Presently, young German poetry flocks together around three places: Hildesheim, Leipzig and Berlin. This accumulation is easy to explain. Hildesheim and Leipzig, because they shelter the two institutions in Germany where one can study creative writing. It is safe to say, therefore, that they constitute a laboratory for new forms of poetry. Berlin has established itself mainly as a city of residence for poets of all ages because of an attractiveness it presently radiates – living is cheap and culture is rich. A brief survey done among colleagues and friends leads me to assert that roughly 72,4% of all published German poets currently reside in Berlin while, for younger poets, they will be evenly spread between Leipzig and Berlin, fewer still in Hildesheim. There are, of course, many young poets living outside of the three towns but from the perspective taken in this article they have not yet developed a considerable poetic momentum and decisive impact on present discussions within younger contemporary poetry. (…)
The number of publishing houses has been on the rise for the last years and one can find publishers that cover a wide variety of different poetics: KOOkbooks, the most important German publishing house for poetry whose poetics have exerted a great influence over the past years and can be situated close to the “disciplinary” approach mentioned above; the Verlagshaus j.Frank, also based in Berlin and of a slightly younger age might be seen to represent the poetic counterthesis to KOOK proclaiming the reintroduction of urgency and relevance (contested terms, I know) into the sphere of contemporary poetry; one must also mention Luxbooks, famous for its translations of American poetry but also important for the German-speaking context; Roughbooks, a more experimental and by now almost traditional publishing house based in Switzerland; furthermore Fixpoetry, Poetenladen, Edition Azur, yedermann, parasitenpresse, as well as houses not specifically focused on poetry but with a poetry-publishing branch such as Suhrkamp, Berlin Verlag, Hanser Berlin, Hochroth, Schöffling, Wallstein Verlag, and many more. (…)
Trying to explain my position in this discussion I will start off with an hypothesis: in contemporary poetry as well as in the writing of younger German poets one thing is systematically absent: history. In the following, I will try to argue in favor this hypothesis and hope that a lack of information on the side of the reader will not render my arguments selective. It is more a mode of thought I will try to propose whose relevance can also be judged from afar.
To be fair, even a brief look on recent publications and prices distributed to poets allows for the impression that history is not at all absent from the general field of poetry. Isn’t there continuous reference to the Holocaust? Didn’t Nora Gomringer win the Ringelnatz Price under special mentioning of her Auschwitz-poem “Und es war ein Tag“? Isn’t there a strong sense of history and its presence in Günther Grass’ controversially discussed poem “Was gesagt werden muss” ? Weren’t political and historical aspects the most discussed and written-about topics of the 70s and 80s? Regarding this background, the rejection of history and its presence in younger poetry seems all too understandable. Why the fuss, then?
These are the arguments that are usually brought forward if I argue with my fellow young poets and friends in poetry about this alleged presence of history in contemporary German poetry. To them, I usually answer: yes and no. For one, the superficial evocation of something does not at all imply its confrontation, it might as well mean its domestication, a way to deal with its pressing presence by talking about it in a specific and ritualized way. Although virtually everybody agrees that this is bad poetry in terms of aesthetics, one needs to take a closer look at it. A striking characteristic of these poems is the ritualized manner in which history is addressed, the repetitive imagery employed that evolves around ever the same monotonous binary constructions: empathy and horror, doomed history and saved presence, Black milk, trains, Schindlers List, etc. In political poetry from the 70s and 80s, discussions of political issues did not really concern the poetic function of poetry at all but rather present a form of political agitation that simplified the poem, subjected aspects to the message and became a tactical element in the political sphere. This is not the presence I am talking about. And it is not its lack either. In both cases history remains outside the poem exhausting itself in mourning, empathy and its strategic employment.
Auszüge aus einem Artikel Max Czolleks in dem niederländischen Onlinemagazin Samplekanon.