Volker Braun is one of Germany’s most important writers, widely regarded as the heir of Bertolt Brecht. Born in Dresden in 1939, he studied philosophy in Leipzig and worked at the Berliner Ensemble and the Deutsches Theatre. He is the author of numerous plays, works of fiction, volumes of poetry and essays, and the winner of the Georg Büchner Prize in 2000 and the Prix Argana Mondial de la Poésia in 2015. Great Fugue is Volker Braun’s most recent collection, an attempt to understand the strange, silent world of 2020. Drawing on Dante and Pound, and with Beethoven’s Große Fuge in his ear, Braun examines the catastrophic conflict between Progress and Nature in the Anthropocene Age. A book about the day our cities were sedated, the streets fell silent and Nature refused to submit to human ideas. The Mekong no longer finds its delta, fires burn in the dry forests, and the seas and the skies are fatally poisoned.
The city is sedated
like a plague patient
Morning peace till midnight
Unpeopled streets, as if freed
from the scabies
Of custom. The Senate closes all the pubs
The stadiums orphaned LEADEN UNION. Museums
For the mummies
of marble, theatres for the ghosts
HALT. WHO’S THERE / NAY, ANSWER ME
Not before an audience, not this season.
Fear of confinement Shallow breathing Catarrh in the culture
Put a stop to the (mischief) once and for all A YEAR WITHOUT ART
That will bring some decorum to proceedings, you dilettantes.
Even the soup kitchen
has been shut down
a protective measure
But having none (have-nots) hath no care to defend it.
The Chancellor advises against social contact
prowl in search of signs of life
What did you do in 2020? – I washed my hands.
No Shakehands, but as a precaution, the German
Greeting. The LORD withdraws his finger in the Sistine Chapel
To avoid infection
in the high-risk group
of the very old, one in four (gods) dies.
A shadow passes over you simply, a sallow breath
Grazes your lungs, you’re still breathing
In the Anthropocene
The scientists are in terror
And the European mind stops (Canto CXV)
China sweats the evil out in a headlock
A forearm choke (: cough into your elbow)
Learn, you continents, to cook lava
Britannic coasts, shining yellow, bulwarked with
Hunters’ cover and sight for sore eyes
A Count of Anjou, sprig on his helmet, plante genet
Caught hold of the name
And after him Richard of York
A Kingdom for a thousand dead horses,
Bloodline. Ninety varieties; gorse stinks close-up
Knights of the expense-fiddle, bastards and bloodhounds
The blank verse speaks
the dialect of nature
And Un-nature, a tenable repertoire. Scene – the Globe
Enter Rumour, painted full of tongues
Speaking of guilt
forest offences ablutomania air violations
The corruption of the abattoirs
and innocence of course
Family dramas with instruments of murder, in the bathroom,
Inevitably, the peasant clearance of the banks
Leant over the embankment, I see them riding
Shining yellow, between the bushes
Madmen, their visors/skulls open
The roastbeef of Europe. A burst pipe ago
The delusion of reason into the dry dock of Civilization:
A boardgame by F. G. Tresham (from 13 years)
The off-spring are on the move, this grass-
Roots earth, poised as it is,
plays production with us
With its resources zones tides
Early- and late shift till the death of us. We
The reserve army in the War of the Landscapes:
Wars of the Roses
You want to see what a world war is
WELCOME TO THE COM-POSTMODERN
Said Donna Haraway. And the grey graves
Are re-interred into the relations
Exit old mankind.
I saw Bahro again, in Worms. He hadn’t worn a face covering
Since Bautzen, he was immune; while we were busy self-imprisoning.
Who are you? I called. – A human being again, he laughed relieved:
In transition –
He had grown wings
And he carried cushions with him for meditation
Before the mega-machine. On his orders it had ground to a halt
Planes plucked out of the sky, and trains are cancelled punctually.
Life is slowed
by decree, ‘only close to home’
Runs the Logic of Salvation, ‘doing nothing is the key’.
How it is moved, all at once, to stand still,
As if brought to its senses. ‘The obvious harbours the secret’
The old girl, gaunt, demented
Screeching at us from Poundland: Pandemia
Laughing and flailing around with withered arms, going berserk
And Saint Rudi embraced her without fear, the smell of his sweat
And other kinds of caution tore me back, though glad
To have met my old mate again in better times.
The bodies look at the body politic. Things just got
Serious. What’s coming down the pike?
