I NEED YOUR HELP. I am deciding on a poster for our next production of Metronome Ticking. Could you please let me know which of these three posters you think has the greatest impact on an audience? Please share why you liked one poster more than the other. You're all invited to the next performance of my docu-drama, Metronome Ticking, on May 3 at 7:00 pm. Many thanks for your cooperation, Henrik
Click on the posters to enlarge the image.
Of all the three genres of writing featured on this site, poetry comes the easiest to me. If I could, I would write poetry non-stop. Right now, I am working on a new poetry book on war zones. Some of these poems, all addressing gut-wrenching issues, have already made it all over Afghanistan via the Facebook world.
I will never forget the day as a young teacher of English at the Therfield Comprehensive School in Surrey in the early 1970s, when the headmaster selected me to represent the school at a conference for teachers of English to meet some of the leading English poets and study British poetry somewhere up North. I was thrilled, but also intimidated, when I learned on the first day that we all had to present one original poem of our own on the last day of the conference. I suddenly feared that as someone whose mother tongue is not English, but German, and as someone who had never written a single poem, I would be laughed out of court.
I spent a whole week composing just one short stanza, working hours, often late into the night, rearranging the poetic furniture in my one-room poem. To my surprise, my very first poem was greeted not with laughter but with a long applause. From that moment onward, I felt like someone who had been scared of getting his toes wet but who now jumped into the sea at every opportunity possible.
Since then, I have written hundreds of poems wherever I lived, many of which were published, and I taught poetry in many countries with the enthusiasm of a swimmer who had won a championship. I also edited books of poetry, including one with linguistic poetry (University of Essex, 1977) for which Noam Chomsky wrote a forward.
I enjoy conducting interviews, hearing playwrights, directors, musicians, theatre artists, and even critics talk openly about their work can be very satisfying.
Yes, compiling and editing documents, stumbling through verbal fragments and juggling asides, can be time consuming, especially as I often find myself writing follow-up letters, asking searching questions, and then reshaping the writing of the interview to reach a deeper level of understanding.
However, rather than relying on notes, quickly jotted down in a darkened theatre, or getting influenced by superficial first impressions of an interviewee, I send the penultimate version of the interview to the subjects and ask them for their input. Even if theatre artists want to change something that they had said earlier, now they have a chance to fine-tune it. As a result, the readers of my interviews really get to learn what the writers, directors, etc. really want to say.
This photo of me holding a concentration camp puppet with a Star of David expresses exactly how I feel about serious theatre and the Holocaust in particular.
The puppet was made by Robert Smythe and his team as part of The Puppetmaster of Lodz at Mum Puppettheatre in Philadelphia, October 2004.
The image of my star of David was taken by Alex Griffin during the Puppet (r)Evolution convention at Swarthmore College, August 2013.
Drama around the globe has existed since human beings began to dance, make drawings, sing, and deal with conflict. I experienced the drama of life very early on when my mother—wife of a prolific young writer who, as a German propaganda officer and war correspondent, had documented almost every day of the Third Reich—did the unthinkable.
My father, aged 31, got killed while reporting in Russia during World War II. A talented writer who not only penned countless articles and one book, but also close to 500 love letters to my mother from occupied France, he also filled about 20 volumes of journals, covering almost the entire Third Reich on a daily basis. He considered those journals and letters his life’s inheritance. My mother cherished them, and always told me that once I was old enough I could have all of them. However, something horrible happened.
Because I have studied and taught in countries around the world for many years, I could not take her up on the offer. However, once I had settled in the Philadelphia area, I asked her for my father’s journals. I added a sentence that I will regret for the rest of my life, namely, “I want to publish them.” My mother, apparently horrified by that request, threw my father’s life’s work into an incinerator.
This act of deliberate destruction was one of the most dramatic and saddest moments in my life. The burning of my father's journals was the catalyst of my desire to write plays about subjects that people might not know about or may be too scared to touch. Out of that anguish, my first play, Metronome Ticking, grew like a phoenix out of the ashes, followed by more plays.
So far, almost all my plays deal with the oppression of Jewish people and culture, seen from a German perspective. I’ve also begun writing about American characters, presenting aspects that may feel as uncomfortable to some Americans as my German plays may feel uncomfortable to some German audiences. Bambi and Cinderella are not exactly my role models.
If my plays could encourage some people to think about the damage of prejudice, I would consider all the work done worth doing.
For years, a number of my friends had asked me to turn part of my life stories into a book. I always dismissed those recommendations. However, things began to change dramatically in the summer of 2013 when I attended a drama workshop with Michele Volansky, a well-known American dramaturg.
During our introductions, upon hearing that I wrote exclusively about the plight of Jewish people, she told me, point blank, in front of a group of Philadelphia writers, “Stop that! From now on, at least for this workshop, write about your own experiences.” Both shocked and delighted, I began writing a play about WW II and its aftermath, seen through the eyes of a little boy in Germany.
In the winter of that year, I attended another workshop, conducted by Debra Leigh Scott, writer, playwright, publisher, and founding director of Hidden River Writers. Haunted by the memories of my childhood, I wrote my first two stories: “Brown Paper Bag” and “Black Shoe Polish”—a liberating experience which reminded me of the days, back in England, when I learned to write poetry.
Photo by James Noble