Karl May (1842-1912)

Today one hundred years ago the German novelist Karl May died. The importance of his work for any German-language adolescent growing up in the 20C  was enormous (at least until the sixties/seventies when a series of bad movies ruined the imaginative hold the novels had). For me, young Luxembourgian sofa-bound reader, the 72 volumes of the “travel tales” represented the first truly nomadic moves — even if these happened as yet only in my head. Later I would voyage along several of the dotted lines that informed the maps his books printed as front & end-papers, from the Chott el Djerid between Algeria & Tunisia to Yuma, Arizona. In the early eighties, when based in South London, I wrote a poem called WINNETOU OLD (named after May’s most famous hero, the Mescalero Apache chief Winnetou). Permit me to post a couple stanzas from the poem (though some of spacing can’t be reproduced here) as well as Nicole Peyrafitte’s great cover for the book (The poems were first published in Sulfur magazine, & then as a chapbook from Meow Press). Tonight I’ll fall asleep while rereading one of his early novels set in present day Syria & Turkey, a free download on my iPad. In German — the few English language translations in existence are not worth checking out, I believe, as the magic of the foreign realms of the Wild West where Old Shatterhand, Hadji Halef Omar & Winnetou met, seem to  lose all magic in translation. Strange but true. If you can, do however try to see  Hans-Jürgen Syderberg’s film “Karl May,” a superb meditation on the man & writer.


staccato stasis    howl this alphabet
go away    don’t hurl this relapse into bone again
no gain this stone-monkey Europe    post no inter-
glacial basin    from its dead foam no Aphrodite    no
fat-assed goddess    kalypigian woman scraggy pigeons of
Paris Rome London Berlin    carriers of Krakow diseases
kill the messengers from Budapest    the plague is
no turbulence

breath    learn how to breathe    with eyes
closed    break now the slippery line    carry on Winnetou
old now    called Taranta in the vision
a clearing a one-room school-house
part Swiss chalet    part frontier log cabin
part greek temple    an old mescalero apache    in rags of white
hair    with a ball of light yarn    in his right hand
itschli dead    he walks in rubber Good Year sandals the
light yarn ball raised    his hand raised    all salutes
resemble each other

IBM staccato rage    make it flow    blood not
I-slash    make it over again into daily sashimi    cut from
between your ribs    toro of belly    toro of Gloucester
make merry haha    only through power can we churn the
yourappian mind    around & around here come    aus Deutschland
that battering figure of    bone-monkey    break the ice
reclaim use of bone    subarctic steppes    double-sealed in
Deutschland    aus Deutschland    ein Würfel Stroh ein Nichts
aus Erde    metal-blue Aries    comes across a milled universe
Universum für junge Menschen    comes across the heart-bunker
limits of any city    retrace the subway steppes in strong
Indian ink    all alone with Winnetou    old Tamburlaine
Turbulence dead already    amazing names more than fishwives
caretakers of the world

sound gethsemanes    spell through hell’s
landscapes    a cardiovascular ease    a momentary you wakes
a sentence    now another night lifts    off the rooftops in
anger its load    a cynical series of    political nightmares
you turned your back    accused me of lack of romanticism
the fragrance of passion    the smell of death    hides behind
the fragrance of new sheets    bone gags anger that narrow
mood    ram’s head hurtling    pike’s mouth gasping water
shoots    an old turbulence comes riding

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1 Response

  1. Poo says:

    Good to know and explains a lot.

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