Nothing to be seen, and they laugh, curse
Drink beer. The state deigns to rule
So much ado about nothing else, routines bluff
In the parliaments. A question of breaking even.
It has not thought hard for a long time, has put nothing aside,
Kept no thoughts back. Not even the toilet paper
That would be worth the stake. Now it can take things in hand
In both hands, call on the people etc. etc.
Now the Queen will speak. Boris Johnson
Is in intensive care; either that or he’s on the mend.
A bust of Pericles stands in his office, Downing Street, number 10.
The strategist, who stashed the citizens behind the Long Walls
Before he unleashed the war in Attica
Where in the turmoil death held sway. His two sons
Victims of the plague, Pericles too. Boris thinks
That the best still lies before him
A common creature
Asks on the radio: how long has this been going on?
That we’re at an almost unholy standstill,
and as it seems
Only the machine of profit and loss keeps turning
Without any obvious public cultural sense? – The Athenians
Got their theatre their money and grain handouts.
In accord with what I am
as I see it
I keep my distance and und tweet on request:
And my endorsement
is something do not have. We
don’t know what can become.
But naturally there are more elaborate metres
For words like suffering com-
passionately,yearning for a common cause
the humanly possible, when things get serious.
Where are we heading in our words, our thoughts –
More than we think, we are
said someone – out of
When we have climbed through the centre of the earth
At the Bornholmer where the gap opened wide
Was it by destiny or chance, I am with the
Curious crowd at the Antipodes.
All of us as though emerging from air we could not breathe
Which had clouded my vision and my heart
All the morning sky was laughing in the brightness.
First thing my distracted eyes take in:
The leafing forest of the press I have long dreamed of
The newspaper kiosk with opinion-sheets
And I understand that I must purify myself.
So: purgatorial fire, from the documents
We know full well that faith was a stranger to you
What’s missing is the mark branded on the forehead
Where you wait to be enlightened (: are a subscriber)
To climb up out of the barren sphere.
Into the circle of the bon vivants! And lust and
Covetousness lift me onto the sixth floor
Remarkably skinny people here, bald-headed
We look at one another: is that me? is that us?
So Dante foresaw the consumers.
Not into Elysium, into Illusium
The way has led me and all of us
Thus far. And now onwards
Comandante. And I saw the pole
Leafing green in the city centre. The place
Hiroshima, the time: after An old man
Who had stood a long while rooted there
Stepped to my side, explaining the world to me
What do you see? A mast, it was a tree
And still is And it alone survived
Of all its kind – that is, only the trunk
Flames took the branches, in such heat
Human beings melt. But, I asked
How come the green? – Yes, the leaves
Sprouted from the black bark. We
Were silent before this memorial wholly without humanity
How should we speak of it, Ann. – ‘Not the sweet
And bitter, but steadfast language.’ – Our Tree
Of Knowledge, said the old man softly
Whose ears were also hewn from the trunk
As I saw, lowering my eyes
When night came, the grave stones
Just about still legible, the dead began to speak
With our tongues, which they lack
And memory, for want of bowels
So that we came to their aid:
then Hensel arrived
And she distributed the corpses while we pulled out the quotations –
‘We do still have certain possibilities’
Horrors! Miracles! Teschke read Arendt
Volker spoke Mann, brought hither dead
Tragelehn Brecht whom he knew and so
Made nothing up. Laabs gave Hilbig in an improved dialect
Lammert Hermlin, the inimitable
Groschner: Zweig Arnold who always did have his own work
read out to him while he lay on the sofa.
And with small steps, any animal can do it
One woman walked there who got right to the back
And was all awry and in pain. Eerie place
We still just about breathing carried them all to their graves
And expect the same. Seghers dispatched
With military honours, the people banished to the gate
Tears came to eyes Or Mayer the outsider
Came back to the East
Because in the West for eternity he was uncomfortable
Hacks isn’t here because Muller is
Mickel gave the order: Not in the angle of vision!
Kirsch the copyist had in good time worked up a stone
Muller gave gold for iron that rust eats
Grashof made a joke: Tabori in the exhaust fumes.
The Chausseestrasse was listening, Hegel:
What is true is the whole, and cancelled the utterance
Dirt in his ears, dialectic What is whole
Is not the truth. The dead alive
We ghosts creeping through the ivy
The gravel grated near Brecht & Borsig.
Schenker absent, Altmann replaced him If he
Monstrous even in life, had
Blown, miracles! horrors, none of us
Would have survived it and willingly with the trumpet
Breathed out –