February 12, 2012

Reiner Kunze

Reiner Kunze (DDR/Germany)

Reiner Kunze was born in Oelsnitz / Erzgebirge in what was later to become East Germany in 1933, was forced out of the GDR due to his “counter-revolutionary activities”  in 1977, and has since lived in a village near Passau in eastern Bavaria. Ever since the publication in the West of his collection sensible wege (sensitive paths) in 1969, Kunze has been regarded as one of the iconic poets of his generation.

    As well as other books of poetry, culminating in gedichte (collected poems in one volume) (2000), he has published imaginative prose, documentations, essays, poetological investigations, diaries and book-length interviews, stories and poems for children, a distinguished body of translations (mostly from Eastern European languages), the travel book Steine und Lieder. Namibische Notizen und Fotos (Stones and Songs. Namibian notes and photos) and Der Kuß der Koi (The kiss of the koi carp), a book of prose meditations and photographs centering on the fish in the pond in his garden. Most of his works are published by S. Fischer Verlag in Frankfurt am Main.

     Kunze, who holds an honorary doctorate from the Technische Universität Dresden and the Federal Republic’s Order of Merit (Großes Bundesverdienstkreuz), is a member of various learned academies (including the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and the German Academy for Language and Literature in Darmstadt), and—starting with the Translator’s Prize of the Czechoslovakian Writers’ Association (1968)—has received numerous awards in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland, including Germany’s foremost literary honour, the Georg-Büchner-Preis. Kunze’s photographs have been exhibited inter alia in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt am Main, Gotha, Offenbach, Passau and Würzburg. His poetry has been translated into more than thirty languages.

     A collection of his prose, The Wonderful Years, was published by George Braziller in English in 1997.

—Richard Dove


Widmungen: Gedichte (Bad Godesberg: Hohwacht-Verlag); Sensible Wege: 48 Gedichte und ein Zyklus (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1969); Zimmerlautstärke: Gedichte (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1972); Aufeigene Hoffnung: Gedichte (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1981); Eines jede einziges Leben: Gedichte (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1986); Selbstegespräch für andere: Gedichte und Prosa (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1989); Ein Tag auf dieser Erde: Gedichte (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1998); Gedichte (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 2000)Lindennacht: Gedichte (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 2007)


Zimmerlaustärke-With the volume down low (Amherst, Massachusestts: Swamp Press, 1981); Three Contemporary German Poets: Wolf Biermann, Sarah Kirsch, Reiner Kunze (Leicester, Leichestershire, England: Leicester University Press, 1985); Rich Catch in the Empty Creel: Poems of Five Decades, translated by Richard Dove (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2012)

Journey to Russia, 1968

The moon a
bent needle a
surgical sewing-needle in
a half-stitched wound

behind woods at a distance

behind the words Glorious and Magnificent

Their names are

The moon a
surgical sewing-needle that got stuck when
they called out the surgeon

Ahead of us
flashing blue lights: get into the
slow lane, poets
are driving


The Moon a
surgical sewing needle in inflamed flesh a
nomadic needle

—Translated from the German by Richard Dove
(from Zimmerlautstärke, 1972)

Another Kind of Hope

A grave in the earth

The hope of rising from the dead
in a blade of grass

(No slab

 So as not to come to grief
on stone, as in life)

—Translated from the German by Richard Dove
(from Zimmerlautstärke, 1972)

Summer in L

The postwoman's cleaning the village postbox as though she were trying
to give it a glimmer of hope
of a letter

The cows lying there are revolving their ears
like helicopter blades
without rising
even an inch from the ground

The buzzard circles round and round
till it draws your blood

—Translated from the German by Richard Dove
(from Auf eigene Hoffnung, 1981)

Your Head on My Chest

With my right clavicle
we are locking ourselves
into sleep

 Should I mislay it in some dream
we'll take the left one
to open the door to wakefulness

Hold on, hold on tight,
sleep has got deadlocks and pawls

—Translated from the German by Richard Dove
(from Auf eigene Hoffnung, 1981)

Literary Archive in M

With cellars right down to the Styx

Leant against the wall
an oar: Charon's

Does he check up on the manuscript
before translating the dead man to the other side?

"Come on, not the unprinted errors too," he replies

He's reading the songs
of Orpheus

And claims he's carried them with him since then

'The way you sing is the way you love,' he says: but that's why
no song any longer staves off death

Eurydice doesn't follow, he says

Has his say
near to the oar that's leaning against the wall

And why is he reading the Orphic songs here?

 'O well, it's a place of shadows
with light from the upper world'

 —Translated from the German by Richard Dove
(from Eines jeden einziges Leben, 1986)

Such a Rich Catch in the Empty Creel

In the morning you catch the morning,
the fish with the pink stripe,
the bright-blue belly

At noon noon bites
the leaden sinker, the pose
as though rammed into the ground

In the evening the evening swallows the line
with its golden mouth, grows dark
and ceases to gleam

When night comes you scrape the starry sky
down it its black leather skin

—Translated from the German by Richard Dove
(from Ein Tag auf dieser Erde, 1998)

Poems reprinted from Rich Catch in the Empty Creel (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2012). English language translation (c) copyright Richard Dove, 2012.

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