Kerstin Hensel
(Germany, 1961)   
Kerstin Hensel

Kerstin Hensel was born in 1961 in Karl-Marx-Stadt in the German Democratic Republic. She has been working as a writer since 1987. She lives in Berlin.

Kerstin Hensel studied at the Medical School in Karl Marx Stadt (now called Chemnitz again) and worked for three years as a nurse in the surgery before taking up studies in literature at the renowned Johannes R. Becher Institute in Leipzig. She did two years of apprenticeship at the Leipziger Theater. Since 1987, Hensel has given a number of lectures at the Ernst Busch-Highschool for Actors in Berlin, at the Highschool for Films in Potsdam (1995–1998) and at the German Institute for Literature in Leipzig (2000–2001).

Hensel has published three novels, Tanz am Kanal (1994), Gipshut (1999) and Im Spinnhaus (2003), several volumes of collected stories, including Im Schlauch (1993) and Neunerlei (1997), and numerous volumes of poetry, the most recent of which is Bahnhof verstehen (2003). In addition, she has written dramatic plays, movie scripts, libretti and radio plays. She was awarded the Anna Seghers Prize of the Berlin Academy of Arts (1987), the Leonce-und-Lena Prize (1991), and the Gerrit Engelke Prize (1999) for her poetry.

Kerstin Hensel stands out among poets of her generation because of her supreme awareness of formal aspects. Her poetry belongs to a tradition that seeks the political inside the poetical, and that dissects the presence in the individual. She stands in the same line as Bertolt Brecht and writers like Karl Mickel or Volker Braun, who share a wide formal knowledge and practice their craft with great nimbleness. Her origin of two countries strengthened her awareness for the differences in the same language in the East and the West. In 1989, Hensel’s first collection of stories was simultaneously published in East- and West-Germany. This situation of change, this conversion, was a challenge for her as a writer. In her work, she keeps referring back to this “double time”.

Hensels work in Bahnhof verstehen, from which the poems published here are taken, goes a long way formally as well as in contents. From a kind of Old Testament Song of Songs to modernising myths of the Roman God of Love, from paraphrasing Klopstock to gross-satirical dances of the dead to a sequence of sonnets, the entire history of poetry is caricatured here, altered and enacted anew. In the best tradition of the poetic school of the GDR, Hensel’s poetry combines reflections about history with criticising the present, for example in her writings about cultural life under turbo-capitalism. Her poems are reservoirs of memory.

Continually Hensel’s poetry shows emblems – lions, goats, monkeys – that have become alive; blueprints of perception and reality that mutually influence each other. In these images, for example in ‘Haustier’, subjectivity, political claims and artificial form are joined. The human being becomes something between God and a monkey, and his ambiguity can be presented in playful figures of speech (as for example in SAINT), or may by chance be resolved.

Hensel’s poetry covers the range between tradition and everyday-life, but it surmounts this dichotomy in order to come to terms with a reality, loaded with discursiveness, but unwilling to lose itself in a bantering anything goes. It is the multifarious simplicity of her images, a counterweight to her rich allusions, her jocular mastery of language, that makes her poems elusive plays that can never be fully translated.

© Alexander Gumz (Translated by Olaf Schenk)

Kerstin Hensel
  on Lyrikline


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