Friday, 14 January 2011

poem for Ernst Jandl (1925-2000)

Jazz was banned in that part of Europe under Nazi control. In later years the Austrian poet Ernst Jandl appeared at London's Royal Albert Hall with the likes of Allen Ginsberg.
Jandl referred to the English language as Europe's language of freedom. He wrote in English as well as German and submitted poetry to Hamilton Finlay's Wild Hawthorn Press at Ardgay, Ross-shire, for the poetry magazine Poor Old Tired Horse.

5 o'clock in the morning song

Jazz me if you can
Sang Jandl Ernst; and so I shall
For language-freedom's sake -
Though not in spreaky vocalstump
Foldsold to blood or concrete sound
Of schtzngrmm
Or 'Deutschland Deutschland Über Alles'
Earwitnessed by the poet
In Heldenplatz in '38.
One voice sang free; and it seemed
To me that it was jazz
That sang above Mein Kampf and
A hundred thousand arms aslant
As a winter driven rain.
There were underground cabaret and burlesque clubs in secret cellars if you knew where to find them. You can still visit one or two. Schmalzbrot (bread spread with lard) and rough red wine, candles, a hard seat, and no air. I expect the jazz was very quietly played. But played it would be - at great personal risk. The Gestapo's spies were everywhere.
It is very common in Austria to refer to an individual by using his surname first, hence Jandl Ernst.


  1. Has inspired me to find out more about this chap!

  2. very good Gwilym - thanks for reviving memories - I was a great fan of Ian hamilton- finlay and he used to send me P.O.T.H.and I remember Ernst's pieces

  3. Dominic, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the current Jandl exhibition in Vienna where I heard and saw many of his recordings. It was pleasing to see how many school groups were there, at least 3 during my 2-hour visit.

    John, I'm delighted to have revived for you those memories of P.O.T.H. As well as Jandl and Finlay himself the issue on display also had contributions from as far afield as the U.S.A.and Hungary. There was even mention in one of Finlay's letters to Jandl of an unfavourable review in TLS :(
    So it must have been really good :)

  4. Dominic, I've added a footnote. A bit of local colour.

  5. There's something quietly powerful about this one. I saw Tom Stoppard's 'Rock and Roll' in London last year and there were members of "The Plastics' in the audience. That these regimes recognise that music and poetry are powerful enough to be subversive is a real tribute. It is not only in Russia, as Osip Mandelstam thought, that art is respected enough to get you killed.

  6. The poets are often the first to be disappeared. To survive a writer had to be something of a chameleon*. Jandl surrendered to the Americans, or maybe it was the Brits, anyway he took a job as an interpreter. An American officer gave him a Websters, in the exhibition wrongly identified as an Oxford Dictionary.

    *There was a subtle skill known as writing between the lines. Appearing to say one thing but actually saying more or less the opposite.

  7. Mairi, You couldn't do that last line , I should have said, that pun with 'rain' in German


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