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Showing posts from October, 2007

The Old Man Speaks with his Soul

Went to see the launch last night in the Goethe-Institut of Der Alte Mann by Günter Kunert translated into English by Hans-Christian Oeser and into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock. The book is part of a series of trilingual poetry collections published by the Irish language house Coiscéim. Kunert is one of Germany’s leading post-war poets. He was born in Berlin in 1929 and as a ‘Mischling’ (of mixed decent – his mother was Jewish) was deemed unfit to finish his secondary schooling or serve in the German army during the war. After the war he lived in the GDR, but after signing a petition in 1976 against the state’s stripping of Wolf Biermann’s citizenship he subsequently lost his party membership, and was allowed to leave the GDR in 1979. As well as poetry he has written short stories, novels, television plays and screenplays. Poetry translations in English include three poems in Michael Hamburger’s German Poetry 1910-1975 (Carcanet, 1976), several poems in Charlotte Melin’s German Poetry…

Departing from Ourselves

(with thanks to The Irish Times, where this first appeared)

W.S. Merwin, Selected Poems. Bloodaxe Books.190pp. UK£9.95

The first poems that W.S. Merwin wrote were hymns for his Presbyterian minister father and in a way the impulse stuck; the poems he has written over a long career are impelled by belief. He is a poet of strong passions, as an environmentalist and pacifist who writes quietly and subtly and often to great effect. He started off with the expected accomplishments of a poet of his generation (he was born in New York in 1927): the smoothly articulated poem, a kind of off-the-peg, generic rhetoric. But then, as did his whole generation, he began to simplify, to look for the essentials that would leave enough to drive a poem but keep it as bare as possible, close to experience but unadorned with grandiosity.

Not that simplicity of form means simplicity of content. Merwin aims always for clarity but his thought is subtle. There are the very effective directly engaged poems …