Oskar Pastior (1927-2006)

On 4 October the Romanian-German poet Oskar Pastior died in Frankfurt-am-Main shortly before his 79th birthday. He was to receive the Büchner Prize, the major German poetry prize, on 21 October (I reported on the awarding of the Büchner to Pastior on Nomadics blog back on 2nd June. You can still read the text Martin Lüdke wrote about this event on signandsight here.) Below an extract that speaks to Pastior’s multilinguism as a essential component of his art:

Oskar Pastior was born in 1927 in Romania, and grew up in the multi-lingual environment of the Transylvanian town of Sibiu/Hermannstadt speaking the outmoded German of his forefathers. He says that he has this multilingualism to thank not only for the insights it gave him into the possibilities of writing, but above all the associated “relativisation of normative thinking“. He was deported in 1945 after the Red Army took control of Romania and spent almost five years in Soviet labour camps. After returning, he managed to complete his university entrance qualifications while doing his military service, and then went on to study. In 1968 he fled to the West, and since 1969 has lived in Berlin. And worked – on the language, with the language. “My seriousness is really rather childlike, akin to the games of kids who’ve had their fingers burned.”

Pastior’s sound-based & pun-rich work poses great problems to translators for wide stretches, but we do have an excellent selection of his work in English:
Many Glove Compartments, translated from the German by Harry Mathews, Christopher Middleton, Rosmarie Waldrop, & with a guest appearance by John Yau (Burning Deck, 2001). You can also read a German-language obit that appeared today in the Züricher Zeitung. The poem below was published in June 2006 on the If… blog.


by Oscar Pastior

there’s no such thing as the poem.
there’s always only this poem that
happens to read you. but because
in this poem see above you can
say there’s no such thing as the
poem and there’s always only
this poem that happens to
read you even the poem that you
don’t read can read you and there be no
such thing as always only this
poem here. both you and you
read that and this. call both by
name: they read you even if
there’s no such thing as you only here
(Translated by Rosmarie Waldrop )

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