Dimension2: Contemporary German-Language Literature

Volume 6, Number 2/3


Forward! -- Editorial

Ingo R. Stoehr

This issue is special in several respects. First of all, it is a double issue, the very first one for DIMENSION2. As the literary magazine evolves through the years, it seems justified to move away, at least for a while, from the rigid pattern of three issues per volume, each of which with a specific task (that is, to present new publications, literary archives, and free thematic focus, respectively).

Second, this issue is the first one to showcase one literary genre. Since the 1990s saw a resurgence of poetry in German-speaking countries, the choice seemed obvious. DIMENSION2 is the only literary magazine published for the English-speaking world that is devoted in its entirety to German-language literature. As usual, this issue also offers a selection of contemporary literature to acquaint its readership what is "on the market." Most selected poems were indeed published between 1995 and 2001, that is, roughly within the last ten years. However, a few poems illustrate their authors' development over the decades or their earlier work.

Third, for the first time the art work has been created exclusively for this issue. Michael Gienger, an American artist with German roots, used ten poems as a point of departure for an artistic treatment. His drawings are not "illustrations"; rather, they are an artist's response to each text, which then takes on a life of its own as part of new-found interactions with a graphic dynamics, into which the reader/observer is invited to join. The cover design is taken from Gienger's lithograph "Poem on the Creation of a Star," which relates a "found poem" from a Vienna daily newspaper to the split-second creation of a star in a California laboratory.

Apropos "invited," the selected poems are meant, as all texts in DIMENSION2, as an invitation to German-language literature. Such an invitation, of course, means that each reader should approach the texts on his or her own terms. The bilingual format makes all selections immediately accessible. The translations are, as all translations are, works in progress. As editor of this magazine, I am also looking for translators; in this issue, I rely on seasoned translators, as well as on student translators. It is not typical of the magazine that I should translate as many texts as I did for this issue; however, DIMENSION2 is "one-man-show" with consistent funding by the German government at a financial level that is simultaneously generous and limited. In practical terms, this results in me doing my own typing; and in the process of typing many poems, it seemed as though they simply spoke to me and as though I needed to translate them myself. Nevertheless, I tried not to translated too many poems myself.

To make it easier for each reader to approach the poems, I have subdivided the selected poems into six categories. Readers already familiar with DIMENSION2 know that such subdivisions are fluid and such categories are only intended to facilitate a first encounter. Any undifferentiated anthology of poems may be a chore for most readers, but the "ideal" solution of a finely tuned index is typically unrealistic because of time, space, and money constraints. Such an index would make each poem accessible by way of themes and motifs, as well as establish cross references to other poems. For example, many poems deal with myth in general; a few directly mention "Odysseus," while others only allude to Odysseus, such as by mentioning "Circe." Clearly, the six categories are a compromise.

The first category is "political aspects." Trne's poems are representative of the clearly political era of poetry in which the author fully participated, while Heise's poems show a political impetus that can also be seen in a larger anthropological approach. The point of reference to war makes the first poem by K. 0. Gtz political; however, his following poems abandon this focus for the surreal. Marti's poems illustrate his reputation as a critical Christian contemplating his political responsibilities. The poems by Frischmuth, though written in the early 1960s, have gained new political importance with the role of the Kurds in the ongoing Iraqi crisis. Some of the poems that follow under the other categories also contain, of course, political aspects. A prime example is perhaps Michael Krger's wonderfully ironic poem about Karl Marx in heaven; however, the selection of Krger's poems as a whole is more about life in the modem world (which shifts the focus ever so slightly, although it is arguably never far from political concerns).

The second category, "the modem condition," subsumes aspects of everyday experiences from Karl Krolow's coming to terms with old age to the banality of eating in Penn's "Canned Chili." At the same time, for instance, these poems are about much more; Krolow's poems are as much about the current state of society as Penn's poem is about the state of relationships (suggesting the substratum of poems about love, however frustrated that love may be). Yet these poems are about the whole experience of life today with its technological innovations that have changed the way we travel and communicate; these poems are about train rides (Krger and Hummelt), supermarkets (Corino), far-away places (Wagner and Gritz), bicycling (Dischereit), and many more everyday trials and tribulations, as well as triumphs.

"Nature revisited," then is almost an extension of the previous category because it presents nature as part of modem life. I chose to have it as a separate category, however, to make a point. It has been at times maintained that nature no longer plays a central role in German-language poetry. The role of nature in poetry has lessened, yet the image of nature is still present, though changed. Now nature seems no longer to be shaping human life but, on the contrary, is shaped or reshaped by human work (Ahrens and Khn). It is nature made part of the human experience (Draesner), and it is technology taking over nature and appropriating the metaphors that used to be associated with nature (Kirsch and Petrik).

"Western tradition" is the fourth category, which in turn can be seen as unfolding into a multitude of other aspects. Schutting's poem harkens back to the very beginning of Western literature, to the Homeric epic The Iliad. In keeping with the classical tradition, this poem varies the image of violence. Classen's and Steiner's poems center on the Medieval tradition (although the selection of Classen's poems also includes one about Arizona, where the author lives; thus that poem forms a substratum with other poems about the image of America). Steiner's poem provides a take on some of the great lovers in literary and real history (pointing to yet another substratum, that of the image of love). Brechbhl's poems also evoke real political history by pondering exploration (AKA imperialism and colonialism) and warfare. In terms of political history, these two poems are clearly related to the poems in the first category ("political aspects"), but the Columbus poem, in particular, takes its central metaphor from Western tradition.

"Poetics in poetry," the fifth category, has been an important element in poems even since before Shakespeare affirmed the power of poetry when he concluded his sonnet "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" with the couplet: "So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee." Over time, and particularly as the twentieth century evolved, such poetological self-reference has become more and more pronounced. For example, literary devices, such as idylls, emblems, and utopias, are referred to by Bauer, Hein, and Beil; metaphors for literary processes and products, such as transformations, circles, and soulscapes, are used by Kunert, Kolleritsch, and Kofler. Allusions to other authors, such as Robert Walser in the poem by Hasler-or other artists (Beethoven and Paula Becker) in poems by Gerlach-in this section connect with similar allusions in poems in other sections, such as to Gottfried in Classen's poem and Ginsberg in Kolbe's poem. The selection by Ulla Hahn not only contains a poem about the art of life that catapults ancient teachings into contemporary New York but also a poem about the art of poetry itself.

The final category for this issue, "beyond modernity," bears a question mark to reflect the uncertainties related to the role of postmoderism in German-language literature and to the claim that we have been "post" the phase of postmodernism, at the latest since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Mia Brenner's poems are the only ones in this issue of DIMENSION2 that were written (or revised) after the attacks, and in one poem she indeed addresses them. The poems by Khler, Kling, and Schrott easily identify their respective authors as experimental poets, each one in his or her own right. Kolbe's poems, in contrast, directly engage tradition; however, the first one in the present selection centers on Kolbe's response to the death of a representative of a specifically American brand of modernity, the beats; hence begging the question of what lies beyond modernity.


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