F. PAUL MARKIN ≈ Three Poems



Dan and I

My Pop was a man we’d hardly ever see –
he spent his time building roads
way out in the Bush, his second home
(a place that held no quarter
for my twin brother Dan and I)

Endless serpentine roads
of dirt, gravel and abandon
cut their way past the edges of the world
and into mountain forests
that bore cruel and bold names
like “Porcupine” and “Darkwood”

Once we were settled
in the dusty seat of his truck
Dan and I would plead in earnest
for the reasons behind this exodus,
and in a voice that resembled his salt and pepper stubble
our Pop said again and once more
“Those mountains hold fish, and you boys gotta learn…”

He’d take the two of us
deep into a world without boundaries,
his truck careening around the corners
and skirting cliff shoulders – I couldn’t help
but shut my eyes

Once outside of the truck
Dan and I would hold our eyes in the branches,
watching Pop’s leather boots
take lengthy strides through the sunflecked canopy,
a hard voice pushing back the boughs
of the tall, thin pines

Soon the toes in our shoes
would be wet and bloodless,
the two of us up to our shins
in the creek’s challenge and roar
but over those stony beds we’d stumble, staying close by
for we knew we’d seen
with our own seven-and-a-half year old eyes
the thick green surf of the forest
wrestle the dirt road trailing behind the truck
and slam it kicking below the earth

Through The Eyes of Mountains


Through the eyes of mountains
drag a pitch-cracked boot through forest loam
heave loaded rucksacks further afield
lean back and wail

three thousand paces later
glint of pressure in the eye
back hewn from starry granite
the echoing bootfall that laughs aloud
cracks rain from hobo clouds
stirred southwesterly
carves the body
makes ancillary angiosperms of spring

by parted lips, drink
the cavorting stream
of peeling sun

stamen and stigma push up
warp and weft combed through,
intelligent wind
with a hundred sibilant fingers
unwinds Gregorian knots
nay slake again the old lords of life
just reach for the whirling place
where memories of home
cannot bear to go

Pull the arc of the high arete
past teetering stacks of rock
paint you orange by lichen blaze
the break and boom of rockfall – emptiness this ocean
beseeching audience, exploding orchestra
the inchoate lyric

New fires kindle the eye
rediscovered topography
glowing golden in the sun
boil you down to sugary nectar, the reductive taste
which pooled in cranial substrata
when first you raised a battered eyelid
through the last horizon of loam
and gazed upon the lonely mountain, the holy mountain
the salient exponent in a long line of numbers
calculating peace, apathy, wide eyes
distilling a humanity that somehow is much
much greater than the bag of its mumbling, disconnected parts




Dmitri’s eyes filled up with wilderness
when he saw the dark-feathered bird of a girl
grow weary of flying
and fall to the ground in the melting snow
he knew then in his heart he was homeless.

He’s going to find a home he can love
and if its not love in that home,
then he’ll wander blankly
through the hills in his heart
like unseeing pines shifting senseless in wind
shouting hoarse to a mind
that doesn’t care at all.


April 2012 ≈ Number 8

In this issue (so far) three poems by Denis Foley, two poems by Brian d’Eon, a poem by Rachel Castor, a controversial poem by Günter Grass, one each by Doug Wilton, Robert Banks Foster, Sean Arthur Joyce, Helen Blum and Linda Crosfield and an except from a forthcoming novel by Mark Nykanen.  Lately I’ve been wondering: Is it still cool to be cool?

The really cool people will probably not be there, but if you still like to see poetry and creative prose made of real ink on real paper and the people who do that you might want to check out the launch of The Elephant Mountain Review on Friday April 27 at SelfDesign High (upstairs at the Legion Hall) around 7 pm. Heck, come even if you’re terminally cool, we’ll warm ya up!

Linda Crosfield ≈ I Don’t Want To Talk About Airports



I Don’t Want to Talk About Airports

Me and my friend Amelia want to go somewhere warm,
prepaid vacation, a beach in the South Pacific, maybe,
somewhere with good food and no
lineups. Or a play, we want to go to that new one,
Fog Over Fredericton, listen to the voices backstage
that ends with everyone singing
Stand By Your Man in honour of Tammy, who plays the
customs agent who finds coke in her
cargo pants in the scene about the
crash where passengers have to climb over a
gate to escape the crazy
supervisor Tammy’s in love with.
We were going to go last week but the show was
cancelled when the weather turned to shit,
you’d think there was a
bomb scare the way people went on about it.
I’ll check in with Amelia, we’ve been planning a
trip to the mall so we can talk to that
security guard, the cute one, looks like a
pilot in his navy blue uniform, pick up some new
luggage at Walmart, everything’s on
sale, have lunch, go see the
travel agent, hope it’s not too
late, get ourselves on a
waiting list if there isn’t any room on the flight.
Some days I just don’t know what I want.


