20Th Century German Poems.
In this book Michael Hofmann puts forward his case for Germany’s inclusion on the table for best poets of the 20Th century, stating his claim that a nation with a roster of poets such as Rilke, Brecht, Benn, poets like Celan, Bobrowski, Stadler, Müller and Trakl, others such as,Bachmann, Grass, Enzensberger and Grünbein - the placemat should already be in situ, the setting card already printed. The poets represented start with Else Lasker-Schüler born 1869 , a Jewish German poet and playwright famous for her bohemian lifestyle in Berlin. She was one of the few women affiliated with the Expressionist movement and despite winning the Kleist Prize in 1932, as a Jew she was physically harassed and threatened by the Nazis, forcing her to flee her homeland. The book then ends with Jan Wagner, born 1971 in Hamburg ( living in Berlin since 1995) and who, as well as being a Poet, is a translator of poetry from the English (including Charles Simic, James Tate, Simon Armitage, Jo Shapcott, Louis MacNeice and Kevin Young) and is considered one of the most important German-language poets of the younger generation.
On the way we pass through world war one, the Weimar Republic and it’s failure, followed by the great depression, which pathed the way for Adolf Hitler’s brutal totalitarian regime, the holocaust and the second world war, which then leads on to the Cold war crisis, Berlin and the Iron curtain, before unification and the joys and frustrations this has seen arise. All these points in time have been marked by Germany's poets as they themselves have been marked by the events, some faced them, whilst others were more oblique in their references, but all in one way or another had to come to terms with the world they found themselves in .
Throughout this book Michael Hofmann guides us with a confident hand, always in command, whether discussing Rilke’s lyricism or whether Brecht was better as a poet or as a playwright (according to Hofmann the former) or even how Gottfried Benn was heartrending in a way that the likes of Lowell, Jarrell & Berryman could only aim for, Hofmann’s makes his case with a clarity and passion, backed by a knowledge and a willingness to argue his case with a certain pugnacity for his cause and against any detractors.
This collection has the works of fifty-four poets, but seems to work between the two points of Bertolt Brecht with 19 poems and Hans Magnus Enzensberger with 14 (including the 8 & a bit page poem, Foam) and although there are other books covering this ground for example, Michael Hamburger’s and Christopher Middleton’s Modern German Poetry from 1910-1960. As an introduction to a poetry that can hold it’s head high on the world stage, this book will take some beating, No, It’s not Bilingual, yes it would be probably improved if that was the case, but to most - myself included - that won’t matter, what does matter is that this book will serve as a key to a door that can open up a whole world of poetry. Earlier this year I wrote a post on Faber’s Book of 20Th Century Italian Poems and this will sit nicely alongside that one on my bookshelves.
Christian Morgenstern , Else Lasker-Schuler, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Klee, Ernst Stadler, Gottfried Benn,
Georg Heym, Jakob van Hoddis, Georg Trakl, Hans Arp, Kurt Schwitters, Franz Werfel, Nelly Sachs,
George Grosz, Bertolt Brecht, Peter Huchel, Gunter Eich, Ernst Meister, Johannes Bobrowski,
Rainer Brambach, Paul Celan, Friederike Mayrocker, Ernst Jandl, Heinz Piontek, Inge Muller,
Ingeborg Bachmann, Oskar Pastior, Gunter Grass, Hertha Kraftner, Gunter Kunert, Heiner Muller,
Hans Magnus Enzenberger, Adolph Endler, Jurgen Becker, Reiner Kunze, Sarah Kirsch
Christoph Meckel, Kurt Bartsch, Nicolas Born, Elke Erb, Volker Braun, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, Karin Kiwus,
Michael Kruger, Jergen Theobaldy, Joachim Sartorius, Uwe Kolbe, Durs Grunbein, Lutz Seiler, Marcel Beyer
Volker Sielaff, Hauke Huckstadt, Matthias Goritz, Jan Wagner.
Michael Hofmann, who was born in 1957, in Freiburg, Germany, and came to England in 1961, first residing in Bristol and later Edinburgh. He is the son of the Novelist Gert Hofmann. Michael Hofmann was educated at Winchester college, before going on to study English Literature and Classics at Oxford University. In 1979 he received a BA and in 1984 a MA from the University of Cambridge. In 1983 he started working as a freelance writer, translator and literary critic. Hofmann has held a visiting professorship at the University of Michigan and currently teaches poetry workshops at the University of Florida. He divides his time between London and Gainesville. He has received the Cholmondeley Award in 1984 for Nights in the Iron Hotel and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1988 for Acrimony.
The same year, he also received the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for his translation of Patrick Süskind's The Double-Bass. In 1993 he received the Schlegel-Tieck Prize again this time for his translation of Wolfgang Koeppen's Death in Rome. He was also awarded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 1995 for the translation of his father's novel The Film Explainer, and was nominated again in 2003 for his translation of Peter Stephan Jungk's The Snowflake Constant. In 1997 he received the Arts Council Writer's Award for his collection of poems Approximately Nowhere,and the following year he received the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his translation of Herta Müller's novel The Land of Green Plums. In 1999 Hofmann was awarded the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize for his translation of Joseph Roth's The String of Pearls. In 2000 Hofmann was selected as the recipient of the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize for his translation of Joseph Roth's novel Rebellion (Die Rebellion). In 2003 he received another Schlegel-Tieck Prize for his translation of his father's Luck, and in 2004 he was awarded the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize for his translation of Ernst Jünger's Storm of Steel. In 2005 Hofmann received his fourth Schlegel-Tieck Prize for his translation of Gerd Ledig's The Stalin Organ. Hofmann served as a judge for the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002, and in 2006 Hofmann made the Griffin's international shortlist for his translation of Durs Grünbein's Ashes for Breakfast.
N.’s wife had, even before the war, left him and married
somebody else. The destruction of Dresden turned his street
into rubble and ashes, later into a field. A bombing of
Nordhausen murdered N.’s parents. Both his sisters died flee-
ing, God knows where, they had no children. One friend was
gassed, another was and remained missing. His brother fell
in Holland. N. himself was a prisoner of war in England. He
had helped build villas, not a single one remained standing.
The only thing that, after the war, reminded us of N., was N.
Elke Erb (Trans: Rosmarie Waldrop)