Oskar Pastior - I am an opposite of am. Am is an op-posite of is. An opposite is a teahouse by me. Together with an opposite I am raw brick of am or a teahouse of is. This isn't all that complicated. Is is a teahouse in Celle. With a teahouse Celle is raw brick. An opposite of Celle is an adagio, that is with me in raw brick

poempoems cover image

Oskar Pastior, Poempoems, Trans. by Malcolm Green, Atlas Press, 1992.

Oskar Pastior was born in Transylvania in 1927 and has lived in W. Germany since 1968, where he has gained a considerable reputation as a poet and enthusiastic performer. This selection from his poempoems (1973) is his first book to appear in English, the selection has been restricted by the fact that many of the poems (there are 71 in all) contain untranslatable word-plays. Pastior has compared these works to: “halography ... to make a text as far as possible such that every part contains the whole. That is an image I hold in front of me.” The author has assisted mightily with these translations.





Oskar Pastior, Many Glove Compartments: selected poems, Trans. by Harry Mathews, Christopher Middleton, Rosmarie Waldrop, and John Yau. Burning Deck Press, 2001.

Unlike Adam ("the old Stalin of language"), Pastior is not out to name animals or anything else. "Talking about things is not possible. Language, the text, speaks itself-this is the great dilemma to which theories of realism close their eyes." For Pastior, language itself is the stuff of life, a metabolism where not only words, but even concepts are made flesh. He explores it through puns, lists, strings, heaps, fields, dictionaries, alphabets, collage, montage, potpourris in orgiastic expansion, "thought-music as a leaping perspective."
            Critics have praised his "sublime lack of seriousness," his "paradisal language," his "commonsense and commonscythe," his "revenge against logic." Only a fraction of Pastior's poems are translatable. But the translators hope that their versions will at least approximate the pleasure of Pastior's texts.

Knowing the originals, and the apparent imposibility of translating them, I am amazed at the wonderful outcome here. Obviously it helps when your translators are writers as good as these three, but it also helps when it appears they've had fun doing it...If you like the playful end of the avant-garde (think Jandl, early Raworth, among others) you'll love this. Sometimes spectacular re-creations rather than translations per se, but Pastior has been wonderfully well-served here. At $10 it's a snip, quite frankly, and I think you should all go out and buy it. - Tony Frazer


Berlin-based poet Oskar Pastior says translation is simply not possible ""the wrong word for a process that does not exist,"" as he puts it in the introduction to Many Glove Compartments: Selected Poems. Nonetheless, translators Harry Mathews, Christopher Middleton and Rosmarie Waldrop have gamely tried to recreate the mad, witty wordplay of Pastior's German poetry in this volume. Palindromes, anagrams, puns, ""sonnetburgers"" and exuberant nonsense ""abracadabra as was tartar as was kandahar- cardan (tack that man and gal flat as washrags!) as was cash"" prevail as Pastior, who is the only German member of Oulipo and who will be 75 this year, tinkers with the smallest units of language and the oldest of lyric forms. - Publishers Weekly

