The Art of Kunst

Selected Poems, Letters, and Other Writings by Thomas Kunst

by Steven D. Martinson (Volume editor)
©2016 Monographs X, 167 Pages
Series: American University Studies , Volume 112


This book introduces for the first time selected poetry, letters, and other writings by the German writer Thomas Kunst (Leipzig) to the English-speaking world. Given the many prestigious awards the writer has received for his poetry and the originality of his imaginative thinking, the Turkish-German writer Feridun Zaimoglu rightly called Kunst a great poet. Through his immersion in the poetry of Paul Celan, Georg Trakl, Nicolas Born, Thomas Brasch, and several South and North American writers, Thomas Kunst has acquired a distinctive voice and style that rival the most talented writers in Germany today. Music animates his creative writing. What he calls the instrumentation between music and language flows almost effortlessly from his experiences in the world, shaping the multifaceted textures of his writings. Readers will be struck by the author’s remarkable clarity of expression, precision, directness, and authenticity. «A poem is a poem for me only when the most ordinary things in it irritate me in the most intense ways.» Inner turbulence over the way things are, outer conflict, and the awareness of the ultimate irresolvability of pressing political concerns, everyday experience, knowledge of the classical heritage, and acute aesthetic sensibility unite to provide a unique and challenging reading experience.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • A Word of Appreciation
  • I. Introducing Thomas Kunst
  • Sources of the Art of Kunst
  • Kunst’s Poetic Art: The Poetry of Music and the Music of Poetry
  • Concerning Contemporary German Poetry
  • The Artist’s Vocation
  • Writing Women
  • The Seas, Islands, and Other Passageways
  • In Conclusion
  • A Word About the Selections of Poetry and Apparatus
  • II. Selected Poems
  • The Young Poets and The Middle-aged
  • There Were Already Better Times Ahead
  • In Southern Germany There are Parodists
  • Ah, If Only I had Remained in the Backcountry
  • I Want Poems That are Possessed
  • If Your Shadow at Least,
  • Pick-Up Legend, Spent Yesterday Evening Alone
  • Dear Helene Von Niendorff, from Now on it Seems
  • I Drink with You, I Ride, and I Fence
  • When You Drink I Don’t Think About You
  • And I Heard What People were saying
  • A Sea Abandoned by the City
  • I Always Carry a Fish with Me, to be
  • Dear Miss Von Niendorff, It has
  • In Your Eyes Dolphins Sometimes Floated
  • A Ship Two Horses and a Neck Band with Fruit
  • The Story of the Woman in Switzerland
  • Mombasa Island, July Second, My Dear
  • About The End of Long-Distance Relationships, The
  • Dear Patricia Steudel, What Can I Say, It’s
  • Dear Helene Von Niendorff, The Era of Dueling
  • With Your Glances You Cannot Prevent
  • Dear Leheni, Just Now on Briesebach’s Desk
  • If I Were to Die Now I Would
  • You Chose Jigsaws as Your Subject of Interest
  • Dear Miss Von Niendorff, I’ve been Watching
  • Dear Miss Von Niendorff, I Hope
  • Dear Helene, Please Allow Me to Make
  • On The Thirteenth or Fourteenth Day
  • If We Hadn’t Met at the Trial Course on the Himalayas
  • Across The German Borders Inconspiculously Do You
  • November Nineteen Seventy-Four, The First
  • Winter Without Illuminated Display, You
  • Snow Is Falling on Melodie Johnson, Not a Totally
  • Didn’t Your Father Play for the Dodgers in
  • It’s Getting to be Time for It to be Night
  • The Plaster-Cast of Your Dwelling
  • Coyotes in the Courtyards, Javelinas,
  • We Don’t Talk Much Any More, We Count Trains
  • I Would Still Have Liked So Much to Call You
  • Please Don’t Go Back to Your Apartment Any More
  • Dear Leheni, Ever Since Briesebach Yesterday
  • I Take Everything Back, Niza, The
  • Everything Could Have Been So Wonderful With
  • My Little Witch Ran Away From Me One Day
  • We Love Each Other, in Case We See Each Other Again,
  • Be Patient, We’re in a Safe Place,
  • Gifts are the Death of Simple Speech
  • When in the First Phase of Falling in Love Someone Dies
  • My Eye and My Heart Are Now A Couple
  • III. Selected Letters
  • “About Having a Crush” (1982)
  • Leipzig, October 7, 1989 Dearest Feri-San
  • Leipzig, August 17, 2010 Dear Feri-San
  • IV. Other Writings
  • A Book Review. “Thoughts on Robert Kelly’s Book, Sleepless Beauty”
  • Acceptance Speech: “Poesy and Naiveté. On the State of Poetry Just Behind the Universities”
  • Eulogy: “On the Death of Ulrich Zieger” (1961–2015)
  • It Would Be Easy To Show How The Best
  • V. Self-Interview (Thomas Kunst)
  • From The Notes Of The Castle Gardener
  • Cooking Together, Tango-Class, Museum
  • VI. Interviewing the Author
  • Ten Questions for a Great Poet
  • The Countries Resemble Each Other, The Industries
  • Appendix
  • A. Thomas Kunst. Curriculum Vitae
  • B. On Facebook
  • C. Published Works
  • D. CDs
  • E. Anthologies and Literary Journals (Containing Poems by Thomas Kunst)
  • F. Videos, YouTube, and Various Other Online Sources
  • G. Translations of Kunst’s Work into Other Languages
  • H. Poetry Reading in Tucson, Arizona
  • I. Correspondence
  • J. Laudatio
  • K. Select Bibliography
  • Glossary of Names, Places, and Terms

