The Krakow Diaries

75 days in Krakow. On a literary grant from the German Kulturstiftung der Länder. In the Guesthouse of the 16th century Villa Decius, with 10 other writers from Poland, Germany, Belarussia, Ukraine and Georgia. Beautiful city. Nice Krakovians. Fun nightlife. Beautiful women. And in the guesthouse: Meetings of the minds. Too much vodka. Good friends. One of the great pleasures of my life.

Best Poet's Poet: Nicolai Kobus

Kobus is a poet's poet. He dresses like one – pony tail, jackets and often in black - he talks like one, he thinks like one. He's not about turning his personal experiences into poetry, he is about poetry itself, in the sense of "There's a hell of a of poems out there and I want to read them all and nothing else." I have never met anyone who knows so much about German poems and poets. That is the world he lives in and that is the world he writes about.

I think I feared him most. He seemed most closely attached to the German high culture establishment and it was clear that we would rub. How was I to know a poet's poet could love pop culture? And have a sense of humor? And be good to hang out with? And be vodka-proof? I ended up really liking the guy, and that's when I took a second look at his poetry.

I liked his cycle of poems best called the "Calendar of Sighs," in which he writes a love poem to "Anna" for every month of the year. The first time I heard them, they seemed incredibly sexy. When I took a closer look that them, I realized that there is hardly any actual sex in them at all. It's just the language. Kobus may be describing water, rain, drainage, but his lines still exude sex. Here's one of them:

ach anna


ach anna im januar bin ich ein könig. ein könig im regen mit tropfnassem haar. Es braucht so wenig bewegung ein könig zu sein. eigentlich reichte es ohne regung als ein stein die wolkenbrüche durchzustehn und um sich die pegel steigen zu sehn.

mittlerweile anna weiß ich es ist gleich ob ich gehe oder renne im regen – ich werde in jedem fall weich und nass. ach anna ich sag dir was: im januar bin ich der könig der siebenundzwanzig stürzbäche. könig der reißenden rinnsteinströme. könig gefluteter abwassersiele. Mein reich liegt jenseits gebrochener deiche. überspülte felder bis zum horizont.

am morgen anna bin ich das nordmeer. Ich bin eine wasserpfütze. des abends trockne ich aus von den rändern her.

But most of his poetry I heard or read while I was in the Villa guesthouse is poetry-referential. He takes an unfinished poem by Gottfried Benn and finishes it. He takes Rilke's "The Panther," renames it "The Poet" and has the chutzpa to correct Rilke, making the point that animals don't really dislike their cages. I like that. Here’s an anagram he wrote based on a Trakl poem (the original first, the anagram second):

Rondel (Georg Trakl)

Verflossen ist das Gold der Tage,
Des Abends braun und blaue Farben:
Des Hirten sanfte Flöten starben
Des Abends blau und braune Farben
Verflossen ist das Gold der Tage.

lodern (Kobus)

dass inselvers oft: rage geld tod
daneben bussard und fernab blaue
feen sehn trist da raben totenfels
und faerben laub absurden abends
gold der tage: verfassend solist

After he had written this in Krakow, Kobus realized that Trakl had died here, of a cocaine overdose.

Here's one based on a poem by Gottfried Been entitled (something like) "Come, let us gather together, he who speaks not is dead." Kobus turned it into "He who fucks not is dead":

oder was dichter wirklich zu sagen haben

komm, vögeln wir zusammen
wer vögelt ist nicht tot
es zittern doch die strammen
schenkel sehr vor lauter not.

komm, treiben wir’s im freien
komm, das ende droht
wir sabbern, stöhnen, schreien
wer vögelt ist nicht tot.

allein lässt sich die wüste
lust doch nicht verdaun –
du, streichle deine brüste
laß uns das bett versaun!

und schon so nah den lippen
sie sind so prall und rot –
komm, fang jetzt an zu strippen
wer vögelt ist nicht tot.

If I were a publisher, I would hire him to write a lexicon of German poetry – from Goethe to graffiti - in the form of revisions, corrections, anagrams, parodies, inspirations etc. Poems about the history of poetry. I would buy it.

His prize: Best Poet's Poet.


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