Poethen, Johannes 1928–2001

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POETHEN, Johannes 1928–2001

PERSONAL: Born September 13, 1928, in Wickrath, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany; died May 9, 2001, in Stuttgart, Germany. Education: Studied German literature at University of Tübingen.

CAREER: Freelance writer and poet, beginning 1947; Süddeutschen Rundfunks (South Germany Broadcasting), head of literature department; produced essays for radio. Military service: Served in German military.

MEMBER: PEN; German Writers' Union.

AWARDS, HONORS: Hugo Jacobi poetry prize, 1959; Forderpreis der Städt Köln, 1962; Forderpreis zum Immerman Preis der Städt Düsseldorf, 1967; Stuttgart literature prize, 1990.


Lorbeer über gestirntem Haupt; sechs Gesänge, E. Diederich (Düsseldorf, Germany), 1952.

Risse des himmels. Gedichte (poems), Bechtle (Esslingen, Germany), 1956.

Stille im trockenken Dorn. Neue Gedichte (poems), Bechtle (Esslingen, Germany), 1958.

Ankunft und Echo: Gedichte und Prosagedichte (poems), Fischer (Frankfurt, Germany), 1961.

Gedichte (poems), Moderner Buch-Club (Darmstadt, Germany), 1963.

Wohnstatt zwischen den Atemzügen. Gedichte, (poems), Claassen (Hamburg, Germany), 1966.

Kranichtanz. Mit 7 Fotografiken, Collispress (Stuttgart, German), 1967.

(Editor) Wolfgang Weyrauch, Lyrik aus dieser Zeit, 1967–68 (poems), Bechtle (Munich, Germany), 1967.

Aus der unendlichen Kälte; vierzehn Gedichte, sieben Sprüche, drei Fragmente (collection; includes poems), J. G. Bläschke (Darmstadt, Germany), 1969.

(With Helmut A. P. Grieshaber) Im Namen der Trauer, Claassen (Düsseldorf, Germany), 1969.

Gedichte: 1946–1971 (poems), Claassen (Hamburg, Germany), 1973.

Rattenfest im Jammertal: Gedichte 1972–1975 (poems), Claassen (Düsseldorf, Germany), 1976.

Der Atem Griechenlands (travel essays; originally written for radio), Claassen (Düsseldorf, Germany), 1977.

Ach Erde du alte: Gedichte 1976–1980 (poems), Klett-Cotta (Stuttgart, Germany), 1981.

(With Rudel Horst) Stuttgart (pictorial), G. Rüber (Schwieberdingen, Germany), 1983.

Schwarz das All: vier Zyklen Gedichte (poems), U. Keicher (Scheer, Germany), 1984.

Auch diese Wörter: Neue Gedichte (poems), Drumlin Verlag (Weingarten, Germany), 1985.

Eines Morgens über dem Golf: Vierzehn Gedichte (poems), U. Keicher (Warmbronn, Germany), 1986.

Urland Hellas: Reisen in Griechenland (essays; originally written for radio), Drumlin Verlag (Weingarten, Germany), 1987.

Wer hält mir die Himmelsleiter: Gedichte 1981–1987 (poems), G. Braun (Karlsruhe, Germany), 1988.

Ich bin nur in Wörtern: Johannes Poethen zum sechzigsten Geburtstag (collection), U. Keicher (Warmbronn, Germany), 1988.

Stuttgarter Lesebuch: 25 Autoren stellen sich vor (literary criticism), G. Braun (Karlsruhe, Germany), 1989.

Auf der Suche nach Apollon: sieben griechische Götter in ihrer Landschaft: Essays, Heliopolis (Tübingen, Germany), 1992.

Die Möwen der Hagia Sophia: vierzehn Gedichte (poems), U. Keicher (Warmbronn, Germany), 1992.

Zwischen dem All und dem Nichts: Gedichte, 1988–1993 (poems), Edition Isele (Eggingen, Germany), 1995.

Von Kos bis Korfu: sieben Inseln: Mythen, Geschichte, Gegenwart (essays), Edition Isele (Eggingen, Germany), 1998.

Nach all den Hexametern: letzte Gedichte 1995–2000 (poems), edited by Usch Pfaffinger and Ruth Theil, Ithaka (Stuttgart, Germany), 2001.

