Sarah Kirsch Criticism - Essay

Ernestine Schlant (review date winter 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schlant, Ernestine. Review of Die Pantherfrau: Fünf unfrisierte Erzählungen aus dem Kassetten-Recorder, by Sarah Kirsch. World Literature Today 51, no. 1 (winter 1977): 86.

[In the following review, Schlant asserts that Kirsch focuses on the personal struggles of women in Die Pantherfrau, as opposed to the ideological conflicts facing East Germany as a whole.]

During the past decade Sarah Kirsch (b. 1935) has established herself as a promising lyrical poet on the East German literary scene. In her poetry and also in her first collection of short narrative pieces, Die ungeheuren bergehohen Wellen auf See (1973), a subjective and...

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Nicholas Catanoy (review date autumn 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Catanoy, Nicholas. Review of Rückenwind, by Sarah Kirsch. World Literature Today 51, no. 4 (autumn 1977): 613.

[In the following review, Catanoy praises the metaphorical richness and technical prowess of Kirsch's verse in Rückenwind.]

Poets, like photographers, may be divided between those who put sharp edges on life and nature and those who prefer soft focus. Sarah Kirsch belongs with the best East German poets—those who view the world as if through an impressionistic eye.

There is a mild elegiac tone in Kirsch's new volume of poetry, Rückenwind, a quality that shapes her sentiments in much the same way that the laws of nature dictate the beauty of crystals. The book includes occasional verses in which Kirsch delights: a meeting with a Yugoslav writer, a summer night in Potsdam, a holiday in Wiepersdorf. Some are simple, at times even stately, like one devoted to the sunset: “Kastanienäste klopfen an die Scheiben / Wovor ein blutiger Himmel schwebt.” Yet despite this, her technique is so flexible, her handling of language so careful and delicate that she is able to give her most elegant poems the air of spontaneity. This is the direct, economical, almost terse Kirsch, the poet in love with the concrete, the firm, the tangible.

But there is another Kirsch, Kirsch the politically engaged, and some of her poems in Rückenwind draw the reader into her prevailing thoughts and feelings. Here she commits herself more deeply than she does in many of her private lyrics. The poems are full of metaphoric complexities upon all sorts of things, including her main concern, the tragic division of Germany—a sentiment which appears in different forms throughout Kirsch's volume. The moods range from the bitter wit of “Zu Zweit” (“Lieber zu Zweit verhungern als Einzeln / In goldenen Wagen spazieren fahren”) to the romantic hope of “Datum”: “Herzschöner wollen wir Julia und Romeo sein? / Der Umstand / Ist günstig, wir wohnen / Wohl in der gleichen Stadt, aber die Staaten / Unsere eingetragenen Staaten gebärden sich.”

These are not isolated poetic moments, mere metaphors, but signs of a new attitude. In all its diversity of tone Rückenwind refracts that gem. The book should win Sarah Kirsch some new fans and admirers, especially in the western hemisphere.

Diether H. Haenicke (review date winter 1979)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Haenicke, Diether H. Review of Landaufenthalt, by Sarah Kirsch. World Literature Today 53, no. 1 (winter 1979): 108.

[In the following review, Haenicke discusses how the personal is related to the political in Kirsch's Landaufenthalt.]

Among the relatively few lyrical voices to be heard in East Germany, that of Sarah Kirsch is a particularly powerful one. Her first poems appeared in the late sixties; in the early seventies of her work became known to a broader audience when several of her books of poetry appeared in a West German publishing house. The volume Landaufenthalt is a collection of poems many of which were published before. It comprises...

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Ann Clark Fehn (essay date 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fehn, Ann Clark. “Authorial Voice in Sarah Kirsch's Die Pantherfrau.” In Erkennen und Deuten: Essays zur Literatur und Literaturtheorie, edited by Martha Woomansee and Walter F. W. Lohnes, pp. 335-46. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 1983.

[In the following essay, Fehn compares Die Pantherfrau with several works of documentary literature by other German feminist writers, drawing attention to the organizational techniques by which Kirsch inserts her own authorial presence in the work.]

A striking feature of feminist literature in the two Germanies is its emphasis on documentary reports as a supplement to theoretical writings and as a means of...

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Rachel Hadas (review date July 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hadas, Rachel. Review of Sarah Kirsch: Poems, by Sarah Kirsch. American Book Review 7, no. 5 (July 1985): 3.

[In the following excerpt, Hadas lauds Kirsch's roving imagination and use of metaphor in Sarah Kirsch: Poems.]

Sarah Kirsch has a more developed style and voice than either [Katerina] Gogou or [Thalia] Kitrilakis. I have not read Kirsch in German and suspect [Jack] Hirschman's [translated] “versions” [in Sarah Kirsch: Poems] are insufficiently lyric; still, Kirsch's imagination comes through clearly. Gogou and Kitrilakis are poets of stasis, eloquent on the claustrophobia of a city neighborhood or the slowness of life in a village...

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Judith Ryan (review date winter 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ryan, Judith. Review of Katzenleben, by Sarah Kirsch. World Literature Today 60, no. 1 (winter 1986): 99.

[In the following review, Ryan asserts that the farm life depicted in Katzenleben is not idyllic, but rather oppressive and cumulatively “tiresome.”]