A wonderful, long overdue, and surprising decision. Anyone who has ever experienced Oskar Pastior reading, his glasses perched on the end of his nose, heard his soft, amiable voice, warm yet clear with an unfamiliar note somewhere, watched his upper lip and little moustache begin to tremble as he purrs out his vowels – in short, anyone who has learned from him that poetry lives and breathes, that words ring and sing and meaning whirrs and whizzes – must share his pleasure. There is no poet who is more reserved in his manner, more moderate in his nature, more likeable in his whole manifestation. Nor one who is more resolute and uncompromising – and also imaginative – in his work.
Our first meeting, about thirty years ago, came about in rather unusual circumstances. If I remember rightly it was during the Frankfurt Book Fair. Klaus Ramm, the man of letters who was first Pastior's editor, later became his publisher, and has also remained his friend and selfless supporter, came to our place to watch a Germany match on television, and brought his author along too, unannounced. A mildly embarrassing situation, because Pastior was not in the slightest interested in football. Neither knowing the rules nor understanding the game, he just sat there, silent, through the whole thing, the very incarnation of humanity, occasionally flashing a glance over the top of his glasses, and smiling understandingly even while we – led by the kids – were cheering, booing or celebrating wildly.
In those days, at the Book Fair, Ramm was never without his publishing firm. He literally walked round with a hawker's tray. And when you bumped into him it was almost impossible to get away without buying something. That is how I came to own Pastior's early books, like "Gedichtgedichte" (verseverses: 1973), "Höricht" (1975), "An die Neue Aubergine: Zeichen und Plunder" (to the new aubergine: signs and stuff: 1976), "Der Krimgotische Fächer" (The Crimean gothic fan: 1978) and "Wechselbalg" (changeling: 1981), all of which I still have.
And that is why I was so annoyed when the
German Academy of Language and Literature decided to award Pastior the Georg Büchner Prize. Thirty years ago (or even twenty) it would have been a courageous choice. It would not only have helped the author, who has always lived by extremely modest means. It would above all have done a service to literature, as an – urgently needed – amplifier of Pastior's own quiet voice. As a corrective to the steady advance of conventionalism. As a counterweight to Marcel Reich-Ranicki's persistent insistence on common sense in our literature and the criticism thereof.
Of course it goes without saying that Pastior deserves to be honoured for his life's work. Which is more than can be said for the Academy's late decision.
But we are with the poet on this one: "for sense and meaning giveth also what they take away, what makes no sense may yet meaning show."
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."
Hebrew is read from right to left, German the other way round of course. Pastior can often be read from either end. He works like a DIY aficionado, designing, planning, building and tinkering. At the same time, he approaches the language as a strategist, has his words assemble, line up and march like soldiers, in the process making full use of his freedoms to create new, surprising constellations with each new order.
The results bear names like palindrome, anagram or villanelle, but also inventions like Sonetburger and Gimpelstift (gimpel meaning "dunce" and stift meaning "pen") They are always attempts to turn the rules of the language against themselves, to crack open the language's obsession with its identity and to home in on the tiny, often minuscule gap that separates said from unsaid, the gap where previously hidden, repressed meanings flicker or show their faces. Behind this language work there is – as behind all great poetry – a romantic (or perhaps better, mystic) (mis)understanding of language. The words that Pastior seemingly takes as simple raw material are in fact always charged with the
Eichendorffian hope of making the world resonate by finding the magic spell.
Pastior comes very close to this idea when he reads his own poetry aloud. Then it is, as I once read somewhere, "springtime in your head", or, as one of his forerunners,
Eugen Gomringer, put it, an "experience": "I like to listen to him. / I drift off a little / and feel as though transported / to a bazaar, where my gaze / roams over strange delights / arranged with wit. / I pick up the timbre and roguishness / of the voice more than I / am able to follow / the words and their tricks. / The man fascinates me." And rightly so, for, "a tender eel is tougher than a randy monk."
The article originally appeared in German in the Frankfurter Rundschau on 15 May, 2006. - Martin Lüdke


