July 9, 2011

Oskar Pastior

Oskar Pastior [Romania/Germany/writes in German)

Born in Hermannstadt, Romania in October 20, 1927, Oskar Pastior grew up in the German-speaking part of that country. In 1945 he was deported by the Soviet occupying forces to a Soviet Labor Camp as part of Romania's reparation for having sided with Hitler. His experiences there provided him, so he reported, with recognition of "the small—but significant—scope between freedom and determinism.

Free to return to Romania in 1949, Pastior entered German studies at the University of Bucharest. In 1968 he obtained a scholarship to Vienna and defected from Communist Romania, moving to Berlin in 1969, whereupon he gained a significant reputation as a poet and radio playwright. His ability as poet and performer permitted him to be the only German-language member of the famed group OULIPO.

At the time of his death in 2006, he was planning to write a book with the later Nobel Prize-winning author, Herta Müller about his experiences as a young man in Gulag, a work which Müller later published herself as Everything/Possess/Carry with Me.

Among Pastior's books are Vorn Sichersten ins Tausendste (1969), Wechselbalg (1980), Francesco Petrarca: 33 Gedichte (1983), Anagrammgedichte (1985), Vokalisen und Gimpelstifte (1986), Eine kleine Kunstmaschine: 34 Sestinen (1994), Villanella & Pantum (2000), and a volume of poetics, Das Unding an sich (1994). He also translated numerous Romanian poets into German.

Pastior was awared in Peter-Huchel-Prize in 2001, and before that received the Hugo-Ball-Prize (1990) and the Ernst-Meister-Prize (1986). He was awarded the Georg-Büchner-Preis the year of his death.

After his death, it was revealed that for several years upon returning to Romania from his prison life, he became an informer for the Romanian Securitate. But his colleague Herta Müller was even more outraged by the assertions, noting that Pastior had criticized the government in poems and had been suffered in Romania because of his homsexuality.


Gedichte (Bucarest: Jugendverlag, 1965); Vorn Sichersten ins Tausendste (Frankfurt-am-Main: Suhrkamp, 1969); Gedichtgedicte (Munich: Luchterhand, 1973); Fleischeslust (Lichtenberg: Klauss Ramm, 1976); Der krimgotische Fächer ( Erlangen: Renner, 1978); Wechselbalg ( Spenge: Klauss Ramm, 1980); Francesco Petraca (1983); Lesungen mit Tinnitus (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1986); sonnettburger (Rainer, 1983); Vokalisen und Gimpelstifte (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1986); Jalousien aufgemacht (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1987); Kopfnuss Janusckopf (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1990); Feiggehege (Literarisches Colloquium Berlin/Berliner Künstlerprogramm des DAAD, 1991); Eine kleine Kunstmaschine: 34 Sestinen (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1994); Das Hören des Genitivs (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1997); Villanella & Pantum (2000); Gewichtete Gedichte: Chronologie der Materialien (Wein-Hombroich: Das böhmische Dorf, 2005)


Poempoems, trans. by Malcolm Green (London: Atlas Press, 1990); Many Glove Compartments, trans. by Harry Mathews, Christopher Middleton, and Rosmarie Waldrop (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 2001)

from one sting to an-
other and the oriole fell into
the frying pan from the fire
that was still in Pilate's time
since then untwittered's been the wide
from one blue to another sky
from man to Mantua and
many a cradle to the gravy
from farenwide to longenback
to a night's rest from catharso
came the prof to the proof
and the mountain to the profiterole
from the long and snort of it
to light to a head to bacco to day
came the oriole to nothing

—Translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop

(from Vorn Sichersten ins Tausendste, 1969)

the shiveroem shivers at the thought it might
consist in a speech process claiming to contain a thought
process that had become so independent that its speech
process would shiver at the very thought of shivering the
shiverpoem is sill to think so because how can one shiv-
er at the mere thought of shivering

—Translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop

(from Gedichtgedicte, 1973)


I am an opposite of am. Am is an op-
posite of is. An opposite is a teahouse
by me. Together with an opposite I

am raw brick of am or a teahouse of is.
This isn't all that complicated. Is is a
teahouse in Celle. With a teahouse

Celle is raw brick. An opposite of Cel-
le is an adagio, that is with me in raw
brick. But also with Bruno! Together

with Bruno Celle is a system of am.
Together with me Bruno is raw brick
by Scharoun. With and without Celle

an adagio with Bruno is a teahouse by
me without teahouse—an opposite
is a system without is, only am. But I

am not as complicated as together with
Bruno in raw brick. Without Celle a tea-
house in Celle is without is—it is an

adagio of am or raw brick without oppo-
site in an opposite without system or Bru-
no without Bruno in a teahouse by me.

—Translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop

(from Wechselbalg, 1980)

Many Glove Compartments

of them many are cadaver and the nowadays
over tar and high trail and artificial balm

they live off wild honey and jerky bristleback
frugally in comparison with similar leisurelove

but of a blunt fingernail not a sign at all
but please not a trip of narrative art either

why did the head start to subside at vista point?
the more freshly one returns—a nativity hero

their problem children—high keys deep windows
and the stomach content was fussily stuffed full

they had a car jack and good reason for it
and were lefthanded enough—coital hypnotint

to whom to be tough but nuts robust halfways
a chance at eucalyptus-sigismund is given

and came clucking usefully over shelterbelts
clad to the nines in billboards on reunion road

since they raise no scruple or sworn diagnosis
the balm became brittle—ocean at a hammerswing

—Translated from the German by Christopher Middleton

(from Lesungen mit Tinnitus, 1986)

Irish River from the 8th Century

A Kingdom for a Horse, a Horse, a Horse,
A Soul for deeply Sleep. And
Wallenstein's astrologer in the second house of the sun
what is the meaning of favored in love?
And in the lab watch out for five-footed iambs.
Sara begat Jevo. Jevo begat Mira
and Mar, Cain and Abel, Dach and Au and Schwitz.
Au in turn begat Naga and Hiro and Kyb.
And visited obedience on the children
unto the fourth generation. There arose a
there flowed down a there opened up
an Irish river from the eighth century,
A Kingdom for a Soul, for a Horse, for a Sleep.

—Translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop

(from Jalousien aufgemacht, 1987)

Oulipian Derives from Oulipo: So

cool flea! Old
moose-itch coat,
should we go
too? We? No!
spoor gleans most
ruby. So
you pick whole
views which (cold
fury, tor-
turing) pole—
moves (Tyrol
moos) with own
tune which no
hood will hole...
You live so
poo! We pro
duce things so
you read "own
fuse"—still, mod
moon Kineholz
brood steers home...
Look: here's loam
to bring... oh,
pooped, its clone
droops. It scolds:
move, philo-
cook me, stove

—Translated from the German by Harry Mathews

(from Das Hören des Genitivs, 1997)

English language translations copyright ©2001 by Harry Mathews, Christopher Middleton, and Rosmarie Waldrop
Reprinted from Many Glove Compartments (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 2001).

For a discussion of Pastior's role as an informant, click below:

For a short reading by Pastior of a piece in German, click below:

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