Idylls have always had their dangers, and the “cats' lives” of Kirsch's title poem [from Katzenleben] are not the comfortable snoozes they might seem. The image is an emblem of the farm life that forms the subject of the collection. Beginning before the onset of winter, the cycle follows the year through until the next fall. Like farm life itself, the poems are full of little...

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Charlotte Melin (essay date fall 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Melin, Charlotte. “Landscaping as Writing and Revelation in Sarah Kirsch's ‘Death Valley.’” Germanic Review 62, no. 4 (fall 1987): 199-204.

[In the following essay, Melin provides a detailed analysis of Kirsch's poem “Death Valley,” noting its significance as a reflection of Kirsch's role as a writer and her relationship to Germany.]

Sarah Kirsch's poem “Death Valley” from Erdreich (1982) recounts the descent of its narrator into the unexpectedly treacherous desert and her reemergence after a cathartic encounter with wild, powerful nature. Its occasionally Mannerist formulations and extravagant imagery elicited criticism, on the one hand,...

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Jerry Glenn (review date winter 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Glenn, Jerry. Review of Allerlei-Rauh: Eine Chronik, by Sarah Kirsch. World Literature Today 63, no. 1 (winter 1989): 97-8.

[In the following review, Glenn discusses Kirsch's shifting, fanciful poetic style in Allerlei-Rauh.]

The spectrum of the dozens of recent German Dichtung-und-Wahrheit memoirs is broad indeed, ranging from largely documentary chronicles to fanciful collages in which factual reports are difficult to identify with any degree of certainty. In terms of content, Sarah Kirsch's Allerlei-Rauh probably falls somewhere in the middle. Its style, however, definitely crowds the fanciful extreme. The motto is programmatic: “Alles...

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Hilda Scott (review date January 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Scott, Hilda. “The Women behind the Wall.” Women's Review of Books 7, no. 4 (January 1990): 10.

[In the following review, Scott commends Kirsch's insightful portraits of East German women and GDR life in The Panther Woman, though notes that Western readers may miss some of the work's subtle subtext.]

The Panther Woman, a very slim volume of interviews with five East German women, which reaches us in the University of Nebraska's “European Women Writers” series, was first published in the German Democratic Republic in 1973. It offers a look back at the generation of women whose adult children we have watched on TV, crossing the Hungarian...

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Nancy Derr (review date summer 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Derr, Nancy. “Germany East and West: The Twain Meet.” Belles Lettres 5, no. 4 (summer 1990): 9.

[In the following excerpt, Derr commends Kirsch's realistic portrayal of East German women in The Panther Woman.]

In The Panther Woman: Five Tales from the Cassette Recorder, Sarah Kirsch presents a collection of monologues she recorded, then transcribed and edited much as a film director edits hours of takes. The collection, a fascinating snapshot of life in socialist East Germany, offers a depressing portrait of five women from all walks of life. The reader gains a sense of the historical development of this country from a fascist dictatorship to its...

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Peter Graves (review date 29 May 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Graves, Peter. “Schleswig-Holstein Questions.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4652 (29 May 1992): 23-4.

[In the following review, Graves discusses Kirsch's East German background and offers a positive assessment of The Brontës' Hats, Schwingrasen, and Spreu.]

With all that is known about the former German Democratic Republic it may strain the imagination to conceive of that dour little State having once experienced anything as alluring as a “lyrical wave”. That, however, was the description given to the remarkable outpouring of poetic activity among the young writers of East Germany in the 1960s, and the term is not inappropriate. Into a...

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Beth Bjorklund (review date autumn 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bjorklund, Beth. Review of Schwingrasen, by Sarah Kirsch. World Literature Today 66, no. 4 (autumn 1992): 718.

[In the following review, Bjorklund comments favorably on the lyricism, ambiguity, and pastoral quality of Kirsch's prose in Schwingrasen.]

Schwingrasen is an archaic word for “moor,” a poetic place par excellence. The short prose pieces collected under that title serve as reconfirmation of Sarah Kirsch's reputation as one of Germany's best living poets. Her prose style is not greatly different from that of the poetry; both live from the originality of perspective and the freshness of voice. The lyric “I” speaks in a...

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Rita Terras (review date spring 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Terras, Rita. Review of Ich Crusoe, by Sarah Kirsch. World Literature Today 70, no. 2 (spring 1996): 394.

[In the following review, Terras notes Kirsch's hopeful and resigned tone in the poems of Ich Crusoe.]

The last words of the last poem in Ich Crusoe echo and confirm what Sarah Kirsch had predicted nearly thirty years earlier in “Der Baum,” the first poem in the volume. Swinging in a tree and looking out at the shores of a body of water, the lyric persona is not unhappy. She does not complain about her situation but, at the same time, is confident of being able someday to cut loose from the confinement of tree and rope: “Ich hänge...

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Rita Terras (review date spring 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Terras, Rita. Review of Luftspringerin, by Sarah Kirsch. World Literature Today 72, no. 2 (spring 1998): 368.

[In the following review, Terras praises Kirsch's use of image and language in her prose and poetry collection Luftspringerin.]

The present volume of Sarah Kirsch's verse and prose [Luftspringerin,] contains pieces from eight previous collections dating from 1982 to 1996. The title poem, “Luftspringerin” (1989), is appropriate, as it presents the poet's art in quintessence: the poet identifies with Lot's wife (perhaps following the example of Anna Akhmatova), looking back at her life, “having loved something that drove her almost to...

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