration

I'm stubbornly irreligious
but I call myself a Jew,
and though I laugh at superstition
I suddenly feel moved to join in too

On 7th October at 8 on the dot
we recite the magic words very quickly:
... then turn to watch the BBC

It is the evening of the Sunday
the Yanks went to war in Afghanistan
a day of hurricanes & gloomy skies
(in Berlin it rained all afternoon)

and in towns and cities across the nations
seeing the faces of terror's clones
and hearing the bloodthirsty jihad crusaders
my Jewish family shivers to its bones.

The Infantilisation of a Nation

                                        3 October 2001
                                        11th Day of German National Unity

little children one & all
        they cry when their balloon pops
                get dino plasters when they fall
                        & little bags of gumdrops

sympathy is their favourite motto
        they're proud of feeling real
                their wildest dream is a six in lotto
                        their goal a new automobile.

culture vultures with post-modern hearts
        they read arts pages voraciously
                applauding every dribble & fart
                        of well-known personalities.

secretly in love with kitsch
        not wanting to admit it;
                lamenting the poor and envying the rich
                        they live beyond their bank limit.

little children growing up
        remain in the throes of puberty
                learn to spend money to keep going up
                        and study till they're 40

grown-up children one & all
        ooze sensitivity hiding past cruelty
                the world is bad, they're all agreed
                        but they're tired of being guilty.

screaming egos one & all
        believe the sun goes round them
                well-fed, loud-mouthed, big & tall
                        they push & pass the blame.

        After 50 years of being re-educated
        40 years living strictly separated
        and more than a decade of false celebration
        it's a nation of goodies that cower at baddies
        big boys and girls who want bigger daddies
        -- a case of advanced infantilisation.

dollar I's

        for a man old enough to know better

he's got dollar I's, that's no surprise
the dollar's mighty
just look what it buys:

with hundreds of dollars in your pocket
you can take a shopping spree
Donna Karan's in your price range
and Gucci shades for I's & me

with a million dollars in euros
you can own a loft with a view
install cheap parquet flooring
and change the locks -- it's all for you

with dollars in the billions
you don't scrimp on the burial fee
you can hire a customised capsule
and orbit the globe for eternity

with dollar signs you can easily win
false friends & signorinas
make them dance for your favours
while you answer love with meanness

with surplus dollars you fuel ambition
despite the trials of age
you oil the creaking boards of fame
and rent the actors for your stage

with dollars a-plenty as weapons
you wallow in arrogance
(you can well afford the operations
to stiffen your wilting lance)

He's got dollar eyes, they blink surprised
since the crash waves came
and his shares capsized

"three lives hath one life
iron, honey, gold... "
you hoard the gold and gobble the honey
"... left is the hard and cold."

Part 2:

Writing my diary with water

                        inspired by a work of art by Song Dong
                        Chinese art exhibition, Berlin, September 2001

I'm writing my diary with water
to wash away my fears
dipping the pen in water
to drown the flood of tears

the water runs into the words
blurring the green scrawls of hope
I'm writing a diary of slaughter
in a battle where I can't cope

I'll give up pen and paper
find an unmarked stone in a field
smooth a space upon its face
and ask my thoughts to yield

I'll dip the brush in water
write poems on the stone
they'll soak in till they're watermarks

an epitaph for me alone

Whose Holy War?

                        in gratitude to Etta Margalit, Jerusalem
                        and Gábor Klaniczay, Budapest

Excuse my blatant ignorance
I haven't read the whole Koran
and maybe I'm talking out of turn
if I air my thoughts about Islam.
But nowadays I have to ask
some fundamental questions
I hesitate to speak out loud
at risk of a sharp correction.

Excuse my selective tourism
I've only seen two of the holy shrines
The Dome of the Rock & the silver mosque
on Jerusalem's front line;
I don't believe in sacred relics
religious kitsch makes me sick
and pilgrimage is not my scene
(crowds are too claustrophobic).

