“Words Don’t Sleep”: Durs Grünbein’s Poetry of Life

The award-winning poet Durs Grünbein has charted some of the darkest periods of German history in his essays and poems, including in his Oxford Weidenfeld Lectures delivered in 2019 and which appeared in 2021 as For The Dying Calves (Seagull Books). Tender and fierce, musical and humorous. his poems hold history to account and make him one of the foremost European poets of the moment; as he once wrote ‘my poems are my biography’.

He read from his recent work and was in discussion with Michael Eskin, Visiting Fellow at New College, Oxford and author of Descartes der Metapher [Descartes of Metaphor] (Wallstein, 2023) on Grünbein’s ‘poetic existence’, and Karen Leeder, Schwarz-Taylor Professor of German and his English-language translator.

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Durs Grünbein was born in Dresden in 1962, and now lives in Berlin and Rome. Since 2005, he has been a professor of poetics and aesthetics at the Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf. He is the most significant and successful poet of his generation in Germany and the author of more than 25 books which include volumes of poetry, libretti, essays and translations. His poetry has been widely acclaimed and translated into several languages In 2019 he was elected the Weidenfeld Visiting Professor of European Literature and published his lectures Jenseits der Literatur (Beyond Literature) in 2020, which dealt with being a writer under the shadow of German fascism. As he has said elsewhere: ‘ My poems are my biography.’ He has won many awards including the Georg Büchner Prize (1994), Premio Internazionale di Poesia Pier Paolo Pasolini (2006), Pour le Mérite (2008), Great Cross of Merit with Star (2009), Tomas Tranströmer Prize (2012), Zbigniew Herbert Literary Award (2020), Premio Internazionale NordSud (2023).

Michael Eskin is an author, critic, translator, philosopher, publisher and co-founder of Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc., in New York City. He has taught at Rutgers, Cambridge and Columbia Universities. His numerous books include: Nabokovs Version von Puskins “Evgenij Onegin”: eine übersetzungs- und fiktionstheoretische Untersuchung (1994); Ethics and Dialogue in the Works of Levinas, Bakhtin, Mandel’shtam, and Celan (2000); Poetic Affairs: Celan, Grünbein, Brodsky (2008); 17 Vorurteile, die wir Deutschen gegen Amerika und die Amerikaner haben und die so nicht ganz stimmen können (2008); The DNA of Prejudice: On the One and the Many (2010); The Wisdom of Parenthood (2013); Yoga for the Mind: An New Ethic for Thinking & Being (with Kathrin Stengel, 2013); “Schwerer werden. Leichter sein” – Gespräche um Paul Celan. Mit Durs Grünbein, Gerhard Falkner, Aris Fioretos und Ulrike Draesner (2020); Descartes der Metapher: Neun Tauchgänge ins Dichterdasein Durs Grünbeins [Descartes of Metaphor. Nine Dives into the Poetic Existence of Durs Grünbein] (2022); On Writing Philosophy: A Manifesto (2022).

Karen Leeder is an academic and translator, and the Schwarz-Taylor Professor of German Language and Literature in Oxford. With Michael Eskin and Chris Young she edited the first English-language book dedicated to the writer—Durs Grünbein: A Companion (2015). She has also translated his poetry and prose. Her translation of Porcelain: Poem on the Downfall of My City won the Schlegel-Tieck Prize in 2021. Her translation of his Weidenfeld lectures, entitled For the Dying Calves appeared in 2021 and her translation of Grünbein’s Equidistance: Selected Poems 2005–2022 will appear this year.