Mark Nykkanen ≈ Excerpt



Thanks for the poems.  If you’d like, you’re welcome to publish this excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Carry the Flame (HarperCollins, July, 2012).  CTF is the sequel to Burn Down the Sky.  The novels are set in the latter part of this century in North America.

She welcomed the shade of the hill. The valley was narrow enough to shelter them from the stark morning light, sunrise and sunset the only earthly constants that hadn’t been mangled by the reckless generations that had left them this ragged world.

            Goddamn them.

            Nothing but scorn for the louts who ruled her country at the turn of the century. Those feckless politicians and their big money backers–and the supine media that exalted them all–could have saved billions of lives and millions of species; but in those first fifteen, twenty years, when simple steps could have averted this tragedy, they did worse than nothing– they created an illusion of safety and comfort while the world spun inexorably toward collapse.

            Goddamn them.

            The signs had been everywhere–oceans dying, Arctic melting, killer heat waves, massive crop failures, freakishly strong storms, the list went on and on–but her grandparents and most everyone else pranced about so childishly, so narcissistically, that they’d made Nero seem like an alarmist.

            Goddamn them.           

            She could scarcely imagine the courage, the unerring instincts of those who did try to stop the genocidal consumption, who bombed and struggled for years to try to shut the maw of that beast–and were hunted and tortured and executed for their fearlessness.

Kids, mostly. Nineteen, twenty year-olds. Some even younger. A few older. Veterans, too. The first leaders of the rebel forces. They’d fought back, and Christ they were killed with a ferociousness that exposed both the cruelty and underlying fear of those in power.

            She wished the wastrels who’d persecuted them–who’d been so busy pointing their fingers and guns at others–had done the planet a favor and aimed at themselves instead.


Sean Arthur Joyce ≈ The Sainted Bluebells



The Sainted Bluebells

This is the hour
the sky opens her mothering face,
pale shoots yawn and stretch
awake, and no black spirit
fouls any feathered nest.

The chickadee sings
his simple chant—Spring’s here,
Spring’s here! and bluebells
announce their sainthood
in quiet flocks.

Crow watches me
with one eye on her nestlings,
done for now with prophecy
and eager to feed hungry mouths
hard-won wisdom.

This tribulation too,
shall pass. That winged voices
still whistle their healing songs
is blessing enough,
for today.


Helen Esther Blum ≈ Poem






It shouldn’t really surprise us that
underneath the fur, the fleece the skin of us we are
a pulsing pulpy mass of red blood, flesh and bone, gore and guts.
Whether the surface is feathers or freckles we are
a whirlwind of instincts and raging heartbeats of survival.

We are alive and messy.
Therefore we are.
The stars look down and see
the thermal patterns of earth’s creatures
shifting, lifting, adrift in the rifts of our crust,
the boom and bust of us who
set our sights on the stars of the night,
for their unwavering constancy is just
what our fancy needs to pull us out of the mud.
A bud on a bush can do that too,
can stir our blood, but spring sun
can also melt the snow
to show the crud below.
It shouldn’t really surprise us
that underneath the lust of us is just the chaos.
The lesson of rawness brings the test of truth.
The truth of lessoning brings the decline of time.
Trust can’t be timed.


Robert Banks Foster ≈ A VISION OF HELL




“With Greed . . .”, for Ezra Pound

On and off On and off On and off
On and off streets fat fat fat crowds flow.
We are all tourists here.
Who are we? Where is here?
It’s not the fat
It’s not fat per se that flows flows flows flows people like globules.
It’s not fat
limp rolls of shuffling young
fathers parading prosperity
bulging belts
mothers ballooning
before behind.
It’s not fat fat fat faced kids
or pets
nations of Alsatians nations
oodles of poodles oodles of poodles oodles of poodles
presenting perfectly together perfectly.
It’s not
condos raping hills.
It’s us
our fat legs spread wide spread wide in the streets
open for business
pimping lakes pimping rivers pimping mountains
pimping clear air
We did not think fat had overcome so many
The bodies of our mountains for sale
The bodies of our mountains cheap .
You have heard “all flesh is grass.”
Dying forests are pubic hair.
Dying forests are pubic hair.

