Any study of the literature of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) must tackle the problem of definition. What, exactly, is East German poetry? The question may appear trivial and the answer self-evident: This term is intended to apply to the verse literature produced in the German Democratic Republic, the socialist state that came into being on October 7, 1949, and that ceased to exist on October 3, 1990, when its member states joined the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Such a facile definition, however, is inadequate. To begin with, it fails to comprehend the literature produced between 1945 and 1949 in what was then the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany. Another problem relates to residency and publishing conditions. Does the definition include writers who were expelled from the country, such as Wolf Biermann; who voluntarily left it permanently, such as Peter Huchel, Reiner Kunze, and Sarah Kirsch; who were granted long-term visas enabling them to take up residency in the West, such as Günter Kunert; or who had written their works in East Germany but could get them into print only in the FRG, as was the case with Biermann?
For the purpose of this essay, then, East German poetry will be defined very broadly as the poetry written (although not necessarily published) from April, 1945, to September, 1990, in the territory that once constituted the German Democratic Republic. This definition excludes works by writers such as Bertolt Brecht and Johannes R. Becher, which were produced before the authors settled in East Germany and those written by poets such as Kunze and Thomas Brasch after their departure from the GDR.
Another important preliminary question to be addressed is whether the literatures of East and West Germany did indeed represent two separate and essentially dissimilar literatures or whether they formed...
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