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Ulf Stolterfoht Conversation

 

Editor’s Note: Ulf Stolterfoht is a German poet who has been inventively tinkering with language for years. Unfortunately, he has passed under the radar of most American readers. Hopefully, Rosmarie Waldrop’s wonderful translations of his Lingos I-IX will change that (available from Burning Deck Press). Since The Jivin’ Ladybug is always interested in an international dialogue (just as Philip Sidney proposed long ago, poetry is a passport to many realms), Ulf and I carried out an email correspondence. However, true to our world of constant interruptions, this correspondence was prematurely cut short. Yet much can still be gleaned from the present exchange. . .

 

 

 

Hello Ulf:

 

I hope you've been doing well. For the past couple of days, I've been wondering how to interview you. Considering that I only know a few German words (despite my love for Wittgenstein, Walter Benjamin, Georg Heym, Oskar Pastior, Paul Celan etc., I've only read them in translation), I am unable to do the normal amount of research I do before an interview.

 

So, instead of me sending you a list of questions (which I normally do), maybe we could interview through an email correspondence. I could send you an opening question or thought and you could respond to it. Then I could build another question from that response. While I can see this being somewhat awkward, I also think it could give the interview a more conversational feel. Also, I think it would allow me to understand Germany and German poetry more than I do now. If you do not like this idea, I can still send you a list of questions.

 

Let me know what method you think best.

 

Sincerely,

Jared

 

***

 

dear jared,

 

let's do it this way!

all the best,

ulf

 

***

 

Hey Ulf:

 

Alright, the emailed back-and-forth it is!

 

 In your first response to me, you mentioned that the poems Rosmarie Waldrop translated were written 20 years ago or so. How has your poetic project changed since that time?

 

You seem to tie allusions, slang, and lingo from a variety of sources. Is this related to collage at all? What kind of relationship with language does this technique establish? What was your ultimate hope with this kind of style? 

 

Just a side note: I've been listening and laughing to Gerhard Ruhm's sound poetry online at http://www.ubu.com/sound/ruhm.html. Are you a fan of the Wiener Gruppe?

 

Best,

Jared

 

***

 

dear jared,

 

i am a fan of the wiener gruppe, especially konrad bayer, h.c.artmann

and oswald wiener - but not so much of gerhard rühm. the reason

could be that i am not that familiar with his work as i am with the others.

but austria is the right direction: if you add ernst jandl, friederike mayröcker,

reinhard priessnitz, gunter falk, dominik steiger and some others, the galery

of heroes is almost complete (plus the "good" germans helmut heißenbüttel

and romania born oskar pastior).

 

the first volume of fachsprachen wasn't written twenty years ago (in whole),

but some of the poems were. so perhaps the project started in 1987, but

most of this book was written between '93 and '96, and the original was

published in 1998. so i don't think the fachsprachen-project has changed since that

time - in german there are three volumes and a fourth will be published at least -,

what has changed: i do not think anymore that i have to stay in this fachsprachen-

format til the end of my life as a poet (what i thought still two or three years ago).

now i published two non-fachsprachen(!) books of poetry and saw complete new ways

of writing: a new kind of freedom and a new kind of fun - and so the fachsprachen

will become a by-product or -project, but no longer the essential thing.

but if we are talking of fachsprachen: nothing has changed, absolutely nothing!

 

about the name: lingos, jargons, technical terms etc.

when i started writing i was very shy and let nobody read my poems. but when i did

the reaction was always the same: sounds great - but i understand not a bit!

so i thought it could be a good, almost offensive thing to call these poems

"fachsprachen" - because out of two or three reasons:

first: to proclaim "this is my personal kind of technical terms - and don't tell me

  you understand the others!"

second: as a licence to use "traditional" slangs like cant (and i think this would be

the right english title: cants), but also books like "pig breeding in the gdr",

"the little radio companion" etc.

and third: i think you could say that poetry or language within poems is a

special language of it's own.

these three aspects.

 

that's it for the moment.

(about my ultimate hope later - no idea!)

