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Selected Poems of Ute von Funcke

Translated from the German by Stuart Friebert


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From the Introduction by Christiane Wyrwa:
It is a common view that poetry should not be an organ for answers but for questions—and yet this collection shows how these opposites can perform an act of dynamic balance: these poems stand firmly between question and answer.
Ute von Funcke lives in Munich, where she was born. For her, the wealthy Bavarian technological boom town of today still holds memories of her childhood shortly after World War II, when people lived in bitter need in an old town completely destroyed by bombing.
The poems in Between Question & Answer, consist of selections from her four German books, as well as hitherto unpublished poems. Von Funcke highly esteems the role and importance of women in literature, vividly expressing emotional depth and strong feelings. For her, poetry and politics belong deeply together —because yesterday’s evils and suffering are still just as cruel today and need to be strongly denounced.
In the first section, the title YESTERDAYS WORDS mentions the material that produces all poetry—the words—and several poems refer to the complicated process of composing. In “The Censor,” for example, a guiding voice in the poet urges her to “mop up letters / get rid of unwilling ones / where to / incorporate / dispose / give away / lend out or give back.” The word “yesterday” in the section’s title leads also to scenes of childhood evoking deep impressions via phrases rich in emotional depth, metaphor, and allegory.
INTO THE DARK, the second section, presents poems with a window into the dark passages of past and present worlds, where aggression and violence prevail. “The black flag of terror” is never far off, showing the witnessing listener “the smoking ruins / when history repeats / on dark paths.” War’s never-ending horrors are described in precise, vigorous, rhythmic diction leading to the slogan “Never again war”—and the poems following, with manifold fragments of postwar experience, demonstrate first childhood memories of bygone war-times, but then lead straight into the renewed horror of Chernobyl, and other new forms of death’s everlasting horrors. This section is rounded off with poems about present day Berlin, highlighting impressions of shockingly disparate elements of the careless pastimes of the rich vis-à-vis the alarming misery of the poor.
OTHER WORLDS, the third section’s poems, lead us literally into distant, mysterious realms where we meet Moses, Eve, the serpent, and Lucifer, the fallen angel from the Bible, but also some well-known characters from the world of myth via scenes from their lives described in the literary heritage of ancient times, such as the wanderer Ulysses returning home, and Cassandra’s cry “still forlorn / and in vain.” The “painful wound left open,” with all its transient elements in the course of history, is transposed into the poet’s distinctive inner experience by “the inner eyes” inside her temples.
FORGET, DARLING, the last section’s poems, moves us from realms of violent hatred to the world of love, concentrating on poems of our affections. We are introduced to the “Heartbeat symptoms / between question and answer” of the book’s title that keep us all in a world of eternal mystery. At times the poem’s voice—simply an “I” addressing a “you”—moves about in a world without time, somewhere under sun and moon in a field in dripping rain, where the two rock in the wind.
Stuart Friebert is one of the most active, experienced American translators of German poetry; an expert in transposing wording and line structure into his smooth American-English. His translations express the same imaginative apprehension of events, the nature of persons, and the sounds of their surrounding world.
CHRISTIANE WYRWA studied German and English literature at Göttingen, Durham GB, and Berlin where she earned a PhD in 1981. She and her husband Matthias Klein are owners & publishers of scaneg Verlag.
Praise for Between Question & Answer:
“The title of Ute von Funcke’s selected poems is Between Question & Answer, but these poems equally suspend between grand purpose and minute observation, a desire to confront head-on our sustained, collective human failings and a longing to lift into view moments of small, profound intimacy. Von Funcke’s striking images (‘I love the early morning / when the day’s not yet landed in the ashtray / a twisted butt’) and stark colors (‘the yellow horse of daybreak,’ ‘the doctor’s mask / turns black’) seem, in the best sense, to channel Trakl; yet, her poems, in their range and ambition, are strikingly original—not to mention deeply moving.”
—Wayne Miller, author of Post- and The City, Our City
“Ute von Funcke is a seeress—one who looks more closely and intensively than others. Hence her ‘blinks of eye’ turn into something special: a window into the deeper structures of our world.”
—Michael Krüger, President of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts; poet, author, and former publisher of Hanser Press, Munich
“These are essential poems—crucial to the human enterprise with our penchant for violence, our fathomless suffering, and also our compassion and our hope. They traffic in essences—compact image-theaters, imprints of sight, judicious voicings, pronounced blank space. The act of writing is visceral—‘My green pen tumbling / between fur and black claws’—as elemental power breaks through the backdrop of silence with a comment, a startling metaphor, a primal tableau. In a ‘Postwar Fragment,’ as in the many moving poems about violence in the collection, von Funcke’s radical empathy conveys how memory and imagination are still under siege in the old bombsite as ‘stillness / gorges on the gray time / till it bursts.’
“Through myth, war, nature, relationship, striking renderings of the drama of the act of writing, these poems tell us what we’ve done and what we could do. Like Wislawa Szymborska, von Funcke’s poems are sly, memorable, unexplainable yet utterly understandable; they take a planet-eye view that sees us all at once. Stuart Friebert’s perfect-pitch translations bring these poems over into American English just in time. What a profound gift of ‘nothing but the essential mystery.’”
—Robin Behn, author of Quarry Cross, The Yellow House, and Horizon Note
Born in Munich, Ute von Funcke still lives there. She taught languages, ethics, and acting at secondary schools. She trained adults in theater, body work, Qigong, and expressive dance. She has written plays for children, and in 2004, as her interweaving arts of communication continued to evolve, she began writing poetry. Between Question & Answer includes translations of a selection of her poems from four volumes in German (Songs from the Furnace, Night Book, Woman Taking Flight, and In the Fissures of Time).
Stuart Friebert taught German at Oberlin College, where he founded the Creative Writing Program with help from colleagues, and co-founded Field Magazine, the Field Translation Series, and Oberlin College Press. He has published 15 books of poems (including Floating Heart—2015 Ohioana Poetry Award winner and Decanting, Selected and New Poems), 15 volumes of translations, anthologies, and prose (recently First and Last Words).

First and Last Words (2017)

Memoir & Stories:

6"x9" paperback

250 pages




Floating Heart (2014) Poems:

6"x9" paperback

114 pages



Cover Art by Leonie von Carnap

Scant Hours (2018)

Selected Poems of Elisabeth Schmeidel, Translated by Stuart Friebert

6"x9" paperback

106 pages



A Double Life In Poems & Translation (2019):

6"x9" paperback

170 pages



September 2020—Offcourse Tribute, Meeting Stuart: Ute von Funcke recalls her work and friendship with Stuart Friebert, like a ping-pong match played on the huge Oceanic table …” Read the Tribute.