Sarah Kirsch, born Ingrid Bernstein, in 1935, in Prussian Saxony was a German poet and artist. She was widely known and appreciated in Germany and received numerous prestigious prices. Quite a lot of her books, like the poetry collection Catlives, have also been translated into English. Sarah Kirsch died in May this year. Taking the name Sarah was a deliberate choice to annoy her father who was an anti-Semite.
At first I wanted to join Danielle in her Christa Wolf project. She’s reading One Day a Year, Christa Wolf’s diary, for GLM. While looking for the book on my shelves, I came across Sarah Kirsch’s Regenkatze (Raincat), a diary of the years 2003/2004 and started reading it right away. Such a lovely book. But imagine how surprised I was when I found two diary entries dedicated to Christa Wolf’s One Day a Year, which came out in 2003. Obviously they knew each other as they were writers in the former Democratic Republic of Germany, a secluded space, in which everyone was monitored and spied on. According to those diary entries, Wolf wrote about Sarah Kirsch in her diary. Kirsch doesn’t say too much but she’s not keen on Wolf’s book and abandons it after a while saying that she distorted the truth.
Regenkatze is a wonderful book. It has been written by a woman who loved life and enjoyed every moment of it. But she could also be very critical and ironic. She hated anything fake and phony and loved nothing better than reading, writing, cats and nature.
Kirsch lived in the country, in a house on her own and occasionally with her son. Her days are quiet and filled with observations of the weather, the trees and plants, her cats. Highlights are book deliveries and plunging into the work of new authors. In 2003 she goes through a Murakami phase and re-reads Proust’s books. But she also enjoys Harry Potter, watches crime on TV and snuggles up with the cat.
I hadn’t read any of her poems before but the way she wrote this diary told me I should. She wrote Regenkatze in a very peculiar way, inventing new words, writing in metaphor’s, breaking up the structure of sentences, adding dialect and spoken language.
It’s a very engaging book. Her enthusiasm and joy is infectious and I will certainly read more of her.
I leave you with two of her poems from Catlives:
It is dark in the house water curtains
Flow in front of the windows until Epiphany
We put up with the Christmas tree
Flames flicker on candle stubs
Wind presses the linenfold water
Close to the panes bulbous plants
Flower white blue and pink
Darkness tumbles from corners
Steels over sills creeps into
Itself and under the beds
Silence wells up from cupboards and coffers
And in the warm and tangible gloom
Through which I pass as it closes behind me
That hangs about like violet velvet
Rolls itself up and swells and sits in each pot
The one I love suddenly treats the piano
To pieces that move me to tears
The cat treads on her favourite chair
The drainpipes leak at the
Predetermined spots the carpenter’s
Drunken soul is clattering in the rafters
How before our practices eyes
Everything changes the village flies
Centuries back in the snow
All we need are a couple of crows
Pollard willows along the way oldfashioned dogs
Love and faithfulness count you pull me
Over ditches carry my stole little
Bundle of wood into the evening
Living smoke wraps up roofs.
47 thoughts on “On Sarah Kirsch’s Regenkatze – Raincat (2007)”
Wonderful review, Caroline! I haven’t heard of Sarah Kirsch and so it is nice to get to know a wonderful new author. The activities that she writes about in her diary are very interesting. The fact that she enjoys Murakami and Harry Potter and she snuggles up with her cat and waits for book deliveries makes her life come alive for readers. I also loved both the poems that you have quoted. ‘Water curtains flow in front of the windows’ and ‘Living smoke wraps up roofs’ are very beautiful images. Thanks for this wonderful review and for sharing these beautiful poems.
Thanks, Vishy, I’m glad you liked it. I loved this bok and will read more by her. The joy of life was so wonderful. I hope I’ll be like that when I’m as old as she was when she wrote that. Still eagerly awaiting every delivery and enjoying the small things. 🙂
Yes, those small things are very beautiful and hope we can enjoy them always. I think I will always love when a book package arrives on the mail 🙂
🙂 I hope so. She’s really enthusiastic about everything, music as well. I find that wonderful.
I wasn’t aware that she worked with words like she did. It’s very interesting, alliterations, puns.
In my experience, when poets write books, they write good ones. Hadn’t heard of this writer. I have two down for GLM but have yet to write reviews.
Yes, that’s my opinion as well. I’ll be reading more of her.
Oh great, I’m really curious to find out what you’ve read.
I have a book which I haven’t yet read by Sarah Kirsch called The Panther Woman. I might read it; it’s very short. Did she only write books about cats?
I wonder which one that is in German.
No, she didn’t. I think she likes crows as well. But the cats are a recurring theme.
It’s called Die Pantherfrau: Fünf Frauen in der DDR, published in East Germany in 1973 and in the West in 1978. It’s “Dokumentarliteratur”, interviews with five women related by Kirsch. I’d be very interested to know who the translation is by. Also I’d love to know who translated the ‘Catlives/Katzenleben’ poems above.
I’ve just come across your blog while researching Roth translations and the combination of cats (what a beautiful picture!) and German literature are certainly interests I can relate to.
Thanks for your comment. It’s always great to find someone interested in German literature.
The poems have been translated by Martina Roscher and Charles Fishman but I wouldn’t know about Pantherfrau.
Sarah Kirsch is very interesting and her love for cats was appealing for me as well.
Did you see I’m hosting a Joseph Roth week during November? Maybe you can join the discussion.
Yes, I saw that! Very interesting. Do you know W G Sebald’s essay on Joseph Roth in his early volume of essays Unheimliche Heimat? By the way do you know the publication new books in german? http://new-books-in-german.com/english/home/-/273,273,129002,liste9.html It’s designed to get publishers interested in commissioning translations but there are interesting reviews and features.´
Are the Kirsch translations part of a book? There are some more lovely translations of Sarah Kirsch by Wendy Mulford and Anthony Vivis – in the 1990s they produced two slim volumes called The Brontes Hats and T.