We are all tourists here.
Tourists are Us! Here is here!
We come for jazz, we pay for jazz.
The affront on Front Street is after Jazz
no dancing happens here.

We did not think fat had undone so many, so many—
us in our houses, us flowing fat in up and down streets
it’s not the shapelessness we are
in motion with each weary step
no shape no form no line no function
It’s the perfect blandness that we reek reek reek.
We come to love and then destroy
the very things we say we love
love love
One cannot tell the tourist from
the living dead.
One cannot tell the living dead.
When asked about the Canto that begins, With Usura . . . Pound said, “Now I would use the
word Greed.”


Rachel Castor ≈ The Creek; April 17



The Creek; April 17

I did not want to go into the woods that day.
The snow had not melted.
Spring-break at outdoor school
felt more like Christmas in the mountains.
Instead of pulling on my smile,
playing my part as chief enthusiast,
I took a deep breath
spoke quietly, said little,
led my students
into the tender pinewoods.

We broke from the trees
to winter-grey skies, and wind.
Snow blew across the meadow,
the bent grass-tops
long emptied of seed
broke through the new spring snow,
Tumalo creek rushing
past the dead burned stumps
of salvaged trees,
their charred frames
stark above the white snow.
“This is beautiful.” Someone said,
“This is so, beautiful?” He said again,
slowly, looking at me for an answer.


Denis Foley ≈ Three Poems



Past Time

I live and dream beside the river. Wondering when my ship will come to take me away to those lost horizons of yore.

Sometimes I sit and listen to the river
Watery sounds spilling fragments of words
Shards of shattered conversations
Drifting with the current
Querulous rips and eddies
Disputing at the rapids
In angry protestation
Disagreeing with the rocks
Questioning the price of admission
To the canyon’s narrow throat
Busy bustling down the valley
Forever yearning for the sea.

On the sandbank in the river
Birds nests perched
Where the coyotes cannot reach
Logs marooned spike broken trees
Flotsam of forests bleach
And driftwood lies in sunblind ease
Slowly drying on the beach
Limbs stripped to the bones
Segmented ancient carcasses
On summers warming stones.

Dark pools of resentment
Lurk sulking in the shadowed glade
Puddles leaking apologies
Gurgle tearful explanations
Into dappled shallows shade
Where the weeping willow
Reflecting contemplation
Calms and weaves
The fronded leaves
And pleads for expiation.

The language of the river
Holds all these broken promises
These babbled incantations
Countered logic, gorgeous lies
And includes a glitter in the gravel
A tiny golden gleam
Some contraindication
Where the bride has thrown her wedding band
Bouquet forlorn and dying on the strand
Below the bridge another sunken dream
She did not want to linger
And a twinkling arc
Described her liberation
Gold returned to river sand
For someone else’s finger.
But absent children still prattle in the water
Somewhere son and somewhere daughter
Giggles, splashing hidden laughter
Never now, before or after
Prying beneath the weedy rocks
Where nervous rainbows hide.
Limpid strings of syllables force
Through freshets parsing ripples
Into absolute abstraction
Vowels amazed agreeing asking
blessings from the pebbles
And the stones beneath the surface
Tapping incoherent Morse.
Now I on watch forever more
Hear the legend, heed the lore
Waiting for that foggy night
When the cold wind keens an icy score
And the black ship waits without a light
Hove to, impatient in the river.
Old hands ready to sway me aloft
To sign me on for the last trip
And the last great run ashore.



Poetry Murdered. The Death of Lorca in Granada

There are times when I could happily die
Moments when I know there cannot be a higher high
A greater, finer glow. As we, gasping range and echo
Wandering full of flinching nerves
Moaning through the smouldering wreckage of our senses
When shy desire has overwhelmed modesty’s pretences
Hot blood melting all our doubts and defences.
Where the scorched earth decrees
Applied between the shoulders and the knees
Frantic fumbling, directions, pleas
Sends time and motion reeling
And then the pillow muffled squealing.
We would find ourselves reclining, shaken,
in splayed array, in mutual amazement
At the immensity, the depth of feeling.
So a thunderbolt through the ceiling
Just wouldn’t hurt at all.
On the subject of firing squads
I swear by all the gods
I will take the blame and will never give your name
So when the rifles take their aim
‘Beloved’ will be the last thing that I say
Or Viva Anarchismo, La Revolution or
Something romantic anyway.
So dying wouldn’t matter, on a Spanish Saturday.
But one must have declined the blindfold offered
When by a fascist proffered
To maintain a certain style
So ignore the handcuffs pinching
As they lead you down the aisle
To face the empty bullring
Much too early, much too soon
At four o’clock in the afternoon.
However… until then, I’ll hand you down from our truck
Like an exiled Princess, down on her luck,
As though the silken train of your gorgeous gown
Was sliding to the ground from your Phaeton carriage
And by your hand in marriage
I’m the envy of every man in town.



