Thursday, January 04, 2007

Durs Grunbein: The Poem and Its Secret

In Poetry, January 2007 issue, Grunbein writes in the last section of his essay:

Poems can be so variegated, so heterogeneous in their texture and style, yet the good ones stand out because of a certain something that can never be entirely unraveled. Whether it is a matter of special verbal humor, the magic of syllables, or mere technical or atmospheric hocus-pocus; whether the poem captivates us with a collection of unusual dream faces or seduces us as a painting created from singular fantasies--all that says little about its mysterious side. This emerges only as the surplus of the whole, as it were.`

(Skip a paragraph)

Personally, I believe that what comes out in poems is the human devotion to the transcendental--with a simultaneous fidelity to this world's prodigious wealth of details. For me, what makes up the consistency of poetry's secret is twofold: a mix of love of this world with curiosity about metaphysics. The proof? Only among the poets does one come across them, those moments of reconciliation of something purely ideal with its unexpectedly concrete manifestations, less often among theologians, and almost never among philosophers.

And the final rhetorical flourish:

Imagine that there was a thinking that only occurs in certain otherwise quite hard-to-reach places, like dental floss between the wisdom teeth or an endoscope in the stomach. For the first time, it will make certain places visible, individual branches of the anything-but-straightforward psychic cave system that runs through the bodies of all humans and can only be discovered by a resourceful imagination audaciously pushing forward into still unsecured galleries. This thinking is poetic thinking, and it is not the domain of the poets and writers but more the method of many small search parties who have set out from several starting points without knowing of each other, an army of phenomenologists working on expanding the world of the imagination common to all of us.

(Translated from the German by Andrew Shields}

Grunbein's bio given in Poetry: born in Dresden in 1962 and lives in Berlin. An English-language selection of his poetry, translated by Michael Hofmann, was published in 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

1 comment:

Andrew Shields said...

Glad you enjoyed the essay. Or were you quoting it ironically? :-)