Reiner Kunze (c) Jürgen Bauer
Reiner Kunze, born 1933 in Oelsnitz in the Erzgebirge Mountains, is a master of the art of excision, of the condensation of language by reduction. No other German poet is able to write so precisely and vividly in such a tight fit of space as Kunze does.
In 1977 he was expelled from the GDR and settled in West Germany. “no longer the lie / having to kiss the ring” as he says in one of his poems. At an early age he had found himself in opposition to the political system in the GDR. In 1959 he had to give up his teaching position at the University Leipzig and worked instead as an assistant metalworker in the heavy machine construction industry. His first collection with exclusively his own poems, Vögel über dem Tau (Birds over the Tau) appeared the same year.
Kunze’s expulsion from the GDR was preceded by his expulsion from the Writers’ Union, a situation he described in a poem at the time as “locked out of books / locked out of papers / locked out of halls”. His Stasi file later bore the code name ‘Lyrik’ (‘Poetry’).
Since then, Reiner Kunze has published more than thirty collections of poems, including for children, as well as prose, essays and translations. He has won many prizes, inclusing the Georg-Büchner Prize in 1977. His poetry has long been on the syllabus in schools. Kunze can with justification be called a classic of contemporary German poetry.
Publications in English: The Lovely Years, Sidgwick and Jackson 1978 (out of print); In Time of Need, A Conversation about Poetry, Resistance and Exile (with Mireille Gansel), Libris 2006