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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry


Durs Grünbein

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To purchase Porzellan

Title: Porzellan
Author: Durs Grünbein
Genre: Poetry
Written: 2005
Length: 49 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Porzellan - Deutschland
  • Poem vom Untergang meiner Stadt
  • Porzellan has not yet been translated into English
  • Written between 1992 and 2005
  • With two illustrations

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting if not always entirely successful approaches to the destruction of Dresden

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 22/9/2005 Michael Braun
TLS . 9/6/2006 Michael Eskin
Die Welt . 24/12/2005 Dorothea von Törne

  From the Reviews:
  • "Aber nirgendwo vermag das Poem eine angemessene Sprache für das Trauma des Untergangs zu finden. Denn das Spiel mit Formen und Reimen wirkt bei der Beschwörung des Furchtbaren kontraproduktiv. Die traumatischen Urszenen der Vernichtung verdunsten in bemühter Feierlichkeit und unfreiwilliger Komik." - Michael Braun, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(T)he latest and most remarkable book of poetry by Durs Grünbein (.....) The book is also, and perhaps most importantly, a poetic manifesto of sorts" - Michael Eskin, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Die naturalistische Sicht auf Details, die schon in Den Teuren Toten metaphorisch aufleuchteten, gerät hier zur Pornographie. Der Blankvers kichert angesichts von Ungeheuerlichkeiten. Das ist fatal. Antikes Versmaß, saloppe Umgangssprache und tragischer Gegenstand des Schreibens widersprechen einander." - Dorothea von Törne, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Porzellan ('Porcelain') is a cycle of poems about what poet Grünbein calls 'his city' in the subtitle. The city is his hometown of Dresden, but much of the cycle is concerned with what was lost long before Grünbein's birth (in 1962), specifically its fire-bombing and near total destruction during World War II. As such the text is less memory than reconstruction, relying on the historic (as well as family-history, his mother having escaped the attacks when just a child herself).
       The cycle begins with a rhetorical question:

Wozu klagen, Spätgeborner ? Lang verschwunden war
Die Geburtsstadt, Freund, als dein Wenigkeit erschien.

(Why lament, late-born one ? Long gone was
The birth-city, friend, by the time your humble self appeared.)
       The question of what the poet is after with this exercise crops up repeatedly, and is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the cycle. How can past tragedy and horror be both overcome and yet held onto ?
       Grünbein repeatedly reminds readers of how terrible much of the reconstructed Dreden looks like, a stark contrast to its 'Venice of the north'-reputation from before the war. Yet the only Dresden Grünbein knows from personal experience is this new and often very ugly one; the idyll of old is something that was lost long before his birth -- and whose destruction perhaps also allows, beside this effort at forgetting, unrealistic but tempting romanticization.
       The cycle of forty-nine poems, each ten lines and an identical metre and rhyme-scheme, is personal but also at a sceptical sort of distance -- as the opening lines, the poet essentially questioning (and, in some ways, belittling) himself, already suggests. The fire-bombing is only part of this Dresden-history (though the one that is always returned to), Grünbein aiming for the larger context as well as some of the smaller details of both the before and after. The broader approach, focussing only in part on the horror-specific, has its advantages, but it still feels like a somewhat loose collection. (The fact that it was pieced together over more than a decade also plays a role.)
       Straightforward, offering bits on everything from 'What ifs ?' to righteous indignation to family memories, Porzellan is an interesting and very readable collection of variations on a theme. Grünbein's poetry has become more rigorous over the years, but it hasn't boxed him in too far here: the individual poems are very strong -- though the overall punch is a bit diminished by a lack of focus (or certitude).
       As always with Grünbein's poetry: interesting and compelling.

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Porzellan: Reviews: Durs Grünbein: Other books by Durs Grünbein under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Durs Grünbein was born in Dresden in 1962. He has won many literary prizes, including the 1995 Georg Büchner Prize.

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© 2005-2008 the complete review

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