January 18, 2012

Sarah Kirsch

Sarah Kirsch [GDR/Germany] 1935

 Born Ingrid Bernstein in the small town of Limlingerode at the edge of the Harz Mountains, the young poet spent most of her childhood in Halberstadt in central Germany. At the end of World War II, that city came under the control of the East German government. Bernstein's father was a socialist and a strong supporter of the new communist government. In defiance of her father's viewpoints, Ingrid changed her name, choosing the first name of Sarah as a symbolic statement of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
     Upon completion of her secondary education, Bernstein majored in biology at the University of Halle, receiving her degree in 1959. While attending the university she met the writer Rainer Kirsch, whom she married the year before her graduation, changing her last name to his.

     After graduation she and her husband joined a writing group headed by Gerhard Wolf, allowing her entry into the GDR Writer's Association. During this same period she committed herself to socialist activities, working in factories and on collective farms.

     From 1963 to 1965 she took courses in literature at the Johannes R. Becher Institute in Leipzig, her first works, as for many German poets, being radio plays, publishing the volume Die betrunkene Sonne/Der Stäkste in 1963. Her volume of poetry, Gespräch mit dem Saurier appeared in 1965. Both books were written in collaboration with her husband.

     In 1968 the couple divorced, Kirsch moving to East Berlin where she bore a son by the avant-garde writer Karl Michel. A few years later she was ousted from the Socialist Party and the GDR Writer's Association for signing a petition in support of Wolf Biermann, a poet whose GDR citizenship had been revoked.

     In August of 1997, her petition to leave East Germany was granted, and she moved to West Berlin, traveling also to Italy, France, and the US. She settled finally in Tielenhemme in the north German province of Schleswig-Holstein.

     With over 12 books of poetry and numerous prose writings, short stories, plays, and children's works to her name, Kirsch today is regarded as one of the most outstanding of late 20th century German poets. Her lyrical subjectivism and fantastical material, often played out in an almost idyllic natural world, has attracted a large number of readers, and she has been awarded almost every major German literary award, inclduing the Heinrich Heine Prize (1973), the Petrarca Prize (1976), and the Friedrich Hölderlin Prize (1984).

BOOKS OF POETRY

Gespräch mit dem Saurier [by Sarah and Rainer Kirsch] (Berlin, DDR: Verlag Neues Leben, 1965); Landaufenthalt (Berlin, DDR: Aufbau, 1967); Anna Achmatova: Eine niedagwesener Herbst [by Sarah und Rainer Kirsch] Berlin: DDR: Volk und Welt, 1967); Novella Matwejewa: Poesiealbum 6 (Halle, DDR: Mitteldeutscher Verg, 1968); Zaubersprüche (Berlin, DDR: Aufbau, 1973); Rückenwind (Berlin, DDR: Aufbau, 1976); Musik auf dem Wasser (Leipzig, DDR: Reklam, 1977); Katzenkopfpflaster (München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1978); Drachensteigen (Ebenhausen, DDR; Langewiesche-Brandt, 1979); La Pagerie (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1983); Katzenleben (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1984); Schneewärme (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1989); Die Flut (Berliln: Aufbau, 1989);  Erlkönigs Tochter (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1992); Ich Crusoe: sechzig Gedichte und sechs Aquarelle (Stuttgart: Duetsche Verlagsanstalt, 1995); Bodenlos (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1996); Luftspringerin: gesammelte Gedichte und Prosa (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1997)

BOOKS IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Poems (Santa Cruz, California: Alcatraz Editions, 1983); Conjurations: The Poems of Sarah Kirsch (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985); The Brontës' Hats (Cambridge, England: Street Editions, 1991); Captives: Sarah Kirsch's Katzenleben (Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 1991)

For a reading of Kirsch's poem "Ich bin sehr sanft" in German, click below:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvpuonzq3tY

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