These days, when gatherings of more than two are prohibited, those who can, make the most of it. Never before have I seen so many couples walk hand in hand. Every day is Valentine’s Day, it seems, in this country of the emotionally restrained.
On the narrow sidewalk,
I see them coming
three of them.
We pass each other,
lips pressed together
in breathless smiles.
©2020 Anna Witte
The candle in my neighbors’ kitchen window,
lit every single day at dawn.
The students in the German for Refugees class
who this week cleaned their teacher’s desk with disinfectant
before his arrival.
The smile of apology
on the face of the woman who sells me eggs this morning
as she avoids
touching my hand.
The elderly couple, holding on to each other
in the supermarket aisle
as they discuss
The children screaming with laughter as they race each other down the street
in the sunshine.
©2020 Anna Witte
On my bike ride to work
I lock horns with the wind
I curse as I pedal and curse.
Someone glides past me.
She guides her sleek ride with one hand.
In the other, a large flowering branch.
“Take this!” says the wind
and fills my mouth
with apple blossoms.
Last night on the radio
experts expressed their hope for herd immunity
once the infection rate has reached 50, 60, 70 percent.
In the meantime they trust, they say, in the
responsible conduct of
to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable.
I am torn.
Is it admirable, this faith
in our civility?
Or just naïve?
These days, there are so many things
we seem to just want to
Bruised by our atrocious history
we Germans shy away
from severe measures.
We don’t curtail (any kind of) freedom lightly,
©2020 Anna Witte
Today's Pan(dem)ic Poem.
We wait for the streetcar.
We try not to stand too close to the edge,
not too close to each other,
The crowd parts like the Red Sea before Moses
to let him pass.
I have to laugh.
This is serious business.
(Things I thought when I went to buy toilet paper
during the Corona Virus Pandemic)
The Chinese thought of you first: paper
for the emperor’s spotless behind.
Back when the rest of us used moss,
or grass, or sticks and stones,
bones and corncobs,
wool and lace
if we were rich,
the water of running streams,
1890 two brothers put you on a roll,
and off you went,
to help us clean up
and prank and celebrate and take revenge,
and now, it seems, we have forgotten
how to live without you.
You comfort us,
also sold out.
(Anna Witte, March 10, 2020)
A few days ago I heard someone mention a conversation they'd had with a cab driver. When the person asked the driver to please shut off the engine while waiting for her, the driver told her not to worry, that the world was big enough for a little pollution. This made me think of the callous disregard of those who actually could do something to safeguard our fragile planet.
Check out my new daily blog for a little German and some feline philosophy.www.everydaybilingual.com
According to an old nordic belief, the wolves swallowed the sun on the longest night of the year. And even though when it comes to politics (and wolves), one should refrain from metaphor, it does feel these days as if the wolves are howling at our collective doors. The keepers of the light are people like Burkhardt Jung, mayor of Leipzig, Jean Claude Distel, mayor of Thal-Marmoutier in Alsace, France, Nicole Froelich, of the Green Party in Darmstadt, Pierre Serne, a local politician in Paris, and of course the Hesse politician Walter Lübcke, murdered by a Neo-Nazi earlier this year. All of them, and many more like them, stand for human rights despite threats and attacks from right-wing extremists. Their courage lights up this Modranecht, as this night was called in Old High German, the Mothernight that marks the return of the sun.
Lately I've begun to teach myself lullabies from around the world, and the tragic worldview many of them seem to espouse is a reminder that they often are conversations adults--mostly mothers--have with themselves as they sing their child to sleep. Here's the Yiddish song "Schlof main fegele", "Sleep my little bird", in which the mother begs the child to be healthy and have sweet dreams. Now that the child is young, she says, it's still possible to sleep easy and to laugh at the world. Click on the button if you want to hear my very simple rendition of this beautiful song.
I recently came across an old painting I did in my early twenties. It was my mother, in fact, who reminded me of its existence, probably because she saw an echo of that little piece in my current work. I have no memory of what I was thinking when I painted it. I want to call it La taberna de los espíritus, one of those old nineteenth century Madrid taverns inhabited by the ghosts of those who once frequented it. The barkeep is a phantom, as is the woman burning in the backroom. Is that a black dove above her head? A cross? The bikini-clad women on the calendar, the soccer team up on the wall, the black and white linoleum floor, all of it brings back the Spain of my teenage years. I still have a weakness for checkerboard floors, and for taverns, though now wolves and cats and lively skeletons crowd my public houses. They seem a lot more sly and self-assured than those ghosts of yesteryear.
