Friday, July 30, 2010

Get ready for some contemporary Austrian poetry

For some time I've been listening to "Nachttaxi", the German-language podcast of Austrian author and poet Martin Auer. Sadly, the author has been experiencing some health problems which have resulted in the suspension of the podcast for some time. However, I've long been impressed with Auer's voice, with its combination of honesty, world-weariness, and compassion. Auer spent six months working as a driver for call girls in his home city of Vienna and wrote a book about it, "Hurentaxi: Aus dem Leben der Callgirls" that Auer serialised on his literary podcast.

The book offers a deeply moving glimpse into the lives of these disadvantaged young women, largely from Eastern Europe, who come to work as prostitutes in Austria, often for financial reasons - they can make ten times the money they'd earn as waitresses or nannies, and infinitely more than they could earn at home. Auer's reportage is unflinching and unsentimental, revealing the most confronting details without ever devolving into any kind of salaciousness. It documents without judging or theorising, allowing his depictions of these girls' circumstances - enlivened in the podcast by Auer's pitch-perfect impersonations - to speak for themselves. At the same time, the author doesn't try to paint himself out of the picture. He is not afraid to reveal himself and his own weaknesses and conflicts. Auer's compassion for his subjects is evident throughout, and the portrait of the man is as interesting in its way as the picture of Austrian prostitution.

Auer has also written some very fine poetry, which I've long wanted to have a stab at translating, so I could share it with others (alas, I have few German-speaking friends!). I wrote to Martin Auer and he has agreed to allow me to publish some of my translations of his poems on this blog, a prospect I'm quite excited about. I've finished the translations and sent them to the author, whose English is good, for approval before posting. So hopefully within the next few days I'll be able to share with you some of my favourite works of his: little gems that I think work very well in English, though they'll never be quite the same as they are when performed by Auer himself, in his gravelly, soulful German.

If you do happen to speak German, check out his website at

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