About Me

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I write, translate, and study poetry. Sonnets, in particular, captivate me: I’m now anatomizing Robinson’s for my dissertation and rendering Rilke’s into prosodic rhyme. I also teach composition at LMU’s Amerika-Institut, English at Münchner Volkshochschule, and literature at Amerikahaus.


Amerikahaus Literary Circle: 2 September 2015

Discussion Questions for Open City by Teju Cole

1.  Did you enjoy the story?  If so, what did you especially like?

2.  Like Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and Theo Decker in The Goldfinch, Julius, the narrator of Open City, is genuinely reflective and exquisitely eloquent in his recounting of his tale.  How does his narrative style differ from Scout’s and Theo’s?  

3.  The novel’s setting, of course, is post-9/11 New York City—and Cole writes with great specificity as to the places Julius visits:  How did this concrete approach to description work within your mind’s eye as a reader?  Was the section set in Brussels or the recalled memories of Nigeria effective in a like way at conveying a sense of place?

4.  As half-German and half-Nigerian, Julius seems utterly at home in New York.  Consider how Julius views issues of cosmopolitanism and immigration vis-a-vis the characters he encounters, most of whom are also immigrants:  What observations of culture and race does Julius make, and what did you think of them?

5.  Julius is a close observer of people, and he renders these observations in a seemingly candid way in real time, often revising what he opines when a closer look demands a change of assessment.  Does this make him a more reliable narrator?  And, if so, what do you then make of his total lack of comment upon Moji’s accusation?

6.  Whereas Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch was peppered with references to pop culture (say, with the likes of Lady Gaga and Starbucks), Cole’s novel is heavily laden with those that preoccupy Julius—those of architecture, classical music, art history, literature, photography, and the history of science.  What effect did these meditations have on you as a reader?

7.  In Brussels, why does Julius pursue the plain, middle-aged woman with the umbrella and not the young, beautiful waitress who had expressed an interest?  What awkwardness does he have with other men, especially those he calls “brother”?  Do these encounters foreshadow the stunning accusation Moji makes in the penultimate chapter?

8. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos, we noted an authorial play with the nature of time:  How does Cole play in a like way with temporal perception during his description of Julius’ peregrinations about Manhattan?

9.   By the end, Julius literally sails off into the night.  How satisfying was this ending for you?  

Our title for October 2015 is The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer; for more information, including dates, please visit amerikahaus.de.



by Edwin Arlington Robinson

There is a drear and lonely tract of hell
From all the common gloom removed afar:
A flat, sad land it is, where shadows are,
Whose lorn estate my verse may never tell.
I walked among them and I knew them well:
Men I had slandered on life's little star
For churls and sluggards; and I knew the scar
Upon their brows of woe ineffable.

But as I went majestic on my way,
Into the dark they vanished, one by one,
Till, with a shaft of God's eternal day,
The dream of all my glory was undone,—
And, with a fool's importunate dismay,
I heard the dead men singing in the sun.



by Boris Pasternak, 
translated by Ann Pasternak Slater

The murmurs ebb; onto the stage I enter.
I am trying, standing in the door,
To discover in the distant echoes
What the coming years may hold in store.

The nocturnal darkness with a thousand
Binoculars is focused onto me.
Take away this cup, O Abba, Father,
Everything is possible to thee.

I am fond of this thy stubborn project,
And to play my part I am content.
But another drama is in progress,
And, this once, O let me be exempt.

But the plan of action is determined,
And the end irrevocably sealed.
I am alone; all round me drowns in falsehood:
Life is not a walk across a field.

Note:  A recitation can be heard here.


Caput Mortuum

by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Not even if with a wizard force I might
Have summoned whomsoever I would name,
Should anyone else have come than he who came,
Uncalled, to share with me my fire that night;
For though I should have said that all was right,        
Or right enough, nothing had been the same
As when I found him there before the flame,
Always a welcome and a useful sight.

Unfailing and exuberant all the time,
Having no gold he paid with golden rhyme,       
Of older coinage than his old defeat,
A debt that like himself was obsolete
In Art’s long hazard, where no man may choose
Whether he play to win or toil to lose.

Note:  A recitation can be found here.


A Man in Our Town

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

We pitied him as one too much at ease
With Nemesis and impending indigence;
Also, as if by way of recompense,
We sought him always in extremities;
And while ways more like ours had more to please
Our common code than his improvidence,
There lurked alive in our experience
His homely genius for emergencies.

He was not one for men to marvel at,
And yet there was another neighborhood
When he was gone, and many a thrifty tear.
There was an increase in a man like that;
And though he be forgotten, it was good
For more than one of you that he was here.

Note:  A recitation can be heard here.


The Laggards

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Scorners of earth, you that have one foot shod
With skyward wings, but are not flying yet,
You that observe no goal or station set
Between your groping and the towers of God
For which you languish, may it not be odd
And avaricious of you to forget 
Your toll on an accumulating debt
For dusty leagues that you are still to plod?

But many have paid, you say, and paid again;
And having had worse than death are still alive,
Only to pay seven fold, and seven times seven.
They are many; and for cause not always plain,
They are the laggards among those who strive
On earth to raise the golden dust of heaven.

Note:  A recitation can be heard here.


Die Kurtisane

von Rainer Maria Rilke

Venedigs Sonne wird in meinem Haar
ein Gold bereiten: aller Alchemie
erlauchten Ausgang. Meine Brauen, die
den Brücken gleichen, siehst du sie

hinführen ob der lautlosen Gefahr
der Augen, die ein heimlicher Verkehr
an die Kanäle schließt, so dass das Meer
in ihnen steigt und fällt und wechselt. Wer

mich einmal sah, beneidet meinen Hund,
weil sich auf ihm oft in zerstreuter Pause
die Hand, die nie an keiner Glut verkohlt,

die unverwundbare, geschmückt, erholt .
Und Knaben, Hoffnungen aus altem Hause,
gehn wie an Gift an meinem Mund zugrund.

Note:  A recitation can be heard here.