Poetry makes a comeback

Poetry was long seen as being on the fringes of German literature – but now poems are once again highly popular with readers and critics alike.

As far as the renowned writer Feridun Zaimoglu is concerned, Thomas Kunst is “one of Germany’s greatest poets”. For three decades Kunst has been writing poetry that is celebrated by critics, yet his work as a poet does not earn him a living. This is because poetry has long led a somewhat shadowy existence in Germany, with even the most successful poets unable to achieve anything like the impact of some novel writers. But this is clearly changing, and poets appear to be enjoying increasing status in the world of literature.

Winning prizes all of a sudden

One indication of this is the fact that they frequently do well when key literary prizes are awarded. In 2015, a volume of poetry was awarded the Leipzig Book Fair Prize for the first time: Jon Wagner’s “Regentonnenvariationen” (i.e. Water Butt Variations). And Marion Poschmann was at least short-listed in Leipzig for “Geliehene Landschaften” (i.e. Borrowed Landscapes) in 2016. The 2015 Ingeborg Bachmann Prize went to the poet Nora Gomringer, while the 2016 Georg Büchner Prize is to be awarded to Marcel Beyer, who writes novels, essays and poetry. Published in 2014, “Graphit” (i.e. Graphite) is a collection of poems he wrote over the course of twelve years. Worth 50,000 euros, the Büchner Prize is one of the most coveted literary accolades in Germany. In the jury’s opinion, Beyer masters “the epic panorama just as well as poetic microscopy”.

Other writers are also moving into the spotlight of literary interest with their poetry – for example Nora Bossong and Lutz Seiler. This is partly because trade publishers are expanding their poetry sections. Even a popular German musician – Judith Holofernes, a singer with the German pop group “Wir sind Helden” – has switched temporarily to poetry: published in 2015, Holofernes’ first book “Du bellst vor dem falschen Baum” (i.e. You are barking up the wrong tree) is a collection of animal poems.