This is the pilot issue of a magazine planned to appear twice a year — spring and autumn — with the aim of presenting the best of the creative writing being produced in the English Department of the University of Bremen. The poetry and prose in this first issue of newleaf has been produced exclusively by students for whom English is a foreign language, and was written in a Poetry Workshop run in the summer of 1993. Most of the participants had written poems or short stories before the class, but not all in English. It is hoped that future issues will include work by teaching staff and by others writing at the university.

Only a selection of the workshop poems can be presented here. Quite a few sessions were taken up with the questions of songwriting, as the group included four songwriters and performers, and we heard and appraised demo tapes of a very professiona studio standard. Yet none of the texts we listened to has been reproduced in newleaf, as it was felt that the raw printed form did not do them justice. (The only one to survive the editorial scissors was a rap — Ulrich Thomas' ‘The First Day of May’ — which lives in the ear of the imagination once the reader identifies it as a rap rhythm.)

The first stepping stone to writing in the workshop was provided by a discussion of two poems by Wilfried Owen: his sonnet ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, and ‘Futility’, which has been published in Die Zeit in the spring vacation with a verse translation by Benedekt Erenz, to coincide with the Owen centenary. These were to act as a catalyst for a double discussion on form and function in poetry which prepared the way for the first writing assignment. Erenz' translation and his brief text on the Owen centenary had been bannered by a photograph of a soldier's corpse from the war in the former Yugoslavia, entitled ‘In Kroatien, 1991’. The students were asked to reflect on death both as a personal, intimate experience and as a social phenomenon — especially in war — and were given alternative tasks. They should either concentrate on the photograph of the dead soldier in Croatia and link it to Owen's ideas in ‘Futility’, as the Zeit editor had intended, or they were to put into words their own experience of death, whether as it had already touched their lives or only existed as a suppressed threat. Keynote for the latter was Owen's phrase ‘slow dusk’ in his ‘Anthem’. Karsten Schwardt's approach was to see the conflict in the Balkans from the Northern European standpoint — our disbelief that the country we had visited as tourists could have become the hell we see on the news. Ute Woida tried to get inside the head of a woman from the region, while Jörg Heid used the same approach from a man's point of view. Personalising one soldier's death, Jochen Fischer adopted Owen's approach and, in today's TV jargon, ‘zoomed in’ on the dying soldier, but replaced Owen's impotent compassion witha bitter, distanced and cynical irony. Finally, Oliver Schaper's ‘Slow Dusk’ recreates Owen's sense of ‘the pity of war’. Carina Schaper's poem of the same name records personal bereavement, as do Kerstin Burlage's ‘To my uncle’ and Silke Gößling's ‘Waiting’. Christina Carmen's ‘Slow Dusk’ treats not physical death but the death of a relationship, while Anke Wilbers closes the first section with two poems which seem playful but leave the reader wondering ...

The assignment for the first week of May was perhaps predictable, but it was to throw up a rich selection of texts. In spite of the ‘poetry’ label, the writers were given free reign in the form they chose; and if the temptation to resort to prose was too strong for some to resist, the fruits of the sin were well worth the picking. In particular, Sabine Kuhangel's story displays a remarkable skill for creating mood. Anja Wohlers sets the scene with a weather forecast and unfolds the May holiday in the lives of the seven ages of woman.

After the free form of the First of May, the next task was as strict as they come. Working out Owen's ‘Anthem’, we had already looked at the sonnet form right at the beginning of the workshop; but when I set the students the assignment of writing one I was, to be honest, sceptical of the group's potential to respond to writing in a formal straitjacket. Now, re-reading the ten sonnets reproduced here, I have to remind myself that their authors produced them in a foreign language, for they display in their different ways the alchemy of wit, emotion and workmanship which makes up poetry. Several writers, like Diana Tuleweit, actually made the sonnet form itself the subject of the poem.

Apart from the songwriters, only one student, Martina Meyer, took advantage of my request to present to the group a corpus of texts written before the workshop started: ‘sister’, ‘love is …’ (no, she has never read or even heard of Adrian Henn's poem of the same title), ‘Public Appearance’ and ‘virgin mary of the dishes’ are all worthy of publication anywhere. Yet, alongside the class assignments studnets were writing on their own, poems were brought in for scrutiny, and all the more apprehensively because the subject-matter of a poem itself — if it comes from inside, rather than imposed from outside by the workshop tutor — demands explanations which can mean a certain self-exposure to the group. Representative for such poems, because it both works as a successful poem and demanded such inner strength in the group situation, is Fulya Antakli's ‘Abandon’.

Last but not least, the final two poems are the best of a bunch produced in my first-year Reading, Speaking and Writing Skills class. This had as its theme ‘The Car and the Planet’, and, after we had looked at the texts (and particularly songs) which linked the car to concepts of freedom and mobility — from Springsteen's Pink Cadillac to Bobby Troup's Route 66 — I asked students to put their thoughts into verse. Fresh sap for newleaves ...

Ian Watson, Bremen, February 1994