March 21, 2013
Elke Erb [DDR/Germany]
Elke Erb was born on February 18, 1938 in Scherbad/Eifel, in what was then East Berlin. Her father was the literary scholar Ewald Erb. As a young woman Erb studied German and Slavic Literatures at the University of Halle. From 1958-1959 she worked as a farmhand, finally receiving her teacher’s certificate in 1963. Until 1965 she worked as a copy editor at the Mitteldeutschen Verlag.
She was married to Adolf Endler from 1967 to 1978.
Since 1966 Erb has worked primarily as a poet and translator. In 1969 she traveled to Georgia, and in 1974 she published a translation of works by the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva. She has also published novels and poems by Oleg Yuriev and Olga Martynova.
Her first collection of poetry (and prose) was Gutachen of 1975, followed by Einer schreit: Nicht! (1976), De Faden der Geduld (1978), and Trost (1982). Since 1982 she has added 14 books of poetry to her output, as well books of prose, and other texts.
In 1998 Erb won the Peter-Huchel Preis for her collection Kastanienallee, which was followed by numerous other notable awards, including the Heinrich-Mann-Preis (1990), the Erich-Fried-Preis (1995), the Hans-Erich-Nossack-Pries (2007), the Georg-Trakl-Preis (2012), and the Ernst-Jandl-Preis (2013)
In English Burning Deck published a selection of her poems, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop.
BOOKS OF POETRY
Gutachen. Poesie and Prosa (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1975); Einer schreit: Nicht! (Berlin: Wagenbach, 1976); De Faden der Geduld (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1978); Tros. Gedichte und Prosa (Stuttgard: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1982); Vexierbild (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1983); Kastanienallee. Texte und Kommentare (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1987); Poets Corner 3: Elke Erb (Berlin: Unabhängige Verlagsbuchhandlung Ackerstraße, 1991); Unschuld, du Licht meiner Augen (Göttingen, Steidl Verlag, 1994); Mensch sein, nicht (Basel: Urs Engeler Editor, 1998); Leibhaftig lessen (Warmbronn: Verlag Ulrich Keicher, 1999); Sachverstand (Basel: Urs Engeler Editor, 2000); Lust. 2 Gedichte (Warmbronn: Verlag Ulrich Keicher, 2001); die crux (Basel: urs Engeler Editor, 2003); Gänsesommer (Basel: Urs Engeler Editor, 2005); Freunde hin, Freunde her (Lyrikedition 2000, 2005); Sonanz. 5-Minuten-Notate (Basel: Urs Engeler Editor, 2008); Wegerich. Wahn, Denn Wieso? (Warmbronn: Verlag Ulrich Keicher, 2008); Meins (Berlin: Wuischke, 2010)
ENGLISH LANGUAGE TRANSLATIONS
Mountains in Berlin, trans. by Rosmarie Waldrop (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1995)
...As I opened my eyes, dense reeds, grown shoulderhigh surrounded my
bed; in this circle, a water bird on long legs, his beak emerged from his
warm feathers to announce: “You are going to stay here now. I have
adopted you.” I got up and looked out above the reeds. “Don't be
surprised,” I heard behind me, “stranger things have been true, as you
know.” Out on the lake, under the distant clouds, I made out a boat...
Portrait of A. E. (An Artful Fairy Tale)
As if the house could not have been preserved in this spot at any time:
not the basement, not the basement windows, not the windows looking out
onto the garden.
As if every war had intentionally focused on precisely this spot, on
tearing out the stairs.
As if every storm too, every stroke of lightning had struck the walls,
every downpour brought the dark down on the helpless.
As if precisely here a child's inconsolable sobs had been able to melt
stones, as if here everything had happened that others were able to
As if here the green of the bushes cut like fire through the soft
As if this spot could teach us where houses have been preserved one
could make friends with and visit.
As if the house here had not been preserved so that foundations could
be laid for a life.
What They Say About Me
In my palace burn twenty-five chandeliers
and three goldfish swim in my pond
I get four thousand mark for one verse
and six lines takes me a year
In the morning I can afford an egg
and a second one too, just as I please, one egg or two
Wall Painting in a Barn
With three others
she looks at the barn, old:
I'd be a brown horse
painted on the wall.
A picture lovely like earth,
a picture one barely can see
on the stones, moist, cold,
my picture painted, a horse.
Light comes in through the roof
as well as my foe, the dark.
I'd stand there, in brown paint
on stone, a horse.
English language translation copyright ©1995 by Rosmarie Waldrop, reprinted from Mountains in Berlin (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 2995).