Old? – Of course, why not

Poems by Franz Hohler – not only for older generations

by Dr phil. Winfried Pogorzelski

Is that really you
From whom the Department of Motor Vehicles
demands a medical certificate
that you are still able to drive a car?

Yes, I am – one is tempted to confess – depending on the age, of course – one tries to admit: Self-perception regarding one’s own aging process is misleading – while others perceive this more or less clearly. However, this is no reason for the now 74-year-old Franz Hohler – a cabaret artist, narrator, novelist, lyric poet and last but not least a cellist – to just tolerate or even ignore aging. Rather, it is about consciously living and shaping this phase of life, of realising the beauty of life, but also of facing the less enjoyable aspects – it is specific to old age that life in some ways becomes more difficult and that the end is getting closer and closer.
Reflected in these 87 short texts the process of aging, the transience of life, the act of wistful retrospect but also those with great satisfaction – observe everything that is happening around us. The themes, form, tone, style and type of these texts are surprisingly diverse.
For example, Ciao, maestro!, the swan song to the constantly smoking shoemaker behind the Sternen Oerlikon, who mended Franz Hohler’s shoes for years. He died unexpectedly – as posted on the shop door – leaving the perplexed author with the feeling that he has been told for the first time that death will eventually come after life. Equally, he misses his poet colleague Urs Widmer deceased in 2014, when he writes:

Urs is not dead
he just embarked on
a great journey to the end of the universe
full of curiosity and wanderlust.
                                            (Urs Widmer)

He also hardly understands the death of the unforgettable Clown Dimitri, (Dimitri dead?) who acted on stage until the end – he died at the age of eighty in 2016 – who founded his Scuola Teatro Dimitri (now affilia ted to SUPSI) in the Tessin village Verscio in 1975, today known all over the world. The subject is treated poetically when a butterfly, the epitome of delicate, beautiful, but also fragile life, becomes ambassador of the irrevocable transience of life (Visit, Who are you?), as well as the leaves, falling from the trees in autumn dancing in the wind (Fall of the leaves).
On another point, Hohler surprises the reader when translating classic authors into Swiss German, such as the poem Die Zeit by Heinrich Heine, written during his eight years of suffering – described by himself as mattress grave – caused by an incurable neuropathy that ultimately led to Heine’s death. William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66, which outlines the aging process to the death ending with the words:

“Tired with all these,
From these would I be gone,
Save that to die, I leave my love alone.
Or in Swiss German:
Das macht mi müed, i gient am liebste hei
Nur, wär i tot, denn wär mi Schatz elei.

Thus Hohler arrived slightly sad to the topic of love. The poems Private World History 1968–2016 (Private Weltgeschichte) and Spook (Spuk) are more about the deep relationship of two lovers. In simple words they tell about the value of love or rather how a couple can stay together for over forty years, without stagnating – almost a fossil phenomenon in our fast-paced world especially in matters of love – and how much security can be the result of true love. Then Hohler also speaks as a cellist, in a moving acceptance speech to the soprano Anna Magdalena Bach (1701–1760), Johann Sebastian Bach’s second wife, who copied his six suites for violoncello solo and thus preserved them for posterity: Bach’s writing was lost, Hohler thanks the singer for this good deed. She bore many children, lost some and raised many, including stepchildren:

[…]
and I thank you for that
a bit late
I admit
but the more intimately.
        (Thank you to …)

Everyday topics such as aircraft noise (Southern approach), construction boom (Allotment gardens), disinformation in the media age (Experts) and economisation of the world by capitalism (Rumor) are critically dealt with in a laconic style. The poet is nobody’s fool, but he looks behind the scenes, trying to get to the bottom of things. And that is why this appropriately designed booklet is worth reading for everyone, not only for older generations.
At first glance some works seem puzzling and demand a repeated and closer look. Or do you realise straight away what the “lyrical Self” wants to do with the following sentences?

Native fauna

A bear in Switzerland?
There are animals
that are more familiar to us
like the sharks.

Another example of this kind:

21 March
When I awoke
at half past five in the night
the moon shone
on the construction site
in front of our house.

There was still a container
hanging in the air
on the crane
and right in front of it
a blackbird was sitting
on the boom
singing and singing
so loud and long
until I understood.

With his little booklet of poems Franz Hohler invites to unravel the world, to linger, to enjoy, to reflect and to assert that human life is a present to be discovered, enjoyed, to be lived without suppressing the fact that it will eventually come to an end for each one of us:

And why
does the dark suit
in the wardrobe
not want to move back?
                         (Old?) •

Hohler, Franz. Alt? Poems. Munich 2017

(Translation Current Concerns)