Having fun with language

Last night I got to speak sustained German for the first time in a while – I chatted with Nadine Antler from Kaktussen, an improv troupe in Würzburg.

She’s here at Improvention in Canberra, and so am I. While it’s okay if I screw up my German chatting in a bar, she’s consistently performing and improvising in English on stage. That’s bravery.

So far I’ve done six shows (two as an actor and four as a musician), and I have at least five to go. More on those later, if I get around to committing thoughts to keyboard.

headerBut that’s not what this post is about! It’s about the Eketahuna German Literature Society.

If you are disappointed that it is a fictional organisation, you are disappointed. It was my brainchild – let’s (mis-)translate classic German poetry and render it in New Zealand English, or in New Zealand contexts. The most-represented poets are Goethe, Rilke, Schiller, Heine, Mörike and Hesse.

And yes, the misspelled German name is intentional.

I enlisted Cordelia Black. While in the beginning we translated roughly even numbers of poems, now she does way more than me. Probably 80% of them. Yeah, I slacked off.

There’s a balance of brooding introspection (y’know, New Zealand arts) and quirk (y’know, New Zealand arts). Cordelia is a bit more skilled at the subtle, nuanced writing. One of her most beautiful and aching is Liebeslied / Joint Custody, a Rilke translation. Paula Bennett’s recent welfare reforms come in for criticism in Die Guttat / Milk of Human Kindness. And I’m quite proud of my boy-racer themed translation of Goethe’s Erlkönig.

But we go odd too – me more than Cordy, I think. My magnum opus in that rendering sections of Wilhelm Busch’s naughty boys Max und Moritz as Van and Munter from Outrageous Fortune. Heine’s classic Dichterliebe lyric Im wunderschönen Monat Mai becomes In the not-so-wonderful month of May, given our southern hemisphere season patterns. Some emotive Schiller from Die Jungfrau von Orleans gets turned into Goodbye Burger King, a wistful pining for Joanne at the drive-through.

This one from Cordelia is piquant, a Christian Morgenstern translation:

Two hardwood poles used copper wire
To have an afternoon conspire.

They shared their creaky Morse-discourse
Above the kanukas and gorse.

They both wore fetching metal rings
To save their trunks from climbing things.

One pole said “chur”. One said “g’day”.
That’s all I will translate today.

But why am I posting about the Eketahuna German Literature Society now? Because we reached 100 poems today! What is our 100th poem? Well, it’s called A Hundred Runs. It wouldn’t be a survey of New Zealand without the troubles of New Zealand cricket.

Thanks Cordy, this is great fun to do.