Ruth’s story

December 4, 2010

Ruth Barnett’s Kindertransport story is highlighted by the Holocaust Educational Trust – see the following link

How many reviews do you need before you can say a book is good?

December 1, 2010

These impressive reviews of This Room in the Sunlight: Collected Poems are  a reflection of the love and affection for Bernard Kops and reveal the high esteem in which he is held.  But will it be enough to convince the book trade and draw in readers? I’d be interested in some feedback.

“I know of few writer-prophets as undeservedly unhonoured in their country as the extraordinarily prolific playwright, novelist, autobiographer, poet and teacher Bernard Kops. This new collection is a salutary reminder for fans and a substantial showcase for new readers of his originality, sincerity, lyric rages and good humours, and unblinking confrontations with the shadow side as well as unfettered celebrations of the counterweight, humankind’s potential for good.”  Michael Horovitz Jewish Chronicle

“The publication of this selection of poems by Bernard Kops, the doyen of contemporary European verse, counts as one of the greatest literary events of the Anglo-Jewish world this decade. This is Kops’ eighth collection of verse. The poems are mostly deceptively simple, insightful, dark-and-joyful and poignant. Many are already classics, having assumed lives of their own. The book includes more than 40 hitherto unpublished pieces among the old favourites”Kops‘s poetry, combining touching simplicity with naked passion stems from an 18th century English literary tradition revived in the 20th century by Rosenberg. The poems project great empathy and deep emotional commitment, their power driven by a desperate, unconcealed awareness of the vulnerability of all living things. ” Jerusalem Post

“This Room in the Sunlight displays what one always knew, that Bernard Kops is a poet of the highest order. And what a cornucopia it is – poems about working class Jewish family in the poverty stricken East End of London of his youth, an introduction to the treasures of The Whitechapel Library (a haven and escape where he ‘met’ the literary icons of the age), poems about home, his large and vocal family; about war and the holocaust (in which most of his family perished); about good friends, and deadly enemies; poems full of love for children, grandchildren and a great grandchild and for his wife Erica, Muse and mainstay for over 50 years and to whom this collection is rightly dedicated. “ Markings magazine July 2010

“This excellent collection gives a panorama of Bernard’s creativity over several decades. 60% of it is taken from 7 previousvolumes, 40% previously unpublished. It speaks with the richness of his experience, in terms of exile and poverty, against a background of savage conflict and destruction.”  Dave Russell Poetry Express


An evening with Bernard Kops – and more

July 27, 2010

Bernard Kops will be reading from This Room in the Sunlight and talking about his life and work at Lauderdale House,  Highgate Hill, Waterlow Park, London  N6 5HG at 8pm on Thursday 19th August…..£5/£3 (concs) 020 8348 8716

His next major poetry reading will be at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival during the weekend of November 5-7 where he has several readings including one with Andrew Motion and Elaine Feinstein. This is a cause for celebration. Aldeburgh Poetry Festival is the Poetry Society’s showpiece event for major poets and Kops who is better known as a dramatist can now show why his poetry is also deserving of the attention it is currently receiving.

Radio 4 kindertransport feature

July 12, 2010

Good news, the BBC R4 Reunion programme will be featuring the kindertransport. The Reunion programme is broadcast sometime over the summer when Desert Island Discs is on holiday – with a  Friday and Sunday lunchtime  repeat – two great slots. Producer Sarah Cuddon asked for a copy of Person of No Natioinality as  Ruth Barnett will be one of  the Kinder voices on the prog.  I hope Sue Macgregor is presenting, as she did last year.

Ruth Barnett feature in “The News” and Bernard Kops play on R4

June 1, 2010

Tomorrow – June 2:  Double page feature in The Portsmouth News tomorrow about  Ruth Barnett who came to England as a child refugee from Nazi Germany and  grew up  with foster parents on a farm near Petersfield, Hampshire. There are many fascinating passages about farm  life in her autobiography  PERSON OF NO NATIONALITY.  It is a powerful evocation of post-war England  So I am really glad the News has picked it up.

