Wednesday, April 15, 2009

durch jede stunde

Good morning, Internet. I feel my recommendation yesterday was somewhat contentious, so I will try to err on the side of bein' classy this morning as I finish my coffee, hoping to spill as little as possible on me, and comb the classifieds for jobs.

Today's recommendation is... The poetry of Gottfried Benn.

I know what you're thinking. I've never heard of this dude! Who cares?

Benn (1886-1957) was a German poet, obviously, who was also a medical doctor. He was interested in the hideousness, corporeality, and viscerality of life. So if you're a CSI fan, or extremely Goth, how can you not love work such as:

LITTLE ASTER (translation by Babette Deutsch)

A drowned truck-driver was propped on the slab.
Someone had stuck a lavender aster
between his teeth.
As I cut out the tongue and the palate,
through the chest
under the skin
with a long knife,
I must have touched the flower, for it slid into the brain next.
I packed it up into the cavity of the chest
among the excelsior
as it was sewn up.
Drink yourself full in your vase!
Rest softly,
Little aster!

If you can read German, you're in for even more of a treat (no disrespect for Ms. Deutsch; I just think the German original is even more stunning). Benn has an entire body (pun intended) of autopsy poems. Please understand, it's not just the SHOCKING!!!!!! gimmick of the fact that the dude wrote poems about autopsies. It's the overall dark world-view, the quiet wonder and beauty that battle with his cynicism in a hard job - that's what does it for me. Benn practiced medicine, and poetry, before World War I. He lived through both World Wars and the balkanization of his country. His work reflects and anticipates major stylistic movements within European writing - expressionism and Modernism, for instance. He has numerous important prose pieces that dealt both with cultural politics and literary criticism.

And yet for all this, he is fairly obscure, especially in America (don't even get me started). That's why I reiterate today's recommendation: look at some of his poetry.

This bilingual edition of his selected writings is a good place to start.

this site has a lot of PDF's and so forth of his work, even though the site frankly skeeves me out (and i feel the translations are not very good).

1 comment:

  1. The Mexican poet David Huerta wrote a haunting poem of his poem in response to this poem called "Poem by Gottfried Benn". You can read the English translation of it online here:


hi. please be nice, and please don't be a spamming bot or something. we really do read every comment!