Translated by Mark Terrill
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Rolf Dieter Brinkmann’s radical poetics was unique in postwar German literature. His primary influences were Gottfried Benn, European modernism and the French nouveau roman. In the 1960s these influences were merged with William Carlos Williams, Frank O’Hara and Ted Berrigan (the latter two of which Brinkmann translated into German). Brinkmann’s strong affiliation with the New American Poetry provided a reverse-angle, cross-cultural perspective on one of the liveliest epochs in American letters, with a decisively German slant. His permanent confrontation with the postwar German literary establishment (reminding one at times of Jack Spicer and his place in American poetry), and his envelope-pushing experiments with language, syntax and semantics (taken to the extreme in Westwärts 1 & 2), led him further and further away from the literary scene. His confrontational nature and volatile personality were feared at readings, and together with his huge creative output and his early death, earned him a reputation as the “James Dean of poetry,” a true enfant terrible of contemporary letters.
An Unchanging Blue provides a generous sampling of translations (with German originals) taken from ten collections of Rolf Dieter Brinkmann’s poetry published between 1962 and 1975. An extensive introduction by Mark Terrill contextualizes Brinkmann’s place in postwar German literature.
Maybe the only genius in the postwar literature of West Germany. —Heiner Müller
Rolf Dieter Brinkmann was born in Vechta, Germany, in 1940, in the midst of World War II, and died in 1975, in London, England, after being struck by a hit-and-run driver. During his lifetime, Brinkmann published nine poetry collections, four short story collections, several radio plays, and a highly acclaimed novel. He also edited and translated two important German-language anthologies of contemporary American poetry (primarily Beat and New York School, for which Brinkmann had a particular affinity), and translated Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems into German, as well as a collection of poems by Ted Berrigan, entitled Guillaume Apollinaire ist Tot. In May, 1975, just a few weeks after his death, Brinkmann’s seminal, parameter-expanding poetry collection Westwärts 1 & 2 appeared, which was posthumously awarded the prestigious Petrarca Prize.
Mark Terrill shipped out of San Francisco as a merchant seaman to the Far East and beyond, studied and spent time with Paul Bowles in Tangier, Morocco, and has lived in Germany since 1984, where he’s worked as a shipyard welder, road manager for rock bands, cook and postal worker. His poems, prose, memoirs, criticism and translations have appeared in over 500 literary journals and anthologies worldwide, a dozen chapbooks, several broadsides and three full-length collections, including Kid with Gray Eyes (Cedar Hill Books) and Bread & Fish (The Figures). He recently guest-edited a special German Poetry issue of the Atlanta Review, which includes his translations of Günter Grass, Peter Handke, Nicolas Born and many others. Other collections of his translations have been published by Longhouse and Toad Press. Currently he lives on the grounds of a former shipyard near Hamburg with his wife and a large brood of cats.
Mark Terrill's Introduction and two poems from the collection, "Letter to Humphrey Bogart, Already Far Away" and "Artificial Light":Excerpts from An Unchanging Blue: Selected Poems 1962-1975 by Rolf Dieter Brinkmann