Auschwitz Museum

An unexpected and moving honour. My poem “Heidegger in the Forest” has been selected for a second edition of an anthology of poetry published by the Auschwitz Museum. Here’s a link to the old one.

My poem was about how the German philosopher Martin Heidegger avoided speaking to the Jewish poet Paul Celan after the war.

Heidegger in the forest

Always the same questions. The forest —
That astonishing phenomenon —
Is about to remember itself.
But why are these yellow celandine
Woven into the hedgerows like stars?
Why is there spring and not spring?

And here there is always this presence,
Of that Juden poet who knows me;
Who came to sign my visitors’ book
With the black ink of the unmentioned;
Who bears my shamanic language
Like a token sewn close to his star.

I consider this fact in a clearing:
His family were fed to the flames
But the fire that dwells in his sorrow
Cannot unblock my frozen mouth.
He has dogged my solitary tracks,
And I? I went once to his readings.

This mental picture torments me:
The poet and his risen mother.
I see his mother’s hair, he kisses it
He lets it stream through his fingers
Like it was the strands of his people
Still unshorn from the head of Being.

Why is there Auschwitz and not Auschwitz?
Thoughts like sleepers shifting on the shelves;
Always the same questions…

Was is das — die Philosophie?
Was is das?


This quote from Paul Celan, possibly the greatest European poet of the 20th century, made me think about the difference between art and advertising. Celan said:

For a poem is not timeless. Certainly it lays claim to infinity, it seeks to reach through time [durch sie hindurch] through it not above and beyond it.

For most marketing to work, it has to attach itself to time: it has to be targeted at a particular audience, and released at the perfect moment (or at least that’s the theory). A print advert, for example, is not built to reach through time to someone in the distant future. It’s job is to stimulate people in the here and now.

However you do see people enjoying old adverts, say the one below for Guinness. This would never be released now, other than in an ironic way. It no longer sells, but has an art-like quality that manages to reach through time to us still.