Kramer, Lotte (Karoline)

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KRAMER, Lotte (Karoline)


Nationality: British. Born: Lotte Karoline Wertheimer, in Mainz, Germany, 22 October 1923. Family: Married Frederic Kramer in 1943; one son. Career: Laundry hand, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, 1939–40, and Hampton, Middlesex, 1943–47; lady's companion, Oxford, 1940–43; dress shop assistant, Richmond, Surrey, 1953–57. Since 1977 voluntary worker, Peterborough Museum. Since 1982 member of Writers in Schools, East Anglia. Also a painter: several individual exhibitions. Awards: Eastern Arts Board bursary, 1999. Address: 4 Apsley Way, Longthorpe, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire PE3 9NE, England.

Publications

Poetry

Scrolls. Richmond, Surrey, Keepsake Press, 1979.

Ice-Break. Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, Annakinn, 1980.

Family Arrivals. Hatch End, Middlesex, Poet and Printer, 1981.

A Lifelong House. Frome, Somerset, Hippopotamus Press, 1983.

The Shoemaker's Wife and Other Poems. Frome, Somerset, Hippopotamus Press, 1987.

The Desecration of Trees. Frome, Somerset, Hippopotamus Press, 1994.

Earthquake and Other Poems. Ware, Hertfordshire, Rockingham Press, 1994.

Selected and New Poems 1980–1997. Ware, Hertfordshire, Rocking ham Press, 1997.

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Critical Studies: "The Poetry of Lotte Kramer" by Karin Andrews, in Agenda (London), 22(2), summer 1984, and Outposts (Frome, Somerset), 155, winter 1987; "Lotte Kramer" by George Szirtes, in Eastword, 13(4), April 1984; "The Dark Side of History" by Carol Rumens, in Jewish Chronicle (London), 14 September 1984; "Rallying Calls and Laments" by Ruth Fainlight, in Jewish Quarterly (London), 34(4), 1987; "Lotte Kramer" by Laurence Sail, in Stand (London), 29(2), spring 1988; "Heavy with Baggage from Home" by Gerda Cohen, in Jewish Chronicle (London), 12 March 1993; "Singer of Our Song" by Gerda Mayer, in AJR (London), February 1993; "Remember Us" by Stella Stoker, in Orbis, 94, autumn 1994; "How Shall We Sing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land" by Edward Storey, in The Month (London), September/October 1994; "Lotte Kramer" by Wanda Barford, in Jewish Chronicle (London), 28 October 1994; "When Falling into Pits" by Janet Montefiore, in Times Literary Supplement, 1998; "The Aloes of Love" by Gillian Allnut, in Poetry Review, winter 1998–99.

Lotte Kramer comments:

I began to write poetry rather late in life, facing up to traumatic childhood experiences in Nazi Germany after thirty-five years. Much of my work deals with that subject and its aftermath, with the dualism inevitably connected with it. But I also write about other subjects, with the world around me as immediate and in a wider sense. I also translate some German poetry, especially Rilke, some of which is published in my books.

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I encountered Lotte Kramer's poetry in her collection Ice-Break, in a batch of publications for review, and remember how it shone out like a bright beacon among the others. Ice-Break contained some beautifully observed poems. There was "Sunday Morning," in which her painter's eye was exercised with telling effect. In other poems lines such as "the old town ached in buckled houses" and "Land falls from us / In long stiff tongues that grip the sky" were evidence of the same eye. But Kramer's talent was not confined to the visual. In Ice-Break she captured mood and atmosphere just as acutely, as demonstrated in "Aspects of Home," where she writes of "this quietness that confiscates all else."

Since then Kramer has published additional collections in which she has consolidated her achievement. In The Shoemaker's Wife she demonstrates sharp perception and pursues her ability to produce meticulously crafted poems. In "Pavement Café" we find her observing a couple: "She pours / The rhythm of her talk through wrists / and finger tips." Another poem conjures November with a fine choice of detail: "This auburn change of tired leaves / When light turns inward." A bag of cherries or the contents of an old shoe box may evoke memories.

Kramer's is a gentle talent that succeeds by its meticulousness in the choice and ordering of detail. At its best it can conjure a vignette in which the visual clarity is informed by mood and emotion, as, for example, in "Winter Appeasement," where

   She moves
   In her own rhythm, her doubt
   Bruising the silence,
 
 
   Rehearsing
   The ghosts of her winter
   Appeasement.

With Kramer, as with her contemporary Gerda Mayer (who also went to England as a child refugee in 1939), it is as if the passing years have gradually unlocked memories that had been quietly held in abeyance as too painful or too deep. Thus, in Kramer's collection Family Arrivals we find poems with titles such as "Invocation of My Father," "The Red Cross Telegram," "Jewish Cemetery in Prague," and "Deportation" that convey powerful and remarkably disciplined expressions of deep-rooted memories and emotions:

   I want to lie with them in unknown graves
   And bury freedom of indulgent years.
   There is no judge
   To hear and end their cause.

It is as if Kramer had been waiting to perfect her art until she was able to cope with such profoundly disturbing subject matter. The beautifully controlled expression of these poems makes them the more potent.

Or is it that time loosens the inhibitions of memory? So we now see Kramer not only as the author of neatly accomplished rural poetry, tending toward the Wordsworthian, but also as the custodian of the deep and anguished memories of a refugee from Nazi Germany. They are memories from which she has forced memorable and superbly mastered poems of exile, as in "Dreams":

   You asked me: 'Do you dream?'
   Too quickly I agreed.
   But then plead forgetfulness
 
 
   Because there is this ruthlessness in dreams:
   I see the queues of death,
   Their last relentless walk.

John Cotton