Excuse me asking why they aim
to cruelly kill the infidel
religion has a bad sad history
(we Jews know it all too well).
Why do they preserve such language?
the thought is father to the deed
do they want to cause a bloodbath
to serve virility's needs?

Excuse a brief excursion
into dusty tomes of history
searching the present in the past
is my way of finding clarity:
I read the truths & fictions
in the densely-packed pages
the terror of the Inquisition
the crusades of the Middle Ages.

Excuse me asking naive questions:
But why do they follow an interpreter?
If their God is so wise and all-powerful
does he really need a mediator?

If God was a man and created men
and women -- to be equal
why are these men destroying his creations
and keeping their women servile?

If God is a woman she's weeping now
that she made a mistake with the moulds
she poured in too much hate & aggression
(just read how the story of mankind unfolds).

Excuse me asking about affairs
that are sensitive politically:
Why are the nations where Islam rules
so prone to brutal tyranny?
Why do their rulers need guns and death squads
to shore up their position?
Why do they go to such extremes
to silence opposition?

Excuse my asking pointedly
why death is a holy mission
why people who write & think differently
are subject to persecution;
When a nation enslaves its women
it can never hope to be free
when joy is forbidden and sex is taboo
we're robbed of a precious reason to be.

Excuse my impatience at lame excuses
I'm tired of the velvet glove
Let's grasp the nettle with our bare hands
-- turn off talk of brotherly love.
Let's stop the game of wooing tyrants
Let's say out loud what we think:
A gang of fanatical bandits
has brought the world to the brink.

So please stop preaching tolerance
when you really feel disgust
and please stop faking deafness
when you hear cries of blood lust.
Children who dance on victim's graves
can still be taught to know better
but the men who wage a holy war
are guilty of murder and terror.

Bad Time for Poetry

        "In meinem Lied ein Reim
        Käme mir fast vor wie Übermut"

                Bertolt Brecht, "Schlechte Zeit für Lyrik" (Gedichte 1938-1941)
        "A rhyme in my song
        would seem almost cocky"
                Bertolt Brecht ,"Bad Time for Poetry" (Poems 1938-41)

Though I write lots of poems in these troubled times
tinged with anger & distress
I don't like thinking of myself
as a war poetess;
I'm not at home enough anywhere
to boast of a fatherland
and due to my lapsed trotskyist tendencies
I'm against war profits & secret agencies

Yet somehow I'm forced into close combat
fighting daily swings of mood
and brushing up my rusty words
to attack entrenched attitudes;
I'm driven to look again at my picture
of the world & people around me
I'm pushed into taking a radical stance
by appalling historical ignorance.

When fleets go up & fleets go down
and the stock markets follow suit
when bombs & bread are delivered by air
and the troops are already en route:

I fritter away the precious hours
firing verbal missiles at windsocks
cutting through brainwashed argument
and rescuing friends drowned in pious lament.

I've had enough of religion
I don't want a Buddhist conversion
it's hard enough being a renegade Jew
without all this karma diversion.
But I do see something about the Jews
that helps them stay alive & thrive:
they often talk tacheles with their God
and laugh at themselves for being so odd.

In these dark times I write unstoppably
and worry less or more
But I won't line up politically
as a poetess of war;
It's not a good time for poetry
but I'm moved by passion, not fashion:
if a rhyme today is almost cocky
I'm guilty -- and proud of poetical heresy.

Public Diplomacy

The US Military's new term for propaganda
                 (with apologies to Louis MacNiece)

There are spies at the bottom of my garden
the sunlight hardens & grows cold
They can't catch the world's most wanted man
with all their bombs and gold;
when all are dead & cold
who will sign and stamp the pardon?

With freedom as their battle cry
they try to fight a war of peace
they drop care parcels as they bomb
and hope hostilities will cease;
meanwhile we note a daily increase
of truth disguised as whopping white lies.

they've oiled the propaganda machines,
cleaned up their rusty weapons
changed the names to fit their game
and held emergency sessions;
they want to teach a lesson:
keep watching the TV screen.