Herbert Read’s 1953 book, The True Voice of Feeling, began by arguing that poets can be divided into two categories: rhetorical poets and poets of feeling. The former are said to treat literature as a game, the latter as a sincere expression of the poet’s response to experience. The distinction has its uses for post-Romantic poetry but, when too cleanly made, fails to recognize that poetry is always a wrangle between imposed and substantial, arbitrary and essential.
Oulipo — the literary collective founded in France by Raymond Queneau — stage this contest in explicit, and often exemplary fashion. Members of the group base their experiments on the acknowledgment that arbitrary constraint is an inevitable condition of literature and operate by imposing strict conditions on the act of writing. But does their work place more weight on rhetoric, or expression? It could be that an Oulipean uses arbitrary conditions in order to trick words out of their natural reserve. It could otherwise be that the Oulipean emphasizes such conditions as a mode of generating text without any spurious belief in sincerity, or superstitions such as the muses, divine inspiration, or the sovereign imaginative subject, the authorial self.
These are a few of the concerns, at any rate, that one might bring to Many Glove Compartments, the first extended English translation of poems by Oskar Pastior, the only German member of Oulipo. This translation presents a broad sample of Pastior’s work, covering material published between 1960 and the late 1990s. The aim, as the translators tell us, has been to ‘approximate the pleasure of Pastior’s texts,’ suggesting that the ludic is to be favored over other aspects of the work. But the emphasis on pleasure and play we are led to expect leaves the balance between formal and expressive undecided, as playfulness is no more opposed to sincerity than seriousness is necessarily opposed to rhetoric.
For the most part, as Warren F. Motte put it in The Poetics of Experiment, pleasure in an Oulipean text derives from an equation between ‘the difficulty of the problem, and the elegance of the solution.’ ‘Solution,’ however, doesn’t simply mean that which the poet manages to say in the way of meaningful content despite the rules he has imposed on the work. Granted that arbitrary forms such as the anagram, lipogram, pantoum, and sestina, to mention a few favorite Oulipean exercises, tend to encourage mechanical utterances; the music, images, and texture the poet is able to produce through or around such devices are equally important considerations. It might also be that for the poet, the difficulty of the conditions and a sense of the arbitrariness of language or being to which such conditions draw our attention is of more importance than any facile solutions — in short, that the creation of difficult, perhaps even insurmountable formal problems is, in itself, the interest and end of the process.
Where, then, is Pastior to be found on this index of pleasures? The briefest of biographical sketches given at the close of the volume suggests the background to Pastior’s alignment with Oulipo. We are told that, as a German-speaking Romanian, Pastior was summarily interred by occupying Soviet forces after the end of the Second World War. From this we might conclude that Pastior voluntarily imposes constraints on his work in order to find imaginative solutions to historical and personal circumstances. However, while this formative experience is said to have marked out the struggle between freedom and constraint as a predominant theme for the poet, his habit is to deny any overtly political or autobiographical material. One of the interludes dividing the five sections of the book, called ‘Autobiographical Text,’ undermines any attempt to find a substantial connection between the life and the poems: ‘what I can say about myself will later (when scrutinized for meaning) turn out to be artificial, i.e. composed,’ he writes.
On another occasion Pastior wrote that ‘talking about things is impossible,’ and from the first of these poems it becomes apparent that reference to a world outside the poems is suspended in his work. ‘Keep your distance,’ the first poem advises the reader, in a gesture that simultaneously identifies and increases the gap between expression and understanding. Such hearbage (a translation of horicht, Pastior’s punning title for a 1975 collection combining the German for ‘hearing’ with a word for ‘little piles of refuse,’ kericht) puts paid to any ideas of saying something despite the difficulties of communication. To put it another way, the work is self-referential to the extent that language and the poem are Pastior’s only subjects. This is not a problem, at least not a poetic one. The real problem here is that the works translated don’t measure up well against any of the other poetic indicators. A typical entry reads:
No-color o-moo-cocoon
Spools pro lotto for wood-rod
On spot of god pollock’s cold,
Chloroform stops motor-knock,
Solo moons don’t brood, or prows
Songs bow down to protocol.
  
What is immediately apparent in this lipogram — a form involving the suppression of one or more letter, in this case, all vowels but o — is the poet’s election of nonsense over sense, perhaps with the exception of that revealing terminal line. Of itself, this too is unproblematic: nonsense can be enjoyed for its music, the comedy of almost making sense, as a parody of normal talk, for the surreal and disturbing images such practice liberates, or even as a comment on the redundancies and misdirections of language. Passages like these, however, have little music and still less parodic or surrealistic value. Other poems offer more in the way of image, but few are much more striking. On closer inspection it seems that for Pastior the imposition of tight conditions on writing is less an attempt to find adequate expression for thoughts that resist ordinary speech, than an attempt to draw attention to the difficult, though flexible, conditions of language in general. But what his work reveals about language in the process — that the relation between word and thing is arbitrary — is too widely understood and accepted to be any more than trivial.
Perhaps most unsatisfying of all is the frequent impression that the constraints Pastior imposes on his work are not added on top of the normal conditions of grammar, syntax, or semantics. Indeed, it appears that such constraints have been abandoned in favor of the more mechanical devices, which makes the latter all too easy to follow. Thus, not only does Pastior declare that he has nothing to say and no way to say it, but also the problems that he sets himself don’t seem difficult enough to excite any admiration for his skill in working around them, nor are his solutions to even these minimal formal problems particularly elegant. After the second line of this sestina, for example, let alone the second stanza, one comes to expect very little in the way of ingenuity, grace, or music from this poet:
This sees said six so as
as this sees said six so
said six so as this sees
so as this sees said six
six so as this sees said
sees said six so as this

