Karen Leeder (New College, Oxford): "'Of all things broken and lost / Porcelain troubles me most': Durs Grünbein Remembering the Bombing of Dresden"


Wednesday, March 4, 2020, 6:00pm to 8:00pm


Nebel Room, Barker 359

Leeder 2

Seminar on "German Studies: New Perspectives" -- hosted by John Hamilton and Peter Burgard

This paper will re-read Durs Grünbein’s 2005 Porzellan: Poem vom Untergang meiner Stadt. This is a book length cycle consisting of forty-nine ten-line rhymed poems written over a decade: a lament for the poet’s hometown of Dresden destroyed in the Allied firebombing of February 1945 (seventy-five years ago this year). The poem is at once a history and declaration of love:  reaching back to the founding of Dresden as the famed ‘Venice on the Elbe’, the making of the Meissen porcelain which brought the city is wealth, through the war years, the days of the bombing itself, Grünbein’s childhood in East Germany and ending with the rebuilding of Dresden’s famous Frauenkirche in 2004. It is a haunted poem in many ways, as suggested by the covert dedication (‘por Celan’) to the great Holocaust poet Paul Celan. A controversial one too, in setting itself against what Grünbein calls the ‘myth’ of the Germans as innocent victims of a war crime carried out by the notorious Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, on Churchill’s orders. Controversial in terms of the negative critical reception in Germany too, that saw it as a failed attempt to deal with trauma in aesthetic terms. This year sees the publication of the English version (tr. Karen Leeder, Seagull Books) with new notes, illustrations and a new canto and presents an opportune moment to re-assess the work itself against the memory of the horror deliberately visited on an unwitting civilian population, and which looms so large in German memory. As Grünbein says in the notes: ‘with the rise and fall of each line, these verses are aware of the grief that has never ceased to this day. Through all the facts and files.’