Friday, November 18, 2011

The Faber Book of–

20Th Century German Poems.

Edited by

Michael Hofmann.

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.

The List.

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 Identity

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)


gina said...

Nice intro to German poetry! Seems like the Faber and OUP books serve a similar purpose. Did you prefer one over the other?

I am drinking my not-great scotch while I type this. Seems appropriate.

Bellezza said...

I'm once again ashamed, Parrish, about how little I know of poetry (let alone the German poets!). I lived, and taught, in Germany while the wall was still up (1984-1986). I was shocked by the holes still in the walls of the little villages from WWII, and how there seemed to be so few men my father's age...I haven't availed myself of Germany literature, or poetry, so I'm glad for every little bit you show me. As usual.

Unknown said...

You're definitely right that a bilingual version would be better. It allows the work to be compared to the original (whether that's for better or worse!).

Mel u said...

thanks for another superlative post-on a topic about which I know very little-it kind of sounds a bit like the anthology of Romanian poetry we both posted on.

Caroline said...

This sounds like a fantastic book and thanks for posting that poem too. Goes very well with next weeks readalong although the city in that case is Köln.
I need to read some Jan Wagner. German poets really have produced some of the best poems.
I find it sad that it's not bilingual . I would have bought it.
I haven seen a good recent German collection.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Gina, Although both have the same agenda, an introduction to something, that if you want you can then go on to explore in depth via other material, I think poetry has always been a first love.

Ciao Bellezza, another connection, I was their just after the wall, worked a fair bit in East Germany & there was still little villages that had those pock-marked walls.

Hi Tony there seems to be a severe shortage of bilingual modern German poetry books.

Hi Mel, serves exactly the same purpose, as an overview to a subject, that you can then go on & explore more " Of Gentle Wolves" was better in one way by being bilingual, but the Faber's do better on introduction.

Hi Caroline, it does seem to be a problem, I had a quick look & could only come up with - The Essential Rilke - trans Hannah Liebmann & Galway Kinnell/ An Introduction to German Poetry (Dual-Language books) trans Gustave Mathieu & Guy Stern/25 German Poets: A Bilingual Collection Walter Kaufman/Modern German poetry,1910-1960: An anthology with verse translations Michael hamburger, none of these are recent, but may have something you like.

Rise said...

I liked the poem you excerpted. It seemed to contain great upheavals in a few lines. I think this edition would work for me too. Not being bilingual had the upside of not doubling the thickness of the book. :p

@parridhlantern said...

hello Rise, Liking your Logic.

Eibhlin said...

Hi Parrish, I just wandered over to your blog but I think I'm going to have to stop reading it because you've already caused me to put three books on my "must-read" list: "Somewhere in Minnesota", "Nude", and now this "Faber Book of 20th Century German Poems" - and that's only on one page of your blog! How can I possibly get on with my obligatory daily life stuff when there are so many wonderful books waiting to be read? And wonderful bloggers to tell me about them?

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Eibhlin , thanks for your comment, if you want to know more about Somewhere in Minnesota, I hoping you saw the link to a short story from the collection (The secret life of Madame Defarge),also on the 22nd of Dec, I'll be chatting with Nuala, the author of Nude about her new poetry collection. Thanks again for popping by & I liked your Hesse post.

Tom Cunliffe said...

What a fantastic book. I'd very much like to get hold of that one - and I see its available on Kindle.

I see that the one reviewer on Amazon has given it 2 stars because its a book of translated poems! Obviously she's never heard of the great Michael Hoffman

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Tom, Yes some people will only buy Bilingual editions & to be honest I can see the merit of them, but for most people as an introduction these translated books serve a great purpose, if you want more depth & you have the ability then you can try other versions, thanks for the Kindle info, didn't know about that although have a Penguin Classics Modern African Poets on my kindle.

Anonymous said...

a great selection Gary by sound of it I not read much poetry in translation ,really shopuld try some more ,I may get this one as I like hoffman translation work ,all the best stu