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This report is taken from PN Review 177, Volume 34 Number 1, September - October 2007.

fragmente C.J. Fox

On 27 July 1954, Rainer Maria Gerhardt - leader of a small circle of thrusting young German writers praised by the likes of Ernst Robert Curtius and Gottfried Benn - died in Karlsruhe aged 27, a suicide. As a poet, Gerhardt had shown what one admirer called a gift for sounding 'difficult' themes using light, delicate structures wholly modern and, indeed, analagous to Schoenberg's twelve-tone musical technique. Gerhardt was a verse translator too and an editor and publisher. He was a vocal rebel as well against the emerging literary Establishment of post-war West Germany, though no friend of the official East. In this capacity, he targeted influential combines varying from Gruppe 47 - with its false claim, as he saw it, to represent the whole young generation in German writing - to rank imitators of his own famous part-namesake. The Rilkeans he mocked for their art of 'expressing everything beautifully without saying anything'. But death for this outsider meant near-oblivion for half a century. This year, however, brought publication under the aegis of the German Academy for Language and Poetry in Darmstadt of an elaborate volume - stamped COMPLETE - of methodically marshalled material by and about Gerhardt, paired with facsimiles of the two issues of his internationally focused magazine fragmente. The Gesamtwerk, given the title Umkreisung (literally, 'Circling') after one of the two slim books of his verse published in his lifetime, has prompted reviewers to ...


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