Also tomorrow, Bernard Kops play Harry and the Angels is on BBC Radio 4 at 2.15pm. I was lucky enough to see the first scenes of the play being recorded at Broadcasting House a few weeks ago and I can’t wait to hear it all.  It is a moving story about death, love and friendship in the East End. I was most impressed that the sound recordist went to Hackney Marshes to make sure the background noise of the wind in a kiteflying scene  captured the real thing.           Meanwhile Bernard is keen  to update his book Neither Your Honey Your Stingan offbeat history of the Jews.           An illustrator is working up some new designs for illustrations  and Bernard intends some new material for the book – first  published in 1985.

Golden Age, Babel … and Publishing

April 3, 2010

We are entering an unlikely golden age  for Jewish cultural provision in London.  Though the Jewish community in the capital  is less than a quarter of a million, and has been in long-term decline (though this might change with the Orthodox influx)  the number of cultural outlets increases with mind-boggling multi-million pound projects.  Following the succesful move of the London Jewish Cultural Centre to Ivy House in 2006  we now have the  newly revamped  Jewish Museum in Camden Town which re-opened in March. It is  a  much more diverse resource than its somewhat frumpy predecessor with attractive displays and  a good  programme of events for young and old.  The  Jewish Community Centre for London being built in the Finchley Road will soon follow with a wide mix of cultural events and social activities already taking place around North London. Meanwhile successful festivals such as Limmud and the Jewish Book Week pulls in 10,000 visitors and the Jewish Music Institute, Spiro Ark are part of the creative endeavours.

I think what we are seeing, a new diversity of cultural provision,  almost a Babel of voices, reflects the confidence and prosperity of a mature and lively community.

But it would be nice to see a similar trend in supporting publishing ventures.  I am not carping. Some of my books, such as Once Upon A Time in Lithuania by artist Naomi Alexander, have benefited from generous sponsorship. and in these financially straitened time there is less money around.  But the fact is there is no real focus on preserving  and uncovering  written works by Jewish authors. 

There are many fine Yiddish works that have never been translated,  European  fiction and non-fiction destroyed by the Nazis  and many top living  Jewish authors from around the world whose works we would like to see in English but which need some financial support to make them commercially viable. How many Israeli authors do we actually get to see in translation? Aside from Amos Oz, David Grossman and Etgar Keret there are many other good Israeli writers whose works should be on our shelves.  

 The European Association of Jewish Culture (based in London and Paris)  over ten years awarded 110 grants to different European arts projects but all went to new drama, art, music or film (apart from one year when new journals were allowed).  Books were seen as problematic, the organisers could not agree which country should benefit from a  book in translation. So books are getting forgotten about.  Yet the people of the Book know the enduring power of the written word.

So let’s wake up and put books to the forefront of the next wave of cultural endeavours. maybe we need a new institution to make it happen. There’s plenty of interest amongst publishers of books of Jewish interest, and I’m definitely up for it, but we do need commercially-minded financially experienced people and philanthropists to make it happen!

April 8 events: Bernard Kops and Ruth Barnett

April 3, 2010

Thursday night, April 8, 7pm Bernard Kops reads from This Room in the Sunlight at Whitechapel Art Gallery where his poem about the old Whitechapel Library, which inspired him to become a writer, is etched on a window …

“How often I went in for warmth and a doze:                                                            

the newspaper room whilst my world outside froze.                                       

And I took out my sardine sandwich feast.                                                

Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East!                                                                         

And the tramps and the madmen and the chattering crone.                         

The smell of their farts could turn you to stone,                                                

but anywhere, anywhere was better than home …”                                                                                                                                                          

It was lines like these that might have prompted film director Mike Leigh to say of his work: “Kops evokes the real world – the world as we know and live and breathe it.”

Also on Thursday night April 8, at 7pm, Ruth Barnett is at the Jewish Museum in a panel discussion “How Do We Tell Our Children About The Holocaust?”
In her book, Person of No Nationality, Ruth describes how important it is for young people to learn how bullying, prejudice and racism can lead eventually to genocide. She encourages students to be active in stopping bullying. She describes her work with teachers to help them engage students in the issues. “Teachers need guidance to help them understand what the Holocaust tells us about human behaviour. It takes courage to accept that the Nazi perpetrators were ordinary people, and that we too, could have been perpetrators, or victims, if we had been there at that time.”