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We are grateful to Thomas Kunst for permission to translate selected writings from his oeuvre into English. The author requested that we include quite a few poems from his collection, Pick-Up Legends (Legende vom Abholen, 2011). We are happy to have done so. Edition AZUR in Dresden and Edition Rugerup in Hörby, Sweden are to be commended for their publications of Kunst’s poetry, in particular AZUR’s exquisitely designed 2015 edition of Thomas Kunst’s selections of his poetry, Kunst. Thomas Kunst. Gedichte 1984–2014. We thank our colleague, David Chisholm, for sharing several insights into the nature of Kunst’s sonnets. With the present volume, we are pleased to introduce the work of Thomas Kunst to the English-speaking world. We thank the Peter Lang publishing firm for making this possible.

Tucson, September 2015

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Thomas Kunst was born on the first day of the year 1965 in Stralsund on the Baltic Sea. He grew up in East Germany, then called the German Democratic Republic (or GDR). When Kunst moved inland to Leipzig, he was pressured to join the Communist Party. He refused. A short autobiographical writing indicates why: “My GDR was the Baltic Sea, and it was never deep.” The author’s early experiences of nature flow into the rural setting of his place of residence, Leipzig, the city of Bach, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Lessing, Goethe, Schiller, and Nietzsche. It is a city of music, poetry, and philosophy, a nearly ideal habitat for the writer, just short of Venice, his favorite city. Although he was never overtly critical of the East German political establishment, Kunst was unsympathetic to its practices. His own experiences of life and his interaction with the lives of everyday human beings matter to him. What lies at the heart of Kunst’s art is not the worker but the individual human being. For Kunst, the political sphere is secondary to the life of art. ← 1 | 2 →

Thomas Kunst has received several prizes for his literary writings,1 and his writing has been supported by several fellowships and grants.2 Kunst has been a member of the international writers association P.E.N.* since 2007. On June 27, 2015, the author held an invited reading of his work at the Sarah Kirsch* house as part of the Lillingeröder Discourse Series.

All of these honors, awards, and fellowships testify to Thomas Kunst’s emerging presence as a poet of note whose work is original, significant, and worthy of attention not only among readers of German but speakers of any number of other languages. Perhaps the most engaging quality of the art of Kunst is the directness, pointedness, and clarity of expression. The Turkish-German writer, Feridun Zaimoglu*, who met Thomas Kunst at the Villa Massimo*, values Kunst’s poetry highly and credits the poet with having brought Rome to light for him. Conversely, Zaimoglu states that Kunst’s art makes the city of Leipzig shine. In his review of one of Kunst’s best collections of poetry, What would I be at the window without whales. Poems (Was wäre ich am Fenster ohne Wale. Gedichte; hereafter Whales) in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Zaimoglu articulated why the world must become familiar with him: “… the poet of whom we speak almost perishes from his feelings, and because he does not wish to take back what he has said and behave himself, and because he does not wish to elevate his aversion to become the defining literary category of his poetry, he glows with rage and with justified hatred of all those who want to know nothing of the reality that as a lover, one ceases to be a civilian. Then he is furious and unrelenting in his own distinctive manner, he sits all day on a chair in some café or in some bar at night, he’s had enough of the pious wishes, the litanies of love, the constant chatter about powerlessness that he hears at the neighboring tables, he opens the newspaper and in the arts section he comes across the names of his colleagues who have once more received some award amounting to 10,000 or 20,000 Euros—and in that very moment he actually ought to knock over the table on which the glass stands with the red wine he has almost finished drinking, he ought to walk by the pretty waitresses who are being eyed by students, he ought to call ← 2 | 3 → out slogans like: Down with the strivers! Down with the pale jellyfishes of poetry! But he doesn’t do that, he pays for his wine in a civilized manner, he folds up the newspaper and hangs it on an arm of the coatrack, and then he leaves the café or the bar peacefully. He unlocks his bicycle, climbs onto the seat, and because he always is overcome by it on the way home, he looks high up into the sky, for the question as to what kind of sky stretches out over a city is not insignificant, up there are signs to be read that only a poet can grasp in words of magic.”3

Upon awarding the writer the F. C.-Weiskopf Prize* from the Academy of Arts in Berlin, the jury remarked that Kunst’s poems and lyrical prose are distinguished for their opulent imagery, musical text composition, and magical use of words. As we have noted, his language is also crystalline. Is there another contemporary German writer who engages, sometimes cruelly, everyday reality with such precision and clarity of expression? Kunst’s pen is like a scalpel. With pen in hand, the writer uproots false pretensions with brutal honesty, enthusiasm, and conviction. At the same time, Kunst’s control of his function is evident in his command of poetic form, such as the sonnet, which is one of his greatest strengths.


X, 167
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (January)
German poetry Kunst music creative writing language and music poem
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. X, 167 pp.

Biographical notes

Steven D. Martinson (Volume editor)

Steven D. Martinson received his PhD at the University of Washington. He is currently Professor in the Department of German Studies at the University of Arizona. He is also Research Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and Research Alumnus at Heidelberg University, Germany. Thomas A. Kovach received his PhD at Princeton University. He is currently Professor in the Department of German Studies at the University of Arizona. He is also the recipient of several Fulbright grants and the Columbia University Deutscher Verein Prize.


Title: The Art of Kunst
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