translated from the German by
Christopher Middleton, Rosmarie Waldrop,
& with a guest appearance by John Yau
Poems, 120 pages, offset, smyth-sewn
ISSN 1077-4203 "Dichten ="
ISBN 1-886224-44-7, paper $14
Unlike Adam ("the old
Stalin of language"), Pastior is not out to name animals or anything
else. "Talking about things is not possible. Language, the text,
speaks itself-this is the great dilemma to which theories of realism
close their eyes." For Pastior, language itself is the stuff
of life, a metabolism where not only words, but even concepts are
made flesh. He explores it through puns, lists, strings, heaps, fields,
dictionaries, alphabets, collage, montage, potpourris in orgiastic
expansion, "thought-music as a leaping perspective."
Critics have praised his "sublime lack of seriousness,"
his "paradisal language," his "commonsense and commonscythe,"
his "revenge against logic." Only a fraction of Pastior's
poems are translatable. But the translators hope that their versions
will at least approximate the pleasure of Pastior's texts.
Oskar Pastior was born in 1927
in Hermannstadt, in Siebenbürgen, the German-speaking part of
Romania. After the war he (along with other young Romanian-Germans)
spent 5 years in a Soviet Labor Camp as part of Romania's reparation
for having sided with Hitler. This experience, Pastior says, provided
him with his thematic tonic: "the small - yet vast - space of
play between freedom and determinism." Then, after taking a university
degree and working for the Bukarest radio, in 1969, he managed to
come to Berlin where he has gained a considerable reputation as a
poet, performer and the only German member of OULIPO.
Beside poems, he has written radio
plays and translated Khlebnikov and many Romanian writers into German.
His honors include the Peter-Huchel-Prize (2001), Hugo-Ball-Prize
(1990) and Ernst-Meister-Prize (1986), a stay at the Villa Massimo
in Rome (1984) and an honorary doctorate from the Lucian-Blaga-University
in Hermannstadt (2001).
originals, and the apparent imposibility of translating them, I am
amazed at the wonderful outcome here. Obviously it helps when your
translators are writers as good as these three, but it also helps
when it appears they've had fun doing it...If you like the playful
end of the avant-garde (think Jandl, early Raworth, among others)
you'll love this. Sometimes spectacular re-creations rather than translations
per se, but Pastior has been wonderfully well-served here. At $10
it's a snip, quite frankly, and I think you should all go out and
--Tony Frazer, Shearsman
Pastior says translation is simply
not possible -"the wrong word for a process that does not exist..."
Nonetheless, the translators have gamely tried to recrete the mad, witty
wordplay of Pastior's German poetry in this volume. Palindromes, anagrams,
puns, "sonnetburgers" and exuberant nonsense...prevail as
Pastior, who is the only german member of Oulipo and who will be 75
this year, tinkers with the smallest units of language and the oldest
of lyric forms.
The manic and disruptive energy
of this selection from the opus of the only German Oulipean -- in
which words such as "budgerigarlic," "kunigundulate," "instrumentirritation," and "catchascatcher" whirl
through sonnets, sestinas, palindromic poems, and other forms -- may
alienate fans of narrative, confessional, and otherwise tranquil(ized)
verse. However, Pastior's linguistic sensitivity and secretly methodical
approach could grow on anyone. As far-reaching as their verbal cartwheels
and juggernauts might be, the poems always return to an exploration
of the ways in which humans both express themselves and block statement
-- sometimes in the same breath.... Although Pastior's dizzying, repetitive
style often muddies the waters of understanding, a matter-of-fact core
invites us to follow each work's logical progression to its natural
end -- miraculous, given that this sort of logic might becalm (or beach)
other poems.... Pastior states, "What poetry is I do not know," bespeaking
the sincerity and beauty of his mission, which is to make a latticework
of pure thought, threading through it the most beautiful words he can
--Max Winter, Boston Review (Dec.