CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – When Eva Strittmatter died in 2011, her obituary first announced that she was the wife of the famous East German writer Erich Strittmatter. Almost begrudgingly, the articles on her death then mentioned that she also was a poet. That’s a bit of an understatement. In the late 20th century, Strittmatter was a household name in East Germany, selling more than two million copies of her works.
Her career unfortunately coincided with the Cold War, when Germany was split in two, and in the West, no one knew her name.
“She was fairly apolitical, so the West German press couldn’t use her against the communists,” Dr. Beatrix Brockman, Austin Peay State University assistant professor of German, said. “Much of her poetry was about nature, so the communist press couldn’t use her against the West Germans. She wasn’t taken seriously, so as far as scholarship was concerned, she was ignored.”
Strittmatter was in danger of being forgotten outside her native East Germany, but earlier this summer, Brockman published the first critical work on the poet, “Nur fliegend fängt man Worte ein: Eva Strittmatter's Poetik” (“Only In Flight Do You Catch Words: the Poetics of Eva Strittmatter), through Oxford University’s Women in German Literature series.
“This work is an admirable study, clear, cogent, well-organized, judicious, which will become the standard work on its subject,” Dr. Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly, professor of German Literature at Oxford, said. “It is immaculately produced and written with clarity and verve.”
Brockman, a poet originally from West Germany, had never heard of Strittmatter until a few years ago. She was discussing poetry on an Internet forum when someone mentioned the recent publication of “The Collected Works of Eva Strittmatter.”
“I said, ‘Who is that?’” Brockman recalled. “I started reading and researching, and now I love her work. My book is the first one that establishes her as a serious author that had a very structured, poetic approach to writing.”
During her career, Strittmatter had to deal with censorship and surveillance from the repressive East German government. Intellectuals were considered subversive, and she wrote in the approved style of the government, using simple language to appeal to the proletariat.
“They were trying to bring the art close to the everyday worker, so her word choice is very simple,” Brockman said. The works can be enjoyed on a superficial level for their lovely use of language, but Brockman said they could also be appreciated on a literary level, with allusions to the restrictive East German society.
“It is all the more surprising, therefore, to learn that there is no monograph which discusses the work of Strittmatter,” Watanabe-O’Kelly said. “This lacuna will be filled by Professor Brockman’s timely study, which is certain to be greeted with great interest not just in Germany but in German departments world-wide and by all those interested in writing by women.”
For more information on this book, contact Brockman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo cutline: Dr. Beatrix Brockman, APSU assistant professor of German, examines a copy of her new book. (Photo by Beth Liggett/APSU staff).