Stalkers can be tracked, outed or hacked. The Poets Defence League is ever watchful. As a member of English PEN the author stands for worldwide freedom of expression. 


Sitting here, all alone, most likely like you, alone & angry, repeating an old refrain.

It started with a poem and it may end with a poem.

Poetry scroll by Karen Margolis    photo: Holger Kulick

Looking for feelings on my laptop

long past bedtime
still awake, all alone
looking for feelings on my laptop

there’s comfort in clicking,
illusion of activity
in virtual contact with the ether

power in my fingertips
over a digital universe out there
wrapped in a web of news and views

sounds, colours, fast moving pictures
tickle the synapses
but don’t touch the senses

and often jangle the nerves
with pop-ups or downloads
(never mind that ugly word ‘blog’)

voyeurs are watching
from hidden windows while pincodes
vanish down memory holes

later, after hours of online trawling
the emptiness beyond logout
an end without conclusion

Millions of women, pollsters say
prefer online surfing to sex
personally I like my climaxes live

but tonight I’ve worked too long
in my electronic office
the 21st century sweatshop

alone at my laptop I surrender
to the pleasure of chasing links
until numbed by a hundred hits

How long does it take for the mind
to reject mass pacification
and make its own connections?

When the feeling finally comes
it’s anger. It’s real
and it shouts for revolution

Nice   December 2008

You can read the whole Credit Crunch cycle on the CREDIT CRUNCH page of this site


The  21st century sweatshop is the working unit of today’s service industry.

Literary antecedents include George Gissing’s Grub Street.

You can share my infinitesimal part of virtual unreality and even get a glimpse of my heart sometimes.

As a language worker in the 21st century sweatshop I earn my living mostly with piece work paid by the word or line. Much of the work is commissioned and paid for by public authorities and institutions. The employees in these institutions have salaries, paid holidays and pensions.

The workers in 21st century sweatshops are called freelances. This is generally a euphemism for self-exploitation.

Writing for myself allows me to cherish the illusion of freedom and compensate for the misery and exploitation of isolated conditions as a piecework labourer.

As a writer and poet I contribute voluntarily to the culture industry. In Berlin, where my real existence is based, there are around 10 state-employed bureaucrats assigned to administration of each writer and poet. The bureaucrats have salaries, paid holidays and pensions.

Still, they can’t stifle poetry or the poetic spirit. Poetry is subversive in a world built on the myth of expanding wealth and technological progress. Poetry is dangerous if you’re afraid of change.

The author at St. Georges Bookshop Berlin May 2010

In every age there are poetic visionaries who share their insights  — like Joseph Brodsky, who died in 1996 but would have been 70 this year if he had lived:


“The one who writes a poem writes it above all because verse writing is an extraordinary accelerator of conscience, of thinking, of comprehending the universe. Having experienced this acceleration once, one is no longer capable of abandoning the chance to repeat this experience; one falls into dependency on this process, the way others fall into dependency on drugs or on alcohol. One who finds himself in this sort of dependency on language is, I guess, what they call a poet.”

Joseph Brodsky, Nobel Prize speech, 1987


“The point is that this belonging to two cultures or, more simply, this bilingualism to which you are either condemned or the reverse, is either a blessing or a punishment, right? It is, if you like, a remarkable situation psychically, because you’re sitting on top of a mountain and looking down both slopes. (…) Were a miracle to occur and I were to return to Russia permanently, I would be extremely nervous at not having the option of using more than one language.”

Joseph Brodsky,  quoted in  Conversations with Joseph Brodsky by Solomon Volkov (Free Press 1998), p. 185-6




It would be just an ordinary family story – were it not for the attempt over many decades to stop the author telling her truth about it.

As the father once said to the mother: “It was your jealousy that destroyed everything.”

It was a matter of deception disguised as a Trust. The vengeful mother conspired with the jealous greedy siblings and the mother’s arrogant brother-in-law (whom she wished she had married). Together they cheated the naturally naughty daughters out of a share of their father’s inheritance. The naughty twins were not even mentioned in the last will & testament. Instead, there was a specific final clause — the epitome of negative exclusion —  denying any money to adopted children. Why adopted children? you may ask.

We are still asking. Question marks hang in the air over the faithless trustees of the father’s will, dripping an insidious venom into the chopped liver and cheesecakes of family feasts, poisoning the lives of the sticky-handed culprits and their natural (not adopted!) offspring.

This is the stuff of family sagas, the nourishment the poet thrives on, the fuel of defiance.

Sample a sip of the milk of human unkindness at:


The rest costs money but is a non-profit enterprise for the originator in her 21st century sweatshop.

By a clever twist of publishing the author gets no royalties, only the satisfaction of you reading her voice play. The more readers, the faster my father’s will shall be undone.

  1. Genevieve Bovee says:

    Hello Karen, I am writing regarding your contributions to Spare Rib magazine. The British Library aims to digitise the entire run of Spare Rib and to make these freely available via the British Library.

    Because the material in the magazine is all still in copyright we need to obtain a licence from each former contributor.

    I would be grateful if you would get in touch via my email address – genevieve@vivatheritage.co.uk – so I could send you full details of the project and the licence we are seeking.

    With best wishes,
    Genevieve Bovee

  2. Fascinating post on conversion in a light I had never been exposed to. I’m a Jew by choice, converting in the early 1990’s. I don’t use the word ” convert”. I returned home to Judaism.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. In my youth, forty years ago and more, we used the word ‘convert’, as I explain. Nowadays I think most people talk about Jews by choice. In Berlin, where I now live, there are many Jews by choice and Judaism seems to be increasingly attractive. Do you live in the States? – I think the situation for jews there is very different to Europe.

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