Maintenant #21: Marco Kunz
an interview with Marco Kunz by SJ Fowler
twelve-thirty in the morning,
in a kitchen in Berlin’
An iconoclastic performer and a singular poetic talent, Marco Kunz is yet another variable representative of the new German poetic. Deliberately eschewing the classicism of the academic poetry scene and the self awareness didactics of the avant garde, Kunz’s poetry is verbal, broad and hungry. His poetic voice is a spoken voice, fast paced and poignant but never nostalgic. He resists both pretension and indulgence and shares as much in common with John Ashbery, Robin Blaser and Jack Spicer as he does Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Durs Grunbein. He maintains a blog at marcokunz.wordpress.com and in the 21st Maintenant interview, he is our third German poet.
3:AM: Noted as you are for your readings, performance appears indelible to your poetry, do you write with an audible rhythm in mind, aware that it will be read to an audience as well as on the page?
Marco Kunz: Rhythm and the sound of language is very important for me and my poetry. The process of formation is different: for some poems I have to work though numerous drafts to achieve the rhythm of speech, some are just ‘given’, written as they are spoken, written as they will be spoken – and especially those, they start with something beyond my control, with the rhythm and the sound of the beginning, they come only in a special atmosphere or mood
3:AM: There is a distinct sense of the process of speech in your work, that is associations and images that seem to hold a verbal tangibility and structure – they almost ape the sound of a series of spoken thoughts though they appear carefully chosen. Is your work designed to build momentum, to present a poetic image and have it grow?
MK: If you ask in reference to momentum, there is nothing carefully chosen, it is just pure inspiration. I am cleaning the dishes, getting in some way in an inspired mood, then I set down at the kitchen table, I look down at my hands, the table, wondering about the intensity of the seeing of it and how my awareness has grown – and then I write it all down in 5 or 10 minutes without really thinking about it and without the need of modifying anything after it. This is often the whole methodology. This moments are rare, but in some way I live for them. But even at the poems I have to work on, there is not really a deliberate methodology, it is very individual, and I have the feeling that my poems are individuals that are born, not products that are all made with the same trick. I know that it’s not ‘professional’, and my work doesn’t come from the assembly-line, but I often hear that my poems are very genuine.
3:AM: This means too that your poetry often appears fragmented, a broken train of thought. Are you in anyway reacting against the more formal strictures of traditional poetry, or is it a more organic process?
MK: I love poems that are organic and strict, and it doesn’t matter for me, if they are strict in a traditional form or in their own right, with a genuine order. Today it makes no sense to react against formal strictures of traditional poetry, because in the last decades traditional strictures have not been in vogue. It’s really great, if traditional forms are filled with life, so organic, that they seem effortlessly made and you don’t feel struggle with strictures, like for example Rilke did in German poetry. But the most important thing for me is that they are strict in the way that every syllable is necessary and that there is no toil seen when it’s finished.
3:AM: Who are your primary poetic influences? There appears hints of American poetry in your translated text, perhaps Corso, Ferlinghetti, and yet you make reference to the significance of German poetic figures in your work.
MK: Goethe, Rilke, Benn, Brecht, Eich, Rühmkorf, Brinkmann, Grünbein… my lyric poetry has been most influenced by poets of the German language area. The only American poet, that I studied more exhaustively and so is very important for me, is the William Carlos Williams. Surely there are some influences of song lyrics of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. I think poems for me are bonded so close with the language rhythm, that I can experience them best in my own language, not in a foreign tongue and not in translation.
3:AM: How have you changed as a poet since you began writing? How do you think you might continue to change?
MK: Well, I’m growing older like everyone, and this changes my view of the world and my expression. You cannot do the same things again, the result will be a poor copy, so you have to try something new from time to time. Goethe said, “who doesn’t go forward, goes backward.” I hope I will go forward for some times.
3:AM: Certainly in ‘what it takes’ and poems like it, you are revealing the details of life, the events that perhaps find significance only in our reflection and memory in order to show the passage of time, to create a poetry concerned with realisation and perhaps nostalgia. Do you often try to use everyday lived life as a central poetic tool?