These low expectations, sad to say, are comprehensively met. In fairness, it has to be noted that Oulipean work runs the translator hard against the problems of their task. This is not just to invoke the commonplace assumption that translation is impossible. The special problem of texts like Pastior’s is that it shows the impossibility of translation to be a quantitative rather than a qualitative notion. To replay a puzzle in a new language may be to reproduce the principle of generation, but nothing of the original solution. Pastior’s translators (among them the only American member of Oulipo, Harry Matthews) nod to this idea in telling us that the poet, believing translation to be ‘the wrong word for a process that doesn’t exist,’ would have us think only of  ‘a text and a text.’ At the same time, the translators have apparently avoided the more difficult of Pastior’s exercises in this selection, suggesting that for German readers some of the criticisms above could ring untrue. However, in working between the extremes of rhetoric and feeling, the poet must also negotiate between the possible and the impossible. Many Glove Compartments makes the impossibility of poetry abundantly clear. It is Pastior’s, or at least his translators’s, failure to have engaged with the possibilities of poetry that limits the pleasure of this book, approximate or otherwise. - Andrew Johnson

An Interview
Translated By Peter Filkins

Yes, I've been in Rome, at least two times,
though on second thought it probably was
three or maybe five. When was the last?
That's easy, for I remember it exactly—
at least what it was like when I first left.
You mean a part of you remains in Rome?

Not really, for when I was first in Rome
I was truly there. That ended the second time,
though I only realized it when I first left.
So when you were in Rome your last time was
consumed by thoughts of leaving? Not exactly.
As time went on, I came around at last,

thinking: obsess about leaving and nothing lasts;
I'll end up never having been in Rome.
Yet back then did you know just what exactly
it meant to be in Rome during that time
you thought about leaving, even if it was
then you saw what you'd lose if you had left?

Even at the time when I first left
I'd no idea. But you're not saying the last
you saw of Rome was your third visit, for wasn't
it earlier that you felt you'd never leave Rome?
No, all that happened there my second time,
though to this day I feel about Rome exactly

what I felt from the first. What that means exactly
is hard to say, for perhaps I never left,
since after all, my being there the first time
didn't involve my leaving. Tell me then, at last,
was it once or twice? were you really in Rome?
Why certainly—I'm sure, I know I was,

and on top of that you might even say I was
there time and again, everything there exactly
just the same, or like my last time in Rome,
me feeling as if I'd never really left.
But tell me now precisely, was the last
you saw of Rome indeed that second time?

To be exact, it happened the very first time
that I saw Rome, darkness falling as I left
causing me to see what simply couldn't last.


from one sting to an-
other and the oriole fell into
the frying pan from the fire
that was still in Pilate's time
since then untwittered's been the wide
from one blue to another sky
from man to Mantua and
many a cradle to the gravy
from farenwide to longenback
to a night's rest from catharso
came the prof to the proof
and the mountain to the profiterole
from the long and snort of it
to light to a head to bacco to day
came the oriole to nothing
—Translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop (from Vorn Sichersten ins Tausendste, 1969)

the shiveroem shivers at the thought it might
consist in a speech process claiming to contain a thought
process that had become so independent that its speech
process would shiver at the very thought of shivering the
shiverpoem is sill to think so because how can one shiv-
er at the mere thought of shivering

—Translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop (from Gedichtgedicte, 1973)

