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Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker

Publication Date: December 2015



The camera’s broken? It’s cold out,
and there are crows bigger than crows
usually are, scattering smoothly over there across the fields.

Nothing over there. Twilight. Gold gray twilight
spreads out. A tree in Poland
is over there the lost barren tree.

Lighted and empty, the bus drives over the levee.
On the riverbank, two men with their backs
to the dam, which neither begins nor ends.

You don’t hear anything. You hear the slippage
of the floe, the circling floe. You hear
for a long time yet, later, in the dark, the drifting ice.

The camera’s broken, else why are the pictures
blurry now? Two men stood on the riverbank.
They came back. They could tell the story.


Jürgen Becker was born in 1932. His childhood, therefore, was World War II-a disease from which he has been recovering ever since the fighting stopped. His poems do not presume to address the horrors directly, but with great courage he casts sidelong glances at things he remembers or the things that prompt such memories. These are important poems, not just about the war but about any unbearable catastrophe the scars of which last forever. Okla Elliott’s scrupulous translations are faithful to the poems’ nervous hurt: their appearance in English is a major event.

-David R. Slavitt, translator of The Theban Plays of Sophocles (Yale Univ Press) and La Vita Nova by Dante (Harvard Univ Press)

About the Author

Okla Elliott

Okla Elliott is an assistant professor of creative writing and world literature at Misericordia University. He holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Illinois and an MFA in creative writing from Ohio State University. His nonfiction, poetry, short fiction, and translations have appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, The Los Angeles Review, New York Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, and Subtropics, among others. He is the author of From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), and The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a novel co-authored with Raul Clement).

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