Kops on Spectrum Radio

March 9, 2010

Listen to Bernard Kops interview on  Tikkun Spectrum, the Jewish daily hour-long programme on Spectrum  Radio,  558MW tomorrow, Wed 10 Mar at 3pm. He reads and discusses THIS ROOM IN THE SUNLIGHT with Michael Milsten.    His collected poems he says, are his biography in verse.

Dystopian visions

March 9, 2010

The Russian-born French author of the unfinished masterpiece Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky, is something of a controversial figure in the Jewish world. Her early novel David Golder (published in France in 1929) has as its central character  an unpleasant Jewish banker.  She wrote stories in anti-Semitic magazines, converted to Catholicism in 1939,  and to prevent herself and her family being deported to Auschwitz she appealed (unsuccessfully) to Marshall Petain, the head of the Vichy Government for clemency. These facts are well known  and much discussed ( see Stuart Jeffries carefully balanced feature in the Guardian

A new biography by Olivier Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt reveals even more new information about her. It was  most fascinating to hear  Philipponat, Nemirovsky’s daughter Denise Epstein and Nemirovsky’s translator, Sandra Smith, at Jewish Book Week ‘s closing evening on Sunday. Philipponat said Nemirovsky’s great desire was to be accepted as French and her Catholic conversion was as much connected with her application for citizenship, (which was rejected) as it was with religion and the impending Nazi threat. Denise  described herself as Jewish – to audible murmurings of approval.

But the murmurings inside my own head have been about the qualities of Nemirovsky’s writing. To my mind she stands in a tradition of  women writers who wrote without sentimentality about the world around her.   Her dystopian vision of  greed, selfishness and betrayal, her despair at the supine subjugation of France to the Nazis, meant she spared no-one.  There are curious similarities with Esther Kreitman who in Diamonds created in her lead character a Jewish diamond dealer as odious as David Golder or that any anti-Semitic caricaturist  might have dreamt up.  But Kreitman’s detached writing  style,  social commentary and observation, modelled on Dickens,  never ventured far beyond what she knew, an enclosed world of Jewish characters, and young women who sought escape from its confines. No-one could possibly say she was anti-Semitic.  Nemirovsky, howver, though writing in a similar vein – she also sought a kind of  detachment  and drew on  Tolstoy and Chekhov for her style –  had to a large degree assimilated and was seen to be detaching herself from her roots. 

And so, probably unfairly, the objectivity of her characterisations of Jews are thus tainted by her own ambiguous  attitudes to Judaism. And it is for  this ambiguity the Jewish world will never forgive her even  when praising her writing.   She never fought the Jewish cause and though she recanted from her David Golder character later – as it had been taken up by anti-Semites – and her terrible fate draws sympathy – there will always be a question-mark over what she stood for. But she also is a symbol of  the effects of  persecution  and prejudice. She wanted to establish herself in a a mono-cultural world that did not care for Jews.  So she was, in every sense, a victim, and we need to have the pity for her she herself aspired to find for  her characters.

surprising and enlightening

March 4, 2010

Ruth Barnett, author of Person of No Nationality, spoke eloquently at Jewish Book Week of her feelings of abandonment at the age of four when her mother sent her to England to escape the Nazis. She described how it was easier in her mind to imagine that her mother was dead than to have to deal with her feelings at having been left on her own.  When her mother came to take her back home to Germany in 1949, four years after the war’s end, Ruth was unable to believe it was her  and had a most difficult relationship with her thereafter. 

It was a fascinating session comparing the experiences of British children who were evacuuated, and  also separated from their parents but who were, at the least, able to send letters home.

An interesting  fact to emerge in Ruth’s session is that Susan Soyinka  is related to Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel Prize winner for Literature who is her brother-in-law. It all made sense in a session about  inter-cultural experiences.  Susan is the white, Jewish, English, author of  East End to Land’s End, about the evacuation of the Jewish Free School.

Later,  in the evening, Bernard Kops  read from This Room In the Sunlight at West End Lane Books.  As a child he wanted to escape the stifling confines of the Jewish East End, and he  found his form of escape through books. Now he writes about those experiences. Not that he wants to – “inspiration seeks you – you don’t go chasing it” he explained.