For the Dying Calves
In his four Lord Weidenfeld Lectures held in Oxford in 2019, German poet Durs Grünbein dealt with a topic that has occupied his mind ever since he began to perceive his own position within the past of his nation, his linguistic community, and his family: How is it possible that history can determine the individual poetic imagination and segregate it into private niches? Shouldn’t poetry look at the world with its own sovereign eyes instead?
In the form of a collage or ‘photosynthesis’, in image and text, Grünbein lets the fundamental opposition between poetic license and almost overwhelming bondage to history appear in an exemplary way. From the seeming trifle of a stamp with the portrait of Adolf Hitler, he moves through the phenomenon of the ‘Führer’s streets’ and into the inferno of aerial warfare. In the end, Grünbein argues that we are faced with the powerlessness of writing and the realization, valid to this day, that comes from confronting history. As he muses, ‘There is something beyond literature that questions all writing.’
Praise for Durs Grünbein:
‘[S]ardonic humor, the savagery, the violent candor—all expressed in lines of cool formal elegance.’—Helen Vendler, New Republic
‘For a rather long time now—approximately, since the Berlin Wall came down—the name Durs Grünbein has been the answer to the question: Who’s the leading young poet in Germany?’—James Fenton, Guardian
‘Grünbein loves to jump from one register to another—one moment he is the street poet of Berlin, the next . . . all marble and ancient philosophy.’—Philip Ottermann, Independent
Praise for The Bars of Atlantis:
‘American readers who’d like not to be caught off guard the next time the Nobel goes out to the German-speaking world (Elfriede who? Herta what?) may do well to acquaint themselves with the work of Durs Grünbein. I can think of nowhere better to start than The Bars of Atlantis, a book of essays every bit as vibrant, witty, erudite, and awe-inspiring as Grünbein’s incomparable poetry.’―Jeffrey Eugenides
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