A voice from Nowhereland

Mascha Kaléko died 40 years ago this week.
Her poems are full of longing, memory and regret, even for things that haven’t happened yet, by someone who always had to move on.

She has a gloriously Central European knot of identities. Born to Austrian-Russian-Jewish parents in Chranów, now Poland, her family moved to Berlin for fear of the pogroms. She grew up and wrote in Berlin until 1938, when she emigrated to the States – her work had already been banned by the Nazis – and moved on to Israel and Zurich, where she died.

It was living in Berlin 15 years ago that I discovered her. Particularly her poem Alle sieben Jahre, which is about the seven year turn in relationships – she could see it coming (in German, page 9 of this sample from her publisher dtv, which has just brought out new editions of her love letters to her husband and love poems). German speakers can also hear archive recordings of her talking about and reading her poems on Swiss radio.

And yet there is almost no translation of her into English. Andreas Nolte, Kaléko’s translator, also moved from Germany to North America. His 2010 anthology is hard to track down. But here’s one poem from it, which I found from the Centre for Jewish History, where you can also see the original.

Not a Children’s Song

No matter where I travel,

Igo to Nowhereland.

The suitcase full of longing,

Just knick-knacks in my hand.

As lonely as the desert wind.

As homeless as the sand.

No matter where I travel,

I come to Nowhereland.

The forests are all gone now,

Each home a firebrand.

Found no one left whom I know.

Not one knew me first-hand.

And when the alien bird cried out,

I ran, could not withstand.

No matter where I travel,

I come to Nowhereland.
This woman needs more translations. More people need to hear her voice!

Translator, editor, writer, reader

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Posted in books, poetry, translation
2 comments on “A voice from Nowhereland
  1. Andreas Nolte says:

    Thank you for posting this! Yes, more people need to hear M.K.’s voice! A new and expanded edition of my translations into English is going to be issued in March 2017! It will be available as print-on-demand (at cost) and as an ebook. Anyone interested in more information, please contact me.
    Andreas Nolte

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