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Review: Memorial to the Future, by Volker von Törne

In 'History's True Heroes', dedicated to two fellow workers in the ASF, von Törne writes 'What will become of us?/ How should I know?/ We are history's true heroes - / That's easily said/ But I know for certain/ If we fail in this/ The earth itself/ Will cease to be'. Such writing does sit uneasily in English, and particularly in the British poetry tradition of stiff-upper-lip and irony; particularly when written about political engagement. But that is possibly why this book is so important in English. It shows at close cultural hand, what such engagement must surely entail for those so close to the worst excesses of history. And this is particularly true in an age of populist politics, where the forces von Törne fought against all his life are now in resurgence.


Here and elsewhere the poetry is clearly haunted by both the definable and indefinable legacies of the past. And von Törne is clearly in a particularly strong position to explore that haunting. He does that with a variety of styles and approaches, and the final result is both illuminating of a particular attitude in German literature, and also deeply affecting.