Song For A Sleepy Child

There are no lines upon your face
Engraved by fear, fatigue or haste
Your shining eyes show no guile
Mere innocent love at your father’s smile.
When hunger wracks your fragile frame
Tiny flower hands with unerring aim
Seek for their haven, their place of rest
Warm, scented pillow, your mother’s breast.
Oh Child come to me, come sleep in my arms
Safe from all hexes, hazards and harms
There I will tell you the mysterious part
Of the secret song of my beating heart.
A message so old, from the dawn of time
Now written within us as rhythm and rhyme
Then I will hold you so only you can hear
What it repeats and repeats to your perfect ear
I love you, I love you, I love you.


Poet In Trouble ≈ Submitted by Coyote


Storm Continues After German Writer’s Poem Against Israel
Published: April 6, 2012

Günter Grass, Germany’s most famous living writer, tried Friday to quell the growing controversy over a poem critical of Israel that he published this week, saying that he did not mean to attack the country wholesale but only the policies of the current government. However, three days of worldwide debate, including a stinging personal rebuke from Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, show no sign of subsiding.

The nine-stanza, 69-line poem, “What Must Be Said,” appeared Wednesday on the front of the culture section of the Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Mixing lyrical turns of phrase with discussions of the need for international supervision of both Israel’s and Iran’s nuclear programs, it bluntly called Israel a threat to world peace for its warnings that it might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. By supplying weapons to Israel, including submarines, Germany risked being complicit in “a foreseeable crime,” Mr. Grass wrote. “Why do I say only now, aged and with my last drop of ink, that the nuclear power Israel endangers an already fragile world peace?” his poem asks. “Because that must be said which may already be too late to say tomorrow.” In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung published Friday, Mr. Grass said he did not mean to attack Israel, but Mr. Netanyahu’s policies. “I should have also brought that into the poem,” he said.

Several leading publications reacted to the poem by calling Mr. Grass an anti-Semite, while others dismissed it as nonsense. Israel reacted with widespread condemnation and fury. Mr. Netanyahu issued a statement on Thursday calling Mr. Grass’s comparison of Israel and Iran “shameful,” saying that it said more about Mr. Grass than about Israel. “It is Iran, not Israel, that is a threat to the peace and security of the world,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “It is Iran, not Israel, that threatens other states with annihilation.”

Long a self-proclaimed conscience of the German nation, urging Germans to confront the Nazi past, Mr. Grass was branded a hypocrite after he revealed in 2006 for the first time that he served in the Waffen-SS at the end of World War II, when he was 17. Referring to that admission, Mr. Netanyahu said it was “perhaps not surprising” that Mr. Grass “cast the one and only Jewish state as the greatest threat to world peace and to oppose giving Israel the means to defend itself.” Germany’s strong support for Israel in its foreign policy is just one way that the country has tried to make up for the crimes of the Holocaust. But the lessons of World War II also made many Germans strongly pacifist and thus uncomfortable with the hawkish tone and threatening language emanating from Mr. Netanyahu’s government.

“He’s focusing the fears of Germans now around Israel as a danger,” Gary Smith, executive director at the American Academy in Berlin, said of Mr. Grass. “I’m afraid this could be a turning point in the way part of the German public speaks about Israel.” Writing on the popular news Web site Spiegel Online, Jakob Augstein, the publisher of the weekly magazine Der Freitag, said that it was neither a great poem nor brilliant political analysis, but that “one should thank Grass” for starting the debate about the threat Israel poses to peace.