Contributor to periodicals.

SIDELIGHTS: German writer Johannes Poethen spent his career playing with words and images and creating his own version of modern poetry. He was fascinated with Greece and Greek mythology and by the contrast between the sun-drenched south and the colder, darker north.

Poethen was born in Wickrath, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, and grew up and went to school in Cologne until 1943. He spent the next few years living in various places, including Austria and Bavaria, as he continued his studies. After completing his military service, he resumed his education, completing studies in German literature at the University of Tübingen. He then became a freelance writer and a contributor to various German newspapers.

Poethen wrote his first poem, "Sonette," at the age of seventeen, clearly influenced by the work of Hölderlin and Reiner Maria Rilke. The poem was published in 1947 in the Neuen Runschau in Stockholm, Sweden, and again in 1949 in Zeitschrift. Poethen found his poetic path in 1952 when his poetry collection titled Lorbeer über gestirntem Haupt; sechs Gesänge was published. This early work exemplified the basic themes, motives, and central motifs that would characterize the body of Poethen's poetry.

Poethen tended to create poetic circles in his work and to focus on two particular German landscapes: the technological, angst-ridden north and the devout south. These contrasting locales form the images of Metopia (an unreal place) and Utopia (a perfect nonexistent place). For Poethen, poetry was a word game, to which ideological and sociological categories did not apply; it was an autonomous world with its own laws. He worked toward the fusion of intuition and rationality, of enthusiasm and calculation, a concept he explores in the poem "Labor der Träume."

Poethen's poetry is full of double meanings, and his words can mean many different things. Jürgen P. Wallman wrote in Universitas that, for Poethen, poetry was a form of meditation, in that one can read for the strictest, most realistic meaning of the words but also then explore the multitude of possible meanings such words could have. In his poetic language, Poethen took jargon and casual speech and used them to create daring combinations of words and images. His 1987 collection Rattenfest im Jammertal: Gedichte 1972–1975 defined him as a radical poet; he continued to employ that style in subsequent works.

Poethen's final poems are rich in literary allusions, taken from traditional poetry and from church music. However, he took these images and modified them considerably from the originals, making them his own. His most mature poems use a language that is simpler and more direct and an artistic calculation that is more precise than that of his works from the 1970s. There is also an autobiographical element in his poetry volumes Schwarz das All: vier Zyklen Gedichte and Auch diese Wörter: Neue Gedichte.

Mythology occupied a central place in Poethen's writing. According to Wallman, the poet believed the psychological theory that mythology illustrates reality and that it is therefore the poet's task to be a writer of myths. For Poethen, myths bear a strong relationship to landscape, particularly the Greek landscape, and he embraced the possibility that myth and reality can fuse momentarily in the dazzling clarity of this landscape.

Poethen combined his interest in Greek mythology with an enthusiasm for travel that played an important role in his life; he spent a great deal of time in Mediterranean countries, particularly in Greece. He wrote a number of radio essays on Greece from the 1950s through the 1980s that were later collected and published as Der Atem Griechenlands and Urland Hellas: Reisen in Griechenland. Other works by Poethen that deal with Greek mythology and travel are Auf der Suche nach Apollon: sieben griechische Götter in ihrer Landschaft: Essays, and Von Kos bis Korfu: sieben Inseln: Mythen, Geschichte, Gegenwart. He also produced travel works that focus on his homeland. Stuttgart is a pictorial description of the German city. In addition, Poethen wrote books of German literary criticism, including Stuttgarter Lesebuch: 25 Autoren stellen sich vor.

Poethen was the head of the literature department at South Germany Broadcasting in Stuttgart. During his lifetime, he received recognition for his work and was awarded several literary prizes during the 1950s and 1960s.



Garland, Mary, The Oxford Companion to German Literature, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.


Neue Deutsche Hefte, Volume 35, issue 3, 1988, Jürgen P. Wallman, review of Ich bin nur in Wörtern: Johannes Poethen zum sechzigsten Geburtstag, p. 650.

Universitas, Volume 26, issue 7, 1971, Jürgen P. Wallman, "Der Lyriker Johannes Poethen und sein Werk in der deutschen Lyrik der Gegenwart," p. 749.