Essay / 9 June 2020

Uh baby, it's a mild world. But poetry is still slaughter.

Week of the Festival: Krems, Austria

Safe and sound …

Generally speaking, things are getting easier for us day by day, less chaotic, more structured, and at the same time — more rigid, more controlled. Don't be afraid, you’re safe. Smart living is here. To comfort you and hold you dear. To keep the dirt out. To cut this wild and crazy world into small pieces. Byte by byte, piece by piece — sounds peaceful somehow. That's how you can chew it, how you can swallow it without the risk of a sore throat or having to consider worse consequences.

… in a brave new world

We're living in a brave new world. The web has everything that we might crave for. It has got the remedies for our fears and insecurities, for our flaws and failures. That's what it promises, at least. There’s no need to be brave anymore. We can trust the smart safety systems that track us non-stop, that follow every single one of our steps into the tiniest alleys and deep down into our wildest dreams. They know the shape of our fingerprints, they are familiar with our irises, they can tell the distance from our ears to our nose. It’s peculiar somehow: the traces we leave behind have become our persecutors. Big data is a bliss and it's not. But it hides its shadows well. Anyway, do we even want to recognise them? Our lives became too comfortable in a way. Convenience is bliss. Safety is bliss. Ignorance is bliss. Do we bother that much? And ain’t we magpies after all? We take what sparkles and leave the rest. And well, we’re humans, we love to be cheered and supported.


A digits’ world — a rigid world? It’s in the making. People are still busy teaching each other on social media: be wise and walk the line, be wise and shine. Be smart, make money, make the best out of your online friends. That's what they are for. The message is clear: leave your guts where they are, we don't want to see what's inside you. All that nasty stuff. All those weird and tangled up emotions. That dump of fear, that heap of hate. Uh baby, it’s a mild world. Optimise yourself. Go on social media and shine. Put your ghosts in the backyard, hide your shadow while recording. Be careful. Don’t challenge people, don’t play with your audience. Don’t throw a bone at them they probably cannot chew. 

Heaven and slaughter

“How can one bathe without undressing, or write without laying bare one’s soul?”, Dorothy Bussy, an English novelist and translator close to the Bloomsbury Group once wrote. 
Big data may be the Dorian Gray of our time. Ambiguous as hell. So is poetry. Poetry is a bliss and it's not. However, it does absolutely nothing to hide that. It is obvious: there's (much) “good” and (probably even more) “bad” in it. Literature means likewise joy and unease, good and evil, heaven and hell — it can be outstanding, outrageous or boring, petrifying and calm. But once you've turned to it, you can't turn away from it, it’s hard to ignore. There's hate in it, fear and loathing, conflict, misunderstanding, guilt and scorn. There's chance and hope and brilliance. There's magic, there's bleakness, maybe the wish to have never been born. 

Thomas Eakins, Baby at play.


Regarding Austrian literature, it may be labeled with many terms: “boring” certainly is not amongst them, I’d say. It’s doubting, playful, angry and passionate and as diverse and genuine as its artists. Besides, it is infatuated with its language. A love that has lasted for decades or even centuries. To play, however, means to take a risk, the unknown path that leads into the wide open, to places you have never reached before. And to eventually come back with that satisfied glance and that calm feeling inside. But playing usually also means to be active, to stay awake, alert and alive, to doubt one’s own as well as others’ behaviour, to speak up, question the status quo, rules, trends and traditions, to ask questions to the ones in power and stand up against injustice, repelling the small-minded, stubborn and racist, and resisting coming to terms with conditions that are inhuman. 

Beautifully arranged

We may sit at our desks right now — probably near the window —, with eyes wide open and a constantly pondering and wondering mind contemplating the world, a keyboard beneath us or a pen prepared to spit it all out. Still we hesitate sometimes. We are suspicious about ourselves. Shouldn’t we rather stick to our logic and hide our feelings and experiences inside? And after all, there are too many truths out there, who would be interested in mine? Well, I am, for once. I am deeply interested in truthful things, in your doubts and struggles as a human being, whatever you may do for a living, whoever you may be. In the end, all of them are mine. So is your joy. The tales we share create a bond between us. In uncertain times, when things change over night, it becomes obvious. Tales connect us — there’s a heritage and a creative soul that we share.

So when my pen starts to pause, I give advice to myself: be angry. Be vulnerable. Be fearful. Be alive. Wear your heart on your sleeve, put your guts to the surface, just be sure that they’re — that’s how I like them — beautifully arranged. 


Angelika Stallhofer

Angelika Stallhofer was born in 1983 in Villach, Carinthia, Austria and is currently based in Vienna. She studied Communication Science in Vienna and Hamburg and Creative Writing at the “Institut für Narrative Kunst”. She writes poetry and prose that has been published in literary magazines and anthologies. She received the Austrian “Buchprämie” for her first book “Adrian oder: Die unzählbaren Dinge”, published in 2018 by Kremayr und Scheriau.