Others said that it was not a coincidence that Mr. Grass so often found himself at the center of controversy, but that controversy was instead his goal in the first place. “He wrote this poem knowing from the way he wrote it that there would be condemnation,” said Frank Schirrmacher, co-publisher of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, who was interviewing Mr. Grass when he made his revelation about the Waffen-SS membership. “He needs the condemnation to move on to the next step, which is to say that it is impossible in Germany to criticize Israel.” Mr. Grass, the author of plays and essays as well as novels and poems, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999. He admitted that he was a member of the Hitler Youth as a boy and believed at the time in the group’s aims, but long claimed that he was drafted into an antiaircraft unit, never mentioning the Waffen-SS until he was 78.

In the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer, a weekly columnist, devoted his Friday essay to Mr. Grass under the headline “The Moral Blindness of Günter Grass.” “Logic and reason are useless when a highly intelligent man, a Nobel laureate no less, does not understand that his membership in an organization that planned and carried out the wholesale genocide of millions of Jews disqualified him from criticizing the descendants of those Jews for developing a weapon of last resort that is the insurance policy against someone finishing the job his organization began,” Mr. Pfeffer wrote. He added, “Having served in the organization that tried, with a fair amount of success, to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth he should keep his views to himself when it comes to the Jews’ doomsday weapon.”

Nicholas Kulish reported from Berlin, and Ethan Bronner from Jerusalem.
Grass’ Gedicht im Wortlaut Was gesagt werden muss
04.04.2012, 12:03
Das Gedicht von Günter Grass

Günter Grass warnt in der “Süddeutschen Zeitung” vor einem Krieg gegen Iran. In seinem Gedicht mit dem Titel “Was gesagt werden muss” fordert der Literaturnobelpreisträger deshalb, Israel dürfe keine deutschen U-Boote mehr bekommen.

Warum schweige ich, verschweige zu lange,
was offensichtlich ist und in Planspielen
geübt wurde, an deren Ende als Überlebende
wir allenfalls Fußnoten sind.

Es ist das behauptete Recht auf den Erstschlag,
der das von einem Maulhelden unterjochte
und zum organisierten Jubel gelenkte
iranische Volk auslöschen könnte,
weil in dessen Machtbereich der Bau
einer Atombombe vermutet wird.

Doch warum untersage ich mir,
jenes andere Land beim Namen zu nennen,
in dem seit Jahren – wenn auch geheimgehalten –
ein wachsend nukleares Potential verfügbar
aber außer Kontrolle, weil keiner Prüfung
zugänglich ist?

Das allgemeine Verschweigen dieses Tatbestandes,
dem sich mein Schweigen untergeordnet hat,
empfinde ich als belastende Lüge
und Zwang, der Strafe in Aussicht stellt,
sobald er mißachtet wird;
das Verdikt “Antisemitismus” ist geläufig.

Jetzt aber, weil aus meinem Land,
das von ureigenen Verbrechen,
die ohne Vergleich sind,
Mal um Mal eingeholt und zur Rede gestellt wird,
wiederum und rein geschäftsmäßig, wenn auch
mit flinker Lippe als Wiedergutmachung deklariert,
ein weiteres U-Boot nach Israel
geliefert werden soll, dessen Spezialität
darin besteht, allesvernichtende Sprengköpfe
dorthin lenken zu können, wo die Existenz
einer einzigen Atombombe unbewiesen ist,
doch als Befürchtung von Beweiskraft sein will,
sage ich, was gesagt werden muß.

Warum aber schwieg ich bislang?
Weil ich meinte, meine Herkunft,
die von nie zu tilgendem Makel behaftet ist,
verbiete, diese Tatsache als ausgesprochene Wahrheit
dem Land Israel, dem ich verbunden bin
und bleiben will, zuzumuten.

Warum sage ich jetzt erst,
gealtert und mit letzter Tinte:
Die Atommacht Israel gefährdet
den ohnehin brüchigen Weltfrieden?
Weil gesagt werden muß,
was schon morgen zu spät sein könnte;
auch weil wir – als Deutsche belastet genug –
Zulieferer eines Verbrechens werden könnten,
das voraussehbar ist, weshalb unsere Mitschuld
durch keine der üblichen Ausreden
zu tilgen wäre.

Und zugegeben: ich schweige nicht mehr,
weil ich der Heuchelei des Westens
überdrüssig bin; zudem ist zu hoffen,
es mögen sich viele vom Schweigen befreien,
den Verursacher der erkennbaren Gefahr
zum Verzicht auf Gewalt auffordern und
gleichfalls darauf bestehen,
daß eine unbehinderte und permanente Kontrolle
des israelischen atomaren Potentials
und der iranischen Atomanlagen
durch eine internationale Instanz
von den Regierungen beider Länder zugelassen wird.

