An 18 year old Palestinian immigrant growing up in Denmark, Yahya Hassan, publishes last October his first book of poems. Thanks to a interview in the Danish daily newspaper Politiken at the start of November, subtlely titled I F***ing Hate My Parents’ Generation, sales of the book caught fire. By Christmas, the book has sold 100 000 copies, which, as the German journalist Jörg Lau correctly points out, is the equivalent of a poetry debut selling one million in a country like Germany or the UK, if you compare the size of the German or UK population with that of Denmark. By April this year the German translation was out, published by Ullstein, and translated by Annette Hellmut and Michel Schleh. Unsurprisingly, there's no English language translation out yet; and I'd be very surprised if any English language poet with any name whatsoever would be willing to touch it. It's the kind of poetry that could very quickly loose you a name:
''I DON'T LOVE YOU, PARENTS, BUT I HATE YOU FOR YOUR BAD LUCK / I HATE YOUR HEAD-SCARVES AND I HATE YOUR KORANS / AND YOUR ILLITERATE PROPHETS / YOUR INDOCTRINATED PARENTS / I HATE THE LAND THAT WAS YOURS AND THE LAND THAT BECAME OURS / THE LAND THAT WAS NEVER YOURS AND THE LAND THAT WILL NEVER BE OURS / WHY DO YOU WHISPER INTO MY INFECTED EARS / THAT I SHOULD OBSERVE THE TREES? / I WANTED TO HANG YOUR HAPPINESS IN THOSE TREES.''
(I've quoted here in my own translation from A. Hellmut's and M. Schleh's German translation, as quoted in Die Zeit newspaper of 16.04.2014. I refer to the German law of quotation (Zitatsrecht) for my right to quote this poem.)
Those capital letters are Hassan's, not mine: he only writes in capitals. Jörg Lau didn't quote this passage in capitals, but in a poetically conservative mixture of lower and upper case, and that makes me suspicious: did Ullstein chicken out of publishing a fully capitalised version, because they thought that would be one can of beery-rage too much for the German audience? I certainly won't be buying this book, but I will be making what for me is an exceptional trip to a German book shop, to get an answer to this capital question.
If all of this sounds like bad satire, it isn't sadly. Stranger than the book itself is, I find, the rapturous reception of the book by the German establishment critics. Jörg Lau writes, for example, 'This book has strains of a lyrical Bildungsroman, it reads like the story of a self becoming itself, through the medium of poetry.' If the type of Bildung Yahya Hassan went through means you come out writing poetry like this then I wonder how we can cut back on that type of education in Europe.