At the UKLA conference in Liverpool somebody asked me about my favourite Austrian poet. I have never been asked this question before; I think this is something only a British scholar would ask. My answer was Ernst Jandl, who of course is not really known outside the German speaking world, as poems, and especially his poems are virtually impossible to translate, although this book “Reft and Light” might provide a start. His work includes everything that has been called ‘experimental poetry’ exploring the limits of language though visual poetry, sound poetry, concrete poetry and more. Born in 1925, as a young man, even though he tried to avoid it, he was drafted to fight in the Second World war as soon as he left school, and eventually ended as a prisoner of war in Britain, from where he returned in 1946. He remained radically anti-war and anti-fascist all his life. After the war he completed his studies and worked as a teacher for German and English. He meticulously planned and choreographed his readings, which were very popular, sometimes including music. He loved Jazz, but also was an early fan of Rap and Hip Hop, as he liked to draw on the language of the ordinary, the people. Many of my favourite Jandl poems are deceptively simple, you could say minimalist, and often they are absurdly funny. Some poems, as this one, were written in English :
i love concrete
i love pottery
but i’m not
a concrete pot.
In the seventies he started to write poems in what he called “heruntergekommenen Sprachen” – in a “deranged” or “degenerate language” – grammatically incorrect, or simplified language, as foreign workers and speakers of German might speak. I remembered his ‘deranged language’ when I was thinking about lolcat language, and I am hoping to find the time to write something about Jandl and Lolcats in the future. In a way his deliberate attempt to deconstruct, to dismantle language was a bit like lolspeak. I bet he would have enjoyed lolcats. Somewhere I read, that attempts to write lolspek in German have failed. They should just have a look at Jandl’s poetry – he’s invented it, before lolcats were born.