A month ago I found a large canvas sitting on a street corner. It was covered in black paint so thick I hesitated, wondering how much the texture would limit what I could do with it. In the end I paid homage to my neighborhood, a vibrant kaleidoscope of cultures that to me seems full of possibility. In the center, the affectionately called “warm brothers”, the chimneys of the local power station that every night, like a castle in a psychedelic fairy tale, glow purple and red until the clock strikes midnight.
When a writer pitches a novel to a literary agent, they are often asked between which books their novel would sit on a bookstore shelf. At first glance, this is an annoying question, since it seems driven by market considerations. And writers who let the market influence their own writing may not give themselves the chance to develop a unique and independent voice. Nevertheless, it does seem as important for the writer as it is for the artist to know we don’t exist in a vacuum, that we are in constant dialogue with others before and around us.
These days, one artist I always return to for inspiration is Gaylen Hansen, in whose inner landscapes I feel most at home. Modesty aside, I guess that if my art were a book, at this point in my life I would want it to be shelved between Hansen’s Kernal paintings and the exuberant palette of Niki de Saint Phalle’s early work, and in the immediate vicinity of Roy de Forest, Marc Chagall and Henri Rousseau. Olga Costa wouldn’t be far away either. All of these artists are, or have been, concerned with storytelling as well as with illustrating emotions. Their work conveys a childlike sense of wonder at the world that is playful even as it deals with somber issues. Take for example Gaylen Hansen’s visions of the fears and anxieties that can plague us at night: a wave crashes over the terrified insomniac in The Wave (1999), or giant dark buffalo jump over a person in a tiny bed in Three Buffalo (2000). The buffalo are outlined in black, while the prone figure is indistinct, blurry in a fragile-looking bed. Is he counting buffalo instead of sheep? Or have the sheep turned into a herd of stampeding buffalo in a mockery of the insomniac’s attempt to calm the mind? The painting makes me smile even as I cringe, as do so many of Hansen’s visions. I’ve spent hours staring at his paintings, enchanted by his sensitive use of color, analyzing the contrast between his loose, painterly style and his bold use of line, intrigued by the sometimes frenzied, sometimes distressed expression of the animals that people his canvasses. Magpies, dogs, wolves, horses, cats, salmon and assorted insects interact with each other and with the lone human. When caught in a joyful dance, their smile has a frantic quality that makes you wonder about the strain behind all the fun. Hansen’s alter ego, the Kernal, a character not unlike Don Quijote, appears to be on a quest to explore the natural world: he goes fishing for salmon larger than him, rides through landscapes of wolf-head boulders, dances with cats or engages in a staring contest with a unicorn goat. Like with Don Quijote, we know that his encounters have both a funny, joyful side and a tragic one, and we want to hear the full story.
Ultimately, that’s why I paint: to tell a story. But rather than painting a scene in a story, I want to illustrate the emotion behind it. Illustrator Katherine Dunn says that illustration “not only tells a story, it can create an answer to your own internal mysteries.” Maybe that’s why I want my art to sit next to Gaylen Hansen’s on that proverbial bookshelf. He seems to paint out of a need to grapple with strong emotions, to seek answers to maybe unanswerable questions, and uses relatable, almost archetypal characters to do so.
If you haven't seen Gaylen Hansen's work, take a look using the link below and let me know what you think: https://www.lindahodgesgallery.com/gaylen-hansen
Now, back to the studio.
A little about myself:
Hello there and thank you for visiting my website! I have lived in Spain, Mexico, France and the United States, but now make my home in Germany. I have a Ph.D. in Literary Studies and a Master's in TESOL, and have published several books for children, among them El Loro Tico Tango and El Fandango de Lola, a 2012 Ezra Jack Keats Honor Book. As a writer and an artist I'm in constant conversation with my own anxious mind even as I celebrate the joyful possibilities of our crazy, incomprehensible world.