November 11, 2011

A Poem For Brecht

A word of introduction. I found this poem today on the wall of a new "friend" on the Facebook social networking site. I know almost nothing about the author except that she (I suspect) or he appears radical and, at least for the moment, fascinated by the works of the German communist playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht. I reprint this, with permission, under the nom du blog suggested by the author.

QUESTIONS TO A WRITER WHO PREYS
(for Bertolt Brecht)


by Soci O'Logy

Who wrote the Threepenny Opera?
On the books you will find the name Bertolt Brecht.
... Has not Elisabeth Hauptmann composed the first manuscript?
And Mr. Puntila, many times revised –
Did not Hella Wuolijoki tell his story?
On which ship did Margarete Steffin go to America?
Why, after the evening that Brecht staged her play,
Did Marie Luise Flei├čer cut her wrists?
The Caucasian Chalk Circle is full
of soft chants. Did not Ruth Berlau help
with their creation? Even the legendary Mahagonny
has to be conceived of as a co-production.
The young Brecht conquered Berlin.
Was he alone?
Did not Marie Hold light the oven for him in the morning
And emptied the ashtray in the evening?
Brecht wept when one of his mistresses
Wanted to leave him. Was he the only one to weep?
Brecht fathered many children.
Who raised them?
So many questions.
So few reports.

Now, a word of explanation. Those who've read Brecht may well note that this is written in parallel to his great poem about history and class "Questions From A Worker Who Reads" (posted directly below). A probably smaller group will recognize that it reflects the scholarship of John Fuegi, an American historian. His 1994 book Brecht & Co., makes the claim that the acknowledged collective nature of the cultural works turned out under the signboard of "Bertolt Brecht" hides a pattern of exploitative relations with women who collaborated with him and indeed did the bulk of the work on many of his best known plays and other writings. This claim, controversial when it was made, is now either accepted as true, although perhaps exaggerated, and/or ignored. Soci O'Logy's poem insists that we must think about this when we think about Brecht, his work and his importance.

And here's the model, a poem I dearly love (in the translation favored by Soci O'Logy):

QUESTIONS FROM A WORKER WHO READS

by Bertolt Brecht


Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will read the names of kings.
... Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
And Babylon, many times demolished,
Who raised it up so many times?
In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live?
Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?
Great Rome is full of triumphal arches.
Who erected them?
Over whom did the Caesars triumph?
Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants?
Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,
The drowning still cried out for their slaves.
The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar defeated the Gauls.
Did he not even have a cook with him?
Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down.
Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the 2nd won the 7 Years War.
Who else won it?
Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every 10 years a great man.
Who paid the bill?
So many reports.
So many questions.

No comments: