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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Words on Wednesday: Erich Fried, another library discovery, and thoughts on the nature of poetry

Whilst bumbling about the library earlier this June (some might call it work) I happened upon 'On Pain of Seeing' a translated (from German) collection of poetry by the Austrian-British writer Erich Fried who, up until that moment, had been completely unknown to me.

Erich Fried (1921-1988)
I was interested in what he had to say about the nature of poetry, reproduced here in full from the book's preface:

   Poems are reflections of structures in our minds which are composed of thoughts and emotions. We often become fully aware of these structures only through such reflections and through our attempts to fix them in words.
   These structures and their reflections are never completely original (which anyway would make them incomprehensible) for even where allusion and association are not consciously employed, thought and verbalization are based on countless conventions. This does not prevent a poem from throwing a critical light on some of these conventions.
It is part of the nature of the reflections we call a poem that it takes shape by means of sounds, mainly words, and that it acquires from he structures it reflects not only contents, but also formal and rhythmic elements.
   As these structures are never wholly conscious and are unstable, the poet cannot reproduce their reflection at will. In trying to 'fix' a reflection - that is to say by writing a poem - sometimes a more complex structure forms in the writer's mind, thus enabling him to reflect more and 'give more of himself'.
   My poems for me are chiefly ways of understanding myself and means for coping with tensions engendered by impressions and insights. These might stem from the world around or within me as long as I neither shut myself off (consciously or unconsciously) from my experiences nor allow myself to become obtuse or cynical.
   Confronting one's own poems in turn has further effects on one's life and writings. This way of confronting my experiences by means of writing can possibly be of interest to others simply because being a poet does not make me basically different from others inhabiting the same world and exposed to similar experiences. Thus, trying to communicate my attempts of coping with the wold can make its infinitesimal contribution to changing this world.
   With Ernesto Che Guevera ('Socialism and Man in Cuba'), I believe that the main task for art is the fight against alienation. Poems are traces of this fight which one wages with oneself. These traces need not appear at first sight as committed poems. They can, for instance at first simply appear as a new way of exploding familiar forms or of using them in a new way. But even committed poetry in the narrower sense is in my view always justified when it really fights alienation, which must of necessity include avoiding alienation in one's own language and imagery unless as a deliberate means: quotation, parody, allusion, 'montage'.
   I have been wring poems for thirty years; beginning with love and political ones. Then I became immersed in experiments with sound and association, anticipating some of the techniques of recent German 'konkrete' poetry. Poems operating with word associations (an longish poetry cycles which interest me particularly as a means of conveying more complex structures) are virtually untranslateable and therefore largely excluded from the present selection.
   The order of the poems is of my choice.

London, 1969.

& here is a poem from said collection:


A dog
that dies
and that knows
that it dies
like a dog

and that can say
that it knows
that it dies
like a dog
is a man


Sean Jeating said...

Fried was certainly an interesting contemporary. I am glad you made and obviously enjoyed this discovery.

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