I too am always delighted to find someone interested in German literature so to find a German Literature Month online is a real treat! Thrilled that you are promoting Kein Ort Nirgends which is my favourite Wolf text I think.
I’m interested in Tabucchi too though I have not read much by him.
I’ll have to have a look at the link you added. Thanks. I might know it but I’m not sure.
It’s difficult for me to say anything about translations as I’m a native German speaker.
I love Kein Ort Nirgends. I like it much better than most of her more famous books.
Tabucchi is a wonderful author. I highly recommen Indian Nocturne.
Oh, great review, Caroline. This makes me want to read everything she’s written. I do like people with such varied interests and a joy for living. Thanks for this.
Thanks, Carole. It cheered me up. And thinking she was already 70 and still so full of life. I was sad to discover she’d died.
I had never heard of this author before, but anything to do with cats automatically draws my attention. I looked for the book on Amazon, but could find it only in German. Does anyone know if it has been translated into English? Or Hebrew?
I don’t think her prose has been tranalted into english. Her poems have and many of them are about cats.
It’s possible she’s been tralated into Hebrew but I wouldn’t know.
Thats some really great verse.
The remainder of the book sounds really good too. It is the sign of a great writer when they make such everyday things like hanging around the house so very good to read about.
That’s true and she certainly was a great poet. I wonder what took me so long to discover her.
How interesting–I have a feeling that the writing world in the GDR was a small one and everyone knew everyone else. I want to read more about Christa Wolf–I find the One Day a Year slightly disorienting as she talks so much about the political and literary world–which I don’t really know anything about. I was hoping to hear more about the domestic/social side–just what life was like as she mentions this is meant to be about an ordinary life, but I am still not very far into it. I haven’t yet seen anything about Sarah Kirsch (my library only has her Panther Woman in English, so I might go take a look at it). I’d be curious to know more about how Christa Wolf was accepted and regarded–I get the sense she was quite well known–especially outside the GDR and so Westerners were always quite curious about her. I’ll let you know if Wolf says anything about Kirsch. Normally I know you should let an author’s work stand on its own, but I think it would be helpful to know more about Wolf’s politics. Sarah Kirsch sounds interesting as well!
Sarah Kirsch is mentioned. There was a lot of controversy around Wolf at some time. I think she did work for the Stasi and that’s what Kirsch, who was opposed to the regime, couldn’t accept. I think she wfeels she’s trying to whitewash herself in this diary. I think she was able to rehabilitate herself after it all came out but by now my memory is sketchy, I’d have to read up more. Kirsch’s diary is far more domestic. I think you’d like it but it’s not translated.
Sounds like a book I would enjoy and I’m curious to read the other author as well to see how she distorted things. Such a hard thing to determine though since people view things differently. Does Kirsch give specific examples of how the other author distorted things? You don’t have to give the book away, just curious.
It’s very brief, she doesn’t elaborate and moves on from the book. She mentions that she renders some elements regarding spying on others as if she never did it. It seems they lived close to each other during a cerain time but were never friends.
If she didn’t spy on others, good for her. So much pressure to do so, that it’s hard for me to judge others. She has more of a right to judge than I do since she didn’t succumb to the social, political, and other types of pressure.
From what I know it wasn’t that difficult to say no under certain circumstances but you are right. Who are we to judge, we were not there.
In my younger days, I used to judge quite a bit. Now that I’ve matured (hopefully) and have people in my life I would protect no matter what, I can’t judge others. Who knows what I would have done.
That’w why the call it “Die Gnade der späten Geburt” in Germany (meaning the grace of being born late) – it applies to all those too young to have lived during the Third Reich who were not forced to make that type of decision.
…or, as Dürrenmatt put it (speaking about the Swiss), “verschont, nicht versucht”…
I loved that you shared some of the author’s personal stories with us. I’m always interested in how authors relate to their work through their experiences and relationships. And of course how their experiences affect their work. It’s fluid in that the impact goes both ways.
Lovely review, Caroline.
Thanks, Jackie. I wonder whether she’s ever written political poetry. I doubt it though. But being a writer in the former DDR must have affected her.
Not a writer I’d heard of, so thanks again 🙂
Apart from Wolf, who are the really big DDR writers? Are there any great novels from that time, or was most of it censored or regime-flattering?
I like Brigitte Reimann a great deal and there is Irmtraud Morgner, Monika Maron, Maxi Wander, Anna Seghers, there are a few but not all of them translated, which is no issue for you. 🙂
And in this month of literary gender equality, I notice that these are all women 😉 Were there no great *male* writers from the DDR?!
Yes, true, i think the DDR women writers are more famous than the men but there were certainly some, I just haven’t read them.
I just posted my review of ‘The Enthusiasts’ by Robert Musil.
Great, thanks, Tony.
This sounds delightful. I noticed that Danielle will be reading Christa Wolf, who I think is very good too. I’m not much of a one for the diary format, but when it works, it’s wonderful.
I think you’d appreciate this one. They called it “diary prose” I suppose it’s a bit different from an “unfiltered” diary.
It will be interesting to read more about Wolf on Danielle’s blog.
I’ve never heard of her, which is not surprising given how little I know about German literature. (she’s not available in French either. Like almost all the German books I read about, it seems)
Yes, it’s weird. I would have thought there are more French translations available.
has she been translated into English are you aware Caroline ,all the best stu
Yes, her poems have. And I think Obooki might read Panther woman, which is prose.
Great review Caroline 🙂
I never heard of her before but I like her choice of reading (Murakami) and the poems you put here are lovely.
It was quite a discovery for me as well. I was sad to find out that hse died this year.
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