I’d Rather Be a Poem
Poems are perfect for impatient readers. Their often short form means they slot easily into everyday life: you can pick just one or a few poems out of a volume to read at a time. But poems are also perfect for the patient reader: a carefully composed poetry collection takes a long time to truly ‘finish’. It takes concentration and contemplation to fully appreciate the poems and the composition of a collection, and perhaps also to understand them in the context of the author’s other work.
The German-language poetry scene is impressively vibrant and diverse. Not only in Germany, the ‘land of poets and thinkers’, but also in neighbouring Austria and Switzerland, a great many authors contribute to this vibrant scene through their writing and their appearances at readings and festivals. Many of them translate poetry from other languages. They take part in festivals such as the Poesiefestival Berlin, the Poetry on the Road festival in Bremen, the Lyrikertreffen Münster, and Poetica in Cologne, as well as symposiums, workshops, and readings in schools. As poetry lecturers at universities and colleges, they reflect on their role as authors and on the writing process. Publishing houses also contribute to this vibrant literary landscape by making space in their lists for poetry, despite sometimes low sales figures. In many cases, a great deal of thought goes into the design of these poetry volumes.
German Poetry, AwardWinning
In Friedrich Ani, Marcel Beyer, Nora Bossong, Esther Kinsky and Marion Poschmann, Suhrkamp Verlag publishes a whole range of authors who write both novels and poetry – some of them very successfully indeed. Two of the most prominent examples are Marcel Beyer, who was awarded the Peter Huchel Prize for poetry in the German language for his collection Dämonenräumdienst in January 2021, and Marion Poschmann, who won the Huchel Prize in 2011 for her collection Geistersehen. Poschmann’s fifth collection, Nimbus, also enjoyed extraordinary success. It won three prizes in one year: the Orphil Poetry Prize awarded by the city of Wiesbaden, the prestigious Hölty prize and the time-honoured Bremen Literature Prize.
Carl Hanser Verlag is another great champion of poetry. It even has a German Nobel prizewinner on its list, in the form of novelist and poet Herta Müller, and its sister publisher Hanser Berlin publishes the Georg Büchner prizewinner Jan Wagner, whose 2015 collection Regentonnenvariationen was awarded the Leipzig Book Fair prize and went on to become a bestseller with sales running into six figures. In the ‘Edition Lyrik Kabinett’ series, produced in collaboration with the Munich-based Lyrik Kabinett foundation, Hanser publishes particularly beautifully designed volumes both in German and in translation.
Many interesting voices in contemporary German-language poetry are women.
Many interesting voices in contemporary German-language poetry are women. As well as the grandes dames Erb and Mayröcker, poets of the ‘middle generation’ – like Ulrike Draesner, Esther Kinsky and the recently deceased Barbara Köhler – and younger poets such as Nora Bossong, Nora Gomringer, Nancy Hünger, Nadja Küchenmeister, Kerstin Preiwuß, Monika Rinck, Silke Scheuermann and Uljana Wolf also deserve attention.
We can see a trend emerging among these younger authors: many of them, having immigrated from another country either alone or with their parents, do not write in their native language but have switched to German entirely, or experiment with their multilingualism in their poetry. Among them are Dagmara Kraus, born in Wrocław, Poland in 1981, Alexandru Bulucz, born in Alba Iulia, Romania in 1987, and Yevgeniy Breyger, born in Kharkiv, Ukraine in 1989.
© Beate Tröger
Beate Tröger is a freelance literary critic, presenter and jury member. She studied German, English and theatre and film studies in Erlangen and Berlin, and lives and works in Frankfurt am Main.