 

yours, ulf

 

 

***

 

Hey Ulf:

 

Out of your "gallery of heroes," I find something frustrating: only Jandl, Bayer, Artmann, Pastior and Mayröcker have been translated a lot. Also, many of these translations have only been in limited printings (England's Atlas Press is known for this). I've seen a few translations of Heißenbüttel, but that's about it. It makes me want to start learning German. I had a similar reaction to the lack of awareness about Portuguese-language poetries in America. So I started learning Portuguese so I could translate early modernists in Portugal, Brazil, and Mozambique. Not that I'm a great translator. But it's such a revitalizing activity that increases conversation among artists. 

 

"when i started writing i was very shy and let nobody read my poems. but when i did

the reaction was always the same: sounds great - but i understand not a bit!"

 

I usually get the same reaction. When someone reads my poems, they nod their head, but I can there's only a giant question mark inside their head.

 

"i think you could say that poetry or language within poems is a special language of it's own."

 

That's a wonderful comment! What decides a poem's special language? Do the words themselves create the poem? Or do your ideas choose the words? Do you start writing a poem with a subject in mind? Or does inventing with language and ideas create a subject?

 

For now,

Jared 

 

***

 

dear jared,

 

the problem is: i am not sure if there is a subject at all - as well in terms of epistemology as in terms of poetics.

and for me / my poems that's the crucial point: if there is nothing outside myself (no computer, no jared ...) or

nothing outside my language (whatever this means) or there is something but absolutely different for everybody

etc. etc. - so we do not have a problem in common / in everyday talking: the only thing that counts is a successful

communication (whatever this means again), but on the level of poetry for me it is absolutely necessary to face

these problems of existence, reference, denotation, representation, meaning - so that one could say: in fact you

won't find any subject, neither in the world (as a "thing") nor in the poem (as a "theme") but one: the subject

that you have to deal with this fact of the missing subject! sounds a bit sophistic, but describes exactly the point

where i sit and wait.

  unfortunately i do not have ideas, never had, so you won't find any in the poems. but sometimes a word tends

to be an idea (in the sense of "begriff", conception) with the astonishing result to have now a new category of

things: all words written like "word"! (words as conceptions) - but - and this is really funny - with the same

problems as the old things: tree, apple, chair.

 

puuh! sorry for that, but this is it "in nuce"!

i am on the road again for some days, back at wednesday.

all the best,

ulf

 

(but before i leave i will look for some of your poems in the net!)

 

***

 

HELLO AGAIN ULF:

 

I hope your roadtrip goes well! It sounds like you're a steady traveler. Is it for poetry readings? Great explorations? Or maybe even both?

 

"unfortunately i do not have ideas, never had, so you won't find any in the poems. but sometimes a word tends to be an idea (in the sense of "begriff", conception) with the astonishing result to have now a new category of things: all words written like "word"! (words as conceptions) - but - and this is really funny - with the same problems as the old things: tree, apple, chair."

 

Yesterday, while your comments were inside my brain, I read these lines from Konrad Bayer's "der stein der weisen" (I was reading Bayer in English translation, but I will quote in German to try to return your favor of doing this dialogue in English):

 

"die elektrische hierarchie

 

vershiedene sätze treten auf.

vershiedene sätze treten nachienander auf.

jeder satz betritt die situation, die alle vorhergegenden geschaffen haben."

 

 

Your statement, "i do not have ideas" strikes me as an honest summary of how we relate to language. Our words throw us into situations and then make us take all the responsibility. Are we scapegoats for language?

 

"In fact you won't find any subject, neither in the world (as a "thing") nor in the poem (as a "theme") but one: the subject that you have to deal with this fact of the missing subject!" The absent subject is an interesting idea. No wonder why Poe worked with detective stories! Poetry as the forensics of consciousness. . .

 

I am also curious about the relationship between you and your readers. How much of an impact does poetry have on German culture? I know you've won a few prizes. Do you have a wider readership or a smaller, more dedicated one? Do you find a lot of sympathy or animosity with your work? In the U.S., I find that the public considers anything "intellectual" to be diseased.

 

As far as my work online, I only have a few early pieces in the first issue of The Jivin' Ladybug. If you're interested, I could send you some more recent work.

 

In my few spare moments, I'm going to start to read some of the more recent fachsprachen. It's very crude and rudimentary, requiring a German grammar and a dictionary, but it will give me at least a ghostly flicker of some of your other work.

 

 

Hope the trip goes well,

Jared

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