Mark Terrill: A Brief Introduction to Rolf Dieter Brinkmann

The anthology “An Unchanging Blue” provides a generous sampling of translations (with German originals) by the US-born poet Mark Terrill, taken from ten collections of Rolf Dieter Brinkmann’s poetry published between 1962 and 1975. In this blog post, you can find an excerpt of Mark Terrill’s extensive introduction to Brinkmann’s life and work, some poetry samples as well as further bibliographical information (in English) about the German Poet.

All footnotes and bibliographical records have been added by Roberto Di Bella for this blog post.

Rolf Dieter Brinkmann was born in Vechta, Germany, on April 16th, 1940, in the midst of World War II, and died on April 23rd, 1975, in London, England, after being struck by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street to enter a pub. Brinkmann had been in London after being invited to read at the Cambridge Poetry Festival, where he read with John Ashbery, Ed Dorn, and many others.1The Cambridge Poetry Festival, founded by the English poet Richard Berengarten (also known as Richard Burns), was an international biennale for … Continue reading In May, 1975, just a few weeks after his death, Brinkmann’s seminal, parameter-expanding poetry collection Westwärts 1 & 2 appeared, which was posthumously awarded the prestigious Petrarca Prize.2The “Petrarca-Preis” (1975-1995, 2010-2014) was a European literary and translation award named after the Italian Renaissance poet Francesco … Continue reading

Rolf Dieter Brinkmann (1940-1975).
Photo by Vollrath Kluge (1969)

Considered to be one of the most important poets of post-war Germany, Brinkmann’s work is definitely in the marginal outsider vein, approximating a German hybrid of Frank O’Hara, William Burroughs, and W.C. Williams, all of whom were important influences on Brinkmann’s work.

His permanent confrontation with the post-war German literary establishment (reminding one at times of Jack Spicer and his place in American poetry), and his envelope-pushing experiments with language, syntax and semantics (taken to the extreme in Westwärts 1 & 2), led him further and further away from the literary scene, finally resulting in the self-imposed exile which he pursued up to the time of his death.

His confrontational nature and volatile personality were feared at readings, and together with his huge creative output and his early death, earned him a reputation as the “James Dean of poetry”, a true enfant terrible of contemporary letters. Contrary to his public image, he was known among his friends and colleagues as a warm and generous person, with a sparkling and spontaneous sense of humor.

Rolf Dieter Brinkmann: a definite forerunner of postmodernism


Rather than being obsessed with the question of collective guilt that so preoccupied other post-war German writers, Brinkmann’s stance was one of absolute immediacy; forever looking at the world in the here-and-now, without a trace of sentimentality or nostalgia. When not deconstructing contemporary culture and employing his sardonic wit, Brinkmann could be frighteningly stark and photographically precise, both in his use of the language and the graphic representation of his images. Brinkmann was forever experimenting, constantly morphing from one creative incarnation to the next, and was a definite forerunner of postmodernism, from his earliest attempts at quasi-traditional European modernism up to his sprawling, broken-stanza, irregular-enjambment explorations incorporating his relentless questioning of everyday existence with his gift for saying so much with so little, no small feat in the German language.

Cover design (Parlor Press 2011) using an original collage by Rolf Dieter Brinkmann of 1967 (click to enlarge).

During his lifetime, Brinkmann published nine poetry collections, four short story collections, several radio plays, and a highly acclaimed novel, Keiner weiß mehr (No One Knows More, 1969). Together with a collective of other translators which included Katja and Peter Behrens, Rolf Eckart John, Ralf-Rainer Rygulla, Carl Weissner and others, Brinkmann edited and translated two important German-language anthologies of contemporary American poetry (primarily Beat and New York School, for which Brinkmann had a particular affinity).3Acid. Neue amerikanische Szene. Edited by Rolf Dieter Brinkmann & Ralf-Rainer Rygulla. With an afterword by Rolf Dieter Brinkmann. Translated by … Continue reading

In 1969, he also published (in his own translation), the first German selection of the poetry of Frank O’Hara, taken mainly from the volumes Meditations in an Emergency and Lunch Poems, followed by a collection of poetry and prose by Ted Berrigan, entitled Guillaume Apollinaire ist tot <Guillaume Apollinaire is dead> (1970), again translated by Brinkmann, John, Rygulla and others.4Frank O’Hara: Lunch Poems und andere Gedichte. Translated by Rolf Dieter Brinkmann. Köln, Berlin: Kiepenheuer & Witsch 1969; Ted … Continue reading In 1969 Brinkmann joined up with Dieter Wellershoff, Peter Handke and several other writers to produce a richly illustrated small-press literary magazine entitled Der Gummibaum <The Rubber Tree> (1969-70), which was printed in small editions and distributed in and around Cologne (→ see the covers).

A remorseless self-scrutiny and microscopic attention to details


Since Brinkmann’s death, several of his journals have appeared in print, all employing a montage/cut-up technique somewhat reminiscent of Burroughs5These publications comprise Rom, Blicke (1979), Erkundungen für die Präzisierung des Gefühls für einen Aufstand (1987) and Schnitte (1989), all … Continue reading, and displaying a remorseless self-scrutiny and microscopic attention to details, as well as an eye-catching sense for graphics. A feature-length film directed by Harald Bergmann, entitled Brinkmanns Zorn <Brinkmann’s Wrath>, about the last years of Brinkmann’s life, was produced in Germany in 2007, and a new expanded edition of Westwärts 1 & 2 appeared in 2005, which marked the 30th anniversary of Brinkmann’s death ( → Publisher’s website).

“Einen jener klassischