* the staying noise of jürgen becker


Hell, Sartre Said, Is Other People – Jürgen Becker

L’heure bleu, it could be, but it’s
the do-it-yourself handyman who makes the mood
for his and my evening. Powerless this entire building –
seventh, eleventh, fourteenth floor; the man
drills into the walls, yet no one
sees him. In case I see him, I’ll, I’ll
do nothing. Like always, complaints go
in the poem, which makes a large staying noise.

translated by Okla Elliott


One of my goals in starting this blog four years ago was to celebrate the short lyric, which I see as personal and brief expressions whose tradition extends back to the ancient Greek poet Sappho’s love poems. The way whole worlds, worlds within moments, can be evoked and experienced in a handful of lines is powerful.

Elliott-Cover-250x386I recently did a microreview/interview of Blackbirds in September, a book of German poet Jürgen Becker’s shorter poems. Time and again I was moved by the personal insight and wisdom found in lines about everyday life. If there are slice of life stories, then I believe the best short lyrics present slices of moments. A short lyric can, indeed, create “a large staying noise” by highlighting what one chooses to recall and archive in a poem as well as giving the reader the artifact of the poem with which to investigate life, the speaker’s and their own.

The following poem struck me as ingenious not simply for the formal structure but for the inventiveness with which the title’s set up is followed through.

Here, the short lyric serves as an insight to sensibility as much as theme and focus.


Possibilities for Paintings – Jürgen Becker

Dark Tree in front of a Bright House.
Sad Eyes at the Shutting of Doors.
Wood and Milk; a Lamp.
The Wind, which Extends the Hand (in quotes).
Balloons, Dripping from the Mouth.
Peace in the Valley.
The Patience of Landmines.
Now the Meadow Grows through the House.
Leaping, over a Mark in the Air.
The Coasts of Exile (since 1957).
Winter Branches in Summer.
Triumph of Waiting.
Falling Pears. Lying Pears.
Bicycle on the Horizon.
Soldiers and Bicycle.
The Night of the 7th of November.
The Misery of the Liberated.
Glass, between Figures.
Groups of People before the Horizon.
Fog; the Fossilization of Fog.

translated by Okla Elliott

Check out my microreview/interview on this book and its translator on the Cincinnati Review blog! Thank you to translator Okla Elliott for making these poems available in English!

Happy noising!


6 responses to “* the staying noise of jürgen becker”

  1. Couldn’t agree more Jose. While teaching myself to write i misguided myself by thinking the aim was to extend yhe length of poems. After ten years of teaching myself i realize exactly what you have said in this post. In addition, my grandad’s birthday was the uth of November.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Daniel! I had this experience once after a reading where I read from a manuscript of mainly short lyrics and short prose poems and had someone come up to me and ask: “Do you write anything longer? Is that all you have?These short things?” In the moment, I think I sidestepped and said something like “I write a lot, uhm, thanks for coming!” but I ended up having to two reactions: 1) Grudgingly work on seeing if I had longer poems in me, and 2) Grudgingly continue to write my short poems (in hindsight, I see that I not only hold a grudge but also do something with grudge in hand). Thanks for sharing your own experience, both here and on your site! Ultimately there’s no pleasing everyone, and there’s no consistent rule or trick, only the next word and the one after that – however long (or short) they keep coming 🙂

      1. i am somewhat surprised someone would ask something like that: people don’t usually have the patience for longer work, it presumes too much, that you have enough ideas & ability to hold a reader along the way, which is asking alot of trust from the reader, as they will feel compelled to finish it, perhaps just to say they did.
        furthermore, we live in bitesize times, the era of disposable art, it is painful to say, but in this world of selfies people want point & click stuff; at least with a lyric or smaller work the reader sees a single entity in a single bite there on the page. i once wrote when i first came to korea an enormous poem of maybe 1500 lines in blank verse, no one has ever read it, it is too daunting & it is rubbish.
        i think a much more sensible & manageable approach is to compose smaller pieces that become a panoply to some central theme, as you do wonderfully in ‘the book of flight’: there is a corner stone that all is built upon & can be returned to, but which people can dip in & out of.
        i think you have the right idea & should continue as you are having developed a pretty solid style that is obviously well trained. maybe put, as a joke, all your poem together in one blank verse poem for that one critic & let ’em have it.
        i forgot to thank you for the comment on my blog, means alot whilst i’m in the process of trying to establish more & more exposure.

      2. Thanks for your comment! And yes, I couldn’t believe the person was saying it either. I like how you said it, that one can “compose smaller pieces that become a panoply to some central theme” and that is exactly what I’m working on, among other things (thanks for the “Book of Flight” compliment!). The poem I just posted this 4/25 morning,”El Rio,” is an example of the strides I’ve made within longer forms. But that panoply idea is exactly what’s behind this new manuscript I’m working on, which moves via short lyrics in and out various narratives. My goal is to have each page feel like a step on a creaky floorboard. Thank you again for this conversation and your insightful words! And good luck in your travels! I look forward to reading more. Abrazos, José

  2. […] in the short lyric vein of last week’s post, the poem above handles several worlds in twelve quick lines. I’m moved by the pace of the […]

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