MK: Yes. I don’t know if I would call it a tool, but I think every reality and every detail of life has a potential significance not just for the person experiencing it, but also for itself and every other person that might learn to perceive the others experience in the function of poetry. To see the big things and questions in little things of everyday life is what I like most in poetry. One poem of mine starts ‘Was Sinn macht, ist am Ende vielleicht nur das Banale’ (‘What makes sense in the end, maybe it’s just the banal’)
3:AM: You read with music often, do you think the two artforms are intertwined naturally? Is it difficult to find a synthesis between both the spoken word and the music? Often the process appears extremely tenative, and the line between a brilliant and poor fusing of poetry and music is fine.
MK: Yes, I think, they are intertwined naturally, the root of the poem is the song, with the matter of the ‘lyra’, and poems in some way are songs and songs or poems. I don’t know how difficult it is in general, but with the piano, which I most often collaborate with, it is very easy to find a way to form a rhythm and performance. If the result is brilliant or poor, it’s not my part to say, but I think something in between…
3:AM: Do you plan this process, or is it often improvised?
MK: I do have rehearsals and dicussions, but very short, just to open up the basic ideas and cross over elements. The rest is improvised, this is the necessary and fundamental point of the work together with the musician.
3:AM: Is there support within Germany for performing poetry, are you able to find an audience and gain critical success?
MK: It seems, in Germany there is a big support for slam poetry, but that’s not the kind of poetry I am at all interested in. It’s more in between rap and comedy, it is not poetry. I’m able to find an audience but perhaps not wider critical recognition because the German literary scene is dominated by superficial commercial and intellectual patterns I don’t wish to be fall into and my work does not naturally fit within. If you are classical poet or writing novels about Humboldt, poems about the old Greeks, or just purely experimental and writing poems that nobody really understands with more allusions than lines, or just pop-literature, then it’s okay, you will find success, or if I was fifteen years old and writing about taking weird drugs and exercising bizarre sexual practices, then again, I would be a saleable success. I am happy to be something that doesn’t fit in these drawers.
3:AM: Do you think it is beneficial for a poet to work outside of a community or collective?
MK: I think it depends on the poet and on the situation. In general you need some kind of separation as a poet, but you can be in a community and individual at the same time. Fundamentally, for me being part of a collective and being an artist is an antagonism, but exchange of ideas is beneficial.
3:AM: Have you deliberately maintained your status as an independent poet?
MK: What do you mean by independent? Being a maverick in some way? I think if someone is an outsider it’s never just freely chosen or forced, but an interaction or response with their surrounding field. I’m not a person who follows the common herd or who likes to adapt himself to zeitgeist, fashion or collectives. But I’m not isolated, I’m working in a social field.
3:AM: Heidegger famously said that Greek and German were the only two true poetic languages, please give me your thoughts on the specific nature of the German language as it relates to poetry?
MK: The German language is very suitable for building new words, and in the end this involves: for building new thoughts. I think that’s why there have been lots of German-speaking philosophers. The English language for example is more handy and smooth, easier to use. German sounds more edged, but it is like a construction kit, with all this prefixes und other possibilties to build words out of it. And even in the sentence structure there are more possibilities to vary the word order and therefore the rhythm. For example in my poem “Was es braucht” (“What it takes” translated by Mark Terrill), which is a long enumeration in its main part, I alternated between “es braucht…” (“it takes…”) and “braucht es” (“…takes it”, but it’s just wrong in english) to vary the rhythm and variegate the whole structure – in the English translation it’s just: “it takes… it takes… it takes…” And I think it was James Joyce, who mentioned, that German is more sensual than English, for example: “Sonnenuntergang”, the German word for “sunset” is something like: “sun-under-going” or “Zweifeln”, the German word for “to doubt” has the number “two” in it, it’s something like getting split in two…
3:AM: Is it innately suited to a certain form of poetic expression?
MK: I really don’t know, but maybe something like the late poetry of Paul Celan is only possible in the German language, because most of the words are new created out of words that already existed (no Dada oder nonsense).
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
SJ Fowler is a postgraduate student of philosophy at the University of London and a poet. He is also an employee of the British Museum.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, July 27th, 2010.