Nur so ist allen, den Israelis und Palästinensern,
mehr noch, allen Menschen, die in dieser
vom Wahn okkupierten Region
dicht bei dicht verfeindet leben
und letztlich auch uns zu helfen.
Translation of controversial Guenter Grass poem ‘What Must Be Said’
Here is an unofficial translation of Guenter Grass’ poem, “What Must Be Said.”
By Associated Press
Published: April 8

Why do I stay silent, conceal for too long
What is obvious and has been
Practiced in war games, at the end of which we as survivors
Are at best footnotes.

It is the alleged right to the first strike
That could annihilate the Iranian people—
Subjugated by a loud-mouth
And guided to organized jubilation—
Because in their sphere of power,
It is suspected, a nuclear bomb is being built.

Yet why do I forbid myself
To name that other country
In which, for years, even if secretly,
There has been a growing nuclear potential at hand
But beyond control, because not accessible to inspections?

The universal concealment of these facts,
To which my silence subordinated itself,
I sense as an incriminating lie
And coercion–the punishment is promised
As soon as it is ignored;
The verdict of “anti-Semitism” is familiar.

Now, though, because in my country
Which time and again has sought and confronted
Its very own crimes
That is without comparison
In turn on a purely commercial basis, if also
With nimble lips calling it a reparation, declares
A further U-boat should be delivered to Israel,
Whose specialty consists of guiding all-destroying warheads to where the existence
Of a single atomic bomb is unproven,
But fear wishes to be of conclusive evidence
I say what must be said.

But why have I stayed silent until now?
Because I thought my origin,
Afflicted by a stain never to be expunged
Forbade this fact as pronounced truth
To be told to the nation of Israel, to which I am bound
And wish to stay bound.

Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
The nuclear power Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we–as Germans burdened enough–
Could become suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.

And granted: I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the West’s hypocrisy;
In addition to which it is to be hoped
That this will free many from silence,
Appeal to the perpetrator of the recognizable danger
To renounce violence and
Likewise insist
That an unhindered and permanent control
Of the Israeli nuclear potential
And the Iranian nuclear sites
Be authorized through an international agency
By the governments of both countries.

Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,
Even more, all people, that in this
Region occupied by mania
Live cheek by jowl among enemies,
And also us, to be helped.
Israel bans author Guenter Grass
Foreign minister calls Nobel laureate an anti-Semite
The Associated Press
Posted: Apr 9, 2012 12:30 AM ET
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2012 2:07 AM ET

Israel declared Guenter Grass persona non grata on Sunday, deepening a spat with the Nobel-winning author over a poem that deeply criticized the Jewish state and suggested it was as much a danger as Iran. The dispute with Grass, who late in life admitted to a Nazi past, has drawn new attention to strains in Germany’s complicated relationship with Israel — and also focused unwelcome light on Israel’s own secretive nuclear program. In a poem called What Must Be Said published last Wednesday, Grass, 84, criticized what he described as Western hypocrisy over Israel’s nuclear program and labelled the country a threat to “already fragile world peace” over its belligerent stance on Iran. The poem has touched a raw nerve in Israel, where officials have rejected any moral equivalence with Iran and been quick to note that Grass admitted only in a 2006 autobiography that he was drafted into the Waffen-SS Nazi paramilitary organization at age 17 in the final months of the Second World War. Grass’s subsequent clarification that his criticism was directed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not the country as a whole, did little to calm the outcry.
Accused of anti-Semitism

On Sunday, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced that Grass would be barred from Israel, citing an Israeli law that allows him to prevent entry to ex-Nazis. But Yishai made clear the decision was related more to the recent poem than Grass’s actions nearly 70 years ago, when he was involuntarily conscripted into the German war apparatus. “If Guenter wants to spread his twisted and lying works, I suggest he does this from Iran, where he can find a supportive audience,” Yishai said. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Grass of anti-Semitism.

The uproar has touched upon some of the most sensitive issues in modern-day Israel: the Holocaust, Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons and Israel’s own illicit nuclear program that is widely believed to have produced an arsenal of bombs. It also has unleashed a debate in Germany, where criticism of Israel is largely muffled because of the country’s Nazi past. Grass’s most famous book, The Tin Drum, is about the rise of the Nazis and the Second World War as told through the lives of ordinary people. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999. According to a biography from his museum in Germany, Grass has been in Israel at least once, notably accompanying Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1973 on the first official state visit of a German chancellor to Israel.