May 23, 2015

Herta Kräftner

Herta Kräftner [Austria]

 Herta Kräftner was born in Rosenau, in Sonntagberg in 1928, living in Mattersburg until the death of her radical socialist father, killed by the occupying Russians in 1945.

      Kräftner then moved to Vienna, studying German and English literature at the university. Soon after, she fell in love with man she described as her young “Anatol”--a reference to the character by writer Arthur Schnitzler--which ended badly.

     Kräftner, soon after, began a relationship with neurologist Vickor E. Frankl, whose lectures she attended, and who introduced her to the literary circle around Hans Weigel at Café Raimund, which resulted in friendships and communication with major figures such as René Altmann, H.C. Artmann, Gerhard Fritsch, Friederike Mayröcker, and Andreas Okopenko. She began publishing poetry.

     In 1950 she completed her thesis (on surrealism in the works of Franz Kafka) and found herself in the position of being one of the most impressive young Viennese writers, with new poems in Neue Wege and radio readings on Radio Wien and in Salzburg. 
      Yet Kräftner began to experience increasing depression, and in November of 1951, committed suicide by drinking Veronal. She was only 23 years of age.
      Her poetry appeared also in Die Zeil and in Okopenko’s anthology Publikationen Einer Wiener Gruppe Junger Autoren, but her work remained unpublished in book form until 1963, when her poems and memorable diary were published as Das Werk, edited by Okopenko and Otto Breicha. The book was reprinted in 1977, and another collection, Das blaue Licht (blue light), also edited by Breicha and Okopenko, was published in 1981. Another work Kühle Sterne was published in 2001.
     In 2001 the Vienna street Floridsdort was renamed Herta-Kräftner Alley.


Das Werk (Graz: Sttiasny Verlag, 1964; reprinted Eisenstadt: Edition Roetzer, 1977); Das blaue Licht (Darmstadt: Luchterland, 1981); Kühle Sterne (Klagenfurt: Weiser, 2001).


Selections in Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner, eds. Austrian Poetry Today (New York: Schocken
Books, 1985)

The Boy

In a withered banana peel
there was still a rotting piece of the fruit
and the small of a warm and distant bay.

Smelling it for the first time
he was caught up in his desire
and made a ship out of notebook paper to sail away


The sky turned as yellow as cheap paper.
The dust-covered lane yawned and died.
She kept on writing the letter “i"
crookedly with an unsteady hand
in a brown and lialc autumn crocus land
A water-colored moon was like a spot on cheap paper.

—Translated from the German by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner

The Hangman’s Wife

Once, at midday, the hangman’s wife stopped eating.
Her husband was eating a young hen.
She watched him…and didn’t know why
she was reminded of her wedding day,
and of the myrtle, and that someone had sung.
It had been a white hen,
so tender and white and warm
and very patient under the knife.
Now her husband was eating it, and a drop of fat
ran over his manicured white fingers.

Her screams were like the condemned
when they caught sight of her husband
according to his descriptions.
She screamed and pushed her plate away
and ran out through the small front garden
and through the streets of the city,
through the field of poppies
and the field of wheat
and the field with green clover.
For a long time they searched,
but they never found her.

—Translated from the German by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner


Reprinted from Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner, eds., Austrian Poetry Today (New York: Schoken Books, 1985). Copyright ©1985 by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner.                       

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