Jürgen Becker: Translated by Okla Elliott



Jürgen Becker was born in Köln, Germany, in 1932. He is the author of over thirty books—including drama, fiction, and poetry—all published by Suhrkamp, Germany’s premier publisher. He has won numerous prizes, including the Heinrich Böll Prize, the Uwe Johnson Prize, the Hermann Lenz Prize, and the Georg Büchner Prize, the highest honor a German-language author can receive.

Okla Eliott


Okla Elliott is currently an Illinois Distinguished Fellow at the University of Illinois, where he works in the fields of comparative literature and trauma studies. He also holds an MFA from Ohio State University. His nonfiction, poetry, short fiction, and translations have appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, The Los Angeles Review, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, and Subtropics, among others. He is the author of From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), and The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a novel co-authored with Raul Clement). His book of translation, Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press.


Alter Film

Der Geruch, der im Haus hängt,
verbrannte Kartoffeln. Als wir auf den Feldern
an den Feuern hockten, hatten wir
den großen Bruder, West oder Ost, der Wind
war immer stark. In dieser Kindheit,
nach jedem Brand, blieben auch
die Sterne klar, und als
die Front vorbei war, raubten wir, es waren
die Wälder der Feinde, unser Holz.


Old Film

The scent hanging in the house,
burnt potatoes. As we hunkered around the fires
in the fields, we had big brother, East or West;
the wind was always strong. In this childhood,
after every blaze,
the stars remained clear, and when
the front was past, we robbed
the foes’ forests, our wood.


Sag mir, wie es dir geht

Oft müde. Die wirkliche Anstrengung besteht darin,
immer anwesend zu sein und Anwesenheit
zu beweisen. Je besser der Beweis gelingt, desto
ferner rückt der Horizont der Ruhe. Abends
schweigen die Erscheinungen, die Vorgänge nicht.
Bald ist es ein Privileg, die Fenster öffnen
zu können. Handlungen ohne Gefühle, und
das macht Vorteil. Eine zunehmende Starre
in den Augen. Hören worauf es ankommt.
Manchmal die Nähe von Wasser zu riechen
oder den grünen Himmel zu sehen, das sind jetzt
Wörter; Dinge und Erfahrungen nicht.


Tell Me How You’re Doing

Often tired. The real effort comes from being
present always and proving presence. The better
the proof, the farther the horizon of calm recedes.
In the evening, appearances are silent, but not the events.
Soon it’s a privilege to be able to open the window. Actions
without emotion, which is an advantage. An increasing
rigidity in the eyes. Hearing where it arrives.
Sometimes near the water, to smell it, or the green
sky, to see. But these are just words;
not things or experiences..


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