Frescobaldi

I am an opposite of am. Am is an op-
posite of is. An opposite is a teahouse
by me. Together with an opposite I

am raw brick of am or a teahouse of is.
This isn't all that complicated. Is is a
teahouse in Celle. With a teahouse

Celle is raw brick. An opposite of Cel-
le is an adagio, that is with me in raw
brick. But also with Bruno! Together

with Bruno Celle is a system of am.
Together with me Bruno is raw brick
by Scharoun. With and without Celle

an adagio with Bruno is a teahouse by
me without teahouse—an opposite
is a system without is, only am. But I

am not as complicated as together with
Bruno in raw brick. Without Celle a tea-
house in Celle is without is—it is an

adagio of am or raw brick without oppo-
site in an opposite without system or Bru-
no without Bruno in a teahouse by me.
—Translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop (from Wechselbalg, 1980)

Many Glove Compartments

of them many are cadaver and the nowadays
over tar and high trail and artificial balm

they live off wild honey and jerky bristleback
frugally in comparison with similar leisurelove

but of a blunt fingernail not a sign at all
but please not a trip of narrative art either

why did the head start to subside at vista point?
the more freshly one returns—a nativity hero

their problem children—high keys deep windows
and the stomach content was fussily stuffed full

they had a car jack and good reason for it
and were lefthanded enough—coital hypnotint

to whom to be tough but nuts robust halfways
a chance at eucalyptus-sigismund is given

and came clucking usefully over shelterbelts
clad to the nines in billboards on reunion road

since they raise no scruple or sworn diagnosis
the balm became brittle—ocean at a hammerswing
—Translated from the German by Christopher Middleton (from Lesungen mit Tinnitus, 1986)

Irish River from the 8th Century

A Kingdom for a Horse, a Horse, a Horse,
A Soul for deeply Sleep. And
Wallenstein's astrologer in the second house of the sun
what is the meaning of favored in love?
And in the lab watch out for five-footed iambs.
Sara begat Jevo. Jevo begat Mira
and Mar, Cain and Abel, Dach and Au and Schwitz.
Au in turn begat Naga and Hiro and Kyb.
And visited obedience on the children
unto the fourth generation. There arose a
there flowed down a there opened up
an Irish river from the eighth century,
A Kingdom for a Soul, for a Horse, for a Sleep.
—Translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop (from Jalousien aufgemacht, 1987)

Oulipian Derives from Oulipo: So

Oulipo,
cool flea! Old
moose-itch coat,
should we go
shoe-in-nose
too? We? No!
Urinose
spoor gleans most
ruby. So
you pick whole
views which (cold
fury, tor-
turing) pole—
buteo
moves (Tyrol
moos) with own
tune which no
hood will hole...
You live so
"oulipo,"
poo! We pro
duce things so
you read "own
fuse"—still, mod
moon Kineholz
brood steers home...
Look: here's loam
to bring... oh,
pooped, its clone
droops. It scolds:
move, philo-
doopsio!
Dubbio—
cook me, stove
Oulip!
—Translated from the German by Harry Mathews (from Das Hören des Genitivs, 1997)


- pippoetry.blogspot.com/2011/07/oskar-pastior.html

Herta Mueller and Oskar Pastior by shigekuni

Oskar Pastior was born in 1927 in Hermannstadt, in Siebenbürgen, the German-speaking part of Romania. After the war he (along with other young Romanian-Germans) spent 5 years in a Soviet Labor Camp as part of Romania's reparation for having sided with Hitler. This experience, Pastior says, provided him with his thematic tonic: "the small - yet vast - space of play between freedom and determinism." Then, after taking a university degree and working for the Bukarest radio, in 1969, he managed to come to Berlin where he has gained a considerable reputation as a poet, performer and the only German member of OULIPO.
Beside poems, he has written radio plays and translated Khlebnikov and many Romanian writers into German. His honors include the Peter-Huchel-Prize (2001), Hugo-Ball-Prize (1990) and Ernst-Meister-Prize (1986), a stay at the Villa Massimo in Rome (1984) and an honorary doctorate from the Lucian-Blaga-University in Hermannstadt (2001).

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