Tearing the Veil

Auf Deutsch

I DON’T WRITE POETRY. It’s not because I don’t like it. In fact, I love poetry and will stand stock still in awe and admiration at those talented enough to capture a tiny sliver of beauty or truth in a few well chosen words. But I don’t write it.

Okay, so that’s a pretty clear statement. So what’s with the self-penned poetic output popping up all over the last blog post? Well, I pretty much set out my stall in Criminal Poetry: I don’t write poetry now, but I did for short period when I was much younger, until I realised it wasn’t really my forte.

Of course, it can’t have escaped your notice that the original version of Sprachskepsis, is in German. Warum?

Hand on heart, I’d be the first to admit that my previous attempts to get poetic in English were always fairly disastrous. You’ve heard of purple prose? Well, meet the queen of purple verse! Yes, generally the English language poems wot my younger self wrote were textbook examples of style triumphantly crushing poor old substance underfoot and ripping her heart out. To call them mawkish, sentimental and full of teenage angst would be too kind – even for me! Then there were the humorous doggerel spoofs of classic lit filled with dreadful puns and even more dreadful rhymes. Let’s not go there; rest assured, they were truly awful. Although if you are very naughty, I just might inflict on you my tale of Lamblet Elsingnore – failed actor and so-called avenger of his father’s death (or should that be the other way round?) – in an opus cunningly entitled ‘The Great Dane’. Be afraid – be very afraid!

‘More and more my own language appears to me like a veil that must be torn apart in order to get at the things (or the Nothingness) behind it. Grammar and Style. To me they seem to have become as irrelevant as a Victorian bathing suit or the imperturbability of a true Gentleman. A mask.’

Samuel Beckett, letter to Axel Kaun, 1937

 Vorsprung durch Technik

The fact is, I know exactly what Samuel Beckett meant when he said that he started writing in French because he wanted to write ‘without style’.  The long list of problems I encountered in my native tongue magically vanished when I put pen to paper in another language. Writing in German released me. It gave me freedom. I wasn’t familiar enough with the language to burden my verse (or prose) with the surfeit of adjectives, adverbs and clever literary flourishes that plagued me in English. It was new and fresh, and I loved its solidity and technical precision. Okay, so maybe in comparison to English and the romance languages, German is often clunky and literal. But I found comfort in its unadorned functionality and the ability, as I saw it, to simply call a spade a spade. Not to mention the fact that you could make up your own words by stringing two or more smaller ones together – how cool is that??

And the English-language exception? That came from a storytelling workshop exercise. I can’t remember the exact parameters of the exercise, only that it limited the amount of nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs to be used. Y’all seeing a pattern here? I considered it a genuinely scientific poetic experiment (I don’t consider that an oxymoron, by the way) with rather pleasing results. Which means it’ll probably show up on a Katie B. blog near you any time soon, as will, from time to time, some of my favourite poems by Shelley, Keats, Dickinson, Eliot and anyone else whose copyright I won’t be infringing! Oooh, can’t wait! Are we there yet? 🙂

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