They've done crash courses in psychology
cryptology, hidden mikes & mirrors
But when it comes to tracking the enemy
they admit to fatal errors;
in the grand coalition of terror
we're all targets of Public Diplomacy.

Under the Weather

                Oh dear W. H. Auden....

Are you suffering chills in the morning
are you feeling a touch of the blues;
do you suddenly sigh without warning
or weep at the slightest excuse?
Do you wear a heavy overcoat
even though the sun is warm;
don't worry, we're all in the same rocking boat
and together we'll weather the storm.

You don't have to fuss unduly:
you're suffering a common complaint
the symptoms are rather unruly
and the causes still very faint;
But one thing is firmly established:
the weather is always to blame;
feeling under the weather is truly
a disease with a Latin name.

Are you prone to excessive yawning
does the world seem dull and profane?
Do you have a faint sense of mourning
when rain drips down the windowpane?
Are you plagued by aching misery
and haunted by gruesome visions?
Do you sink into deep melancholy
when you turn on the television?

It's not a matter of right or wrong
or whether you're overtired;
if you're ill at ease hearing birdsong
or throw up at telephone wires;
if it's politics that's making you sick
and you can't resist the urge to fight
or won't swallow the protestant ethic
don't worry -- the head shrinks will put you right.

You're a victim of climatic changes
but don't wear yourself out protesting,
we've lived long enough with the dangers
of modified genes & nuclear testing;
so smooth away that troubled frown
and stop all that fearful blather;
there are plenty of pills when the chips are down
to get you through wars and bad weather.

Hurricane Karen

                first sighted on CNN world weather forecast
                16 October 2001 21.15 pm CET

Hurricane Karen
sweeping down the coast from Canada
threatening destruction

if hurricane Karen
heads your way, don't panic
she won't spread anthrax

hurricane Karen
too tame to sustain
a climate of fear

hurricane Karen
too secular
to shake faith fundamentally

hurricane Karen
so slow she won't blow
armies & navies off course

hurricane Karen
passing by too quickly
to cause fatal damage

hurricane Karen
here today, won't stay
to topple governments & high rises

hurricane Karen
too profane
for a masculine name

hurricane Karen
gone tomorrow
I sigh with relief

it's a doubtful honour
when your name comes up
to label the latest hurricane

maybe they should call the next one George;
or Osama



people ask
why I'm here
-- not for the beer

people ask
why I stay
it's far away

people ask
when I'll go
don't know

people ask
what I do
it's not in who's who

people ask
does it pay
what can I say

people ask
my selling price
want firm advice

people ask
for times and dates
can't wait, won't wait

people ask
for milk and sugar
the coffee's bitter

people ask
for sympathy
it's free it's free

people ask
the time of day
light years away

people ask
if I'm in love
heavens above

people ask
drilling into me

people ask
what they won't tell
just as well

people ask
on bended knee

people ask
but do they need
words or deeds

people ask
Buddha or Allah
dream of Valhalla

people ask
Christ or Mohammed
to bless their bed

people ask
to live forever
want a saviour

people ask
their own reflection
for protection

people ask
for excess
devil in the flesh

people ask
to get the answer
they prefer

people ask

people ask

people ask
why I'm not there
an empty chair

people ask
all the same
what's in a name

people ask
me to dance
dolphins advance

people ask
kiss my arse
I'll pass

people ask
for final proof
the bitter truth

people ask
to ease the load
till they explode

people ask
why life is short
weather report

people ask
in monotones
of well-bred clones

people ask
again and again
here comes the train

people ask

people ask

people ask

people ask
what is reality

people ask
leading questions
in all directions

people ask
ask ask ask
tongues are sharp

people ask
a lot, too much
yearning to know
the human touch