A few years back I picked up a copy of the Faber book of 20th Century German Poets, ed. M. Hoffman. There’s always been something about the German writers that has got me going. You should read Boll (can’t find the umlaut!) And you would not believe the novel Luck by Gert Hofmann, M. Hofmann’s dad.
But it’s the poets which truly stun me. And I’m relying on translators. It’s an act of faith.
Have you read Gottfried Benn’s Morgue? There are extract in the above mentioned anthology. Coming across beauties like these is the reason I read on. He was a doctor, who performed autopsies and wrote of Chopin, and autopsies.
Sometimes you get how skilful a writer one must be to include so much horror but balance it with beauty. It’s a bit like painters who can use the entire spectrum in vanitas of veg.
Kurt Schwitters’ bonkers The Dadarotator is hilarious and queasy. What’s a spellcheck to do with that?
Durs Grunbein is the new kid on the Strasse. He wrote Ashes for Breakfast, a brilliant poem about Romans moving through a rotting Germany. But it is Brecht who really sings.
I love that photo if him with a pudding bowl hair-do, massive cigar and smock, looking like his parents were cousins. But his style of poetry is so stark and moving.
And I always thought: the very simplest words
Must be enough. When I say what things are like
Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.
That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself
Surely you see that.
“And I always thought” [Und ich dachte immer] (c. 1956), trans. Michael Hamburger in Poems, 1913-1956.
Surely you see that?