Thursday, 11 October 2012
Paul Celan on London's Mapesbury Road
I have just started reading Homage to Paul Celan, a collection of essays, translations, poems and miscellania about Celan, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and G C Waldrep. Kaminsky's introduction begins: "If there is a country named Celania - as Julia Kristeva once proposed - its holy texts are filled with doubt, and they overcome this doubt almost successfully, with words of wrenching, uncompromised beauty." Pretty irresistible.
It's a couple of years now since I went to the Celan/Poetry after the Holocaust evening at Southbank, with readings by A S Byatt (among others) and musical settings of some of the poems by the Michael Nyman Band. Around the same time, the Saison Poetry Library had an exhibition about Celan's poem 'Mapesbury Road' but unfortunately I missed this. Mapesbury Road, in Kilburn, is closer to where I used to live in west London but it is not somewhere I ever went. Celan visited his aunt, a Holocaust survivor, there in 1968. There is also a glancing reference to the assassination of Martin Luther King and the attempted murder of the West German student leader Rudi Dutschke, both around the same time in 1968.
The poem can be found on the BBC link below, although sadly the radio episode can't be accessed any more. It is a short poem which balances between violence and tenderness, and pivots around stillness. All in a few brief lines.
MAPESBURY ROAD (Paul Celan)
At work one day some months ago, I took a book order over the phone which was to an address on Mapesbury Road. I was quite transported when the customer gave me their address. So much so, that apparently I neglected to put the book in the envelope. The customer very politely told me a few days later that they had received an empty envelope in the post. This was a lesson to me to not let poetry annihilate practicality in my life. (It was also funny.)
I have not been reading Celan so much recently and I know I have to pace myself with him, but I think Homage to Paul Celan may inspire me to go back yet again.