Twentieth Century German Poetry

Michael Hofmann, Editor
Michael Hofmann, Editor . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $40 (511p) ISBN 978-0-374-10535-8
Paperback - 511 pages - 978-0-374-53093-8
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This handsome, hearty, duel-language volume will vastly expand what most American readers know of contemporary German poetry: maybe some Rilke, Celan or Brecht and probably little else. From a whimsy by the artist Paul Klee to a strange piece by young poet Jan Wagner connecting a scientist's electrical experiments on himself to frogs "transmitting the new codeword to each other," this anthology's pleasures are many. Well-known poet and translator Hofman gathers a varied range of poems from the German canon—better-known poets and writers like Rilke, Georg Trakl, Brecht, Celan and Günter Grass, meet many poets who deserve a larger following outside Germany, like Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Durs Grünbein. Famous poems—like Celan's Holocaust dirge "Deathfugue," with its incantatory repetitions ("Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening")—join relatively unknown ones, like Heiner Müller's "Brecht," which ends: "When darkness says, I am / Brightness, it does not lie." Hofman also brings together an unlikely host of translators: an often-translated poet like Rilke appears both in C.F. MacIntyre's neat 1940 rendering of "Autumn Day" and in Paul Muldoon's loose 1998 version of "The Unicorn," creating dissonances that underline the vast subjectivity of translation. This is a wonderful introduction to an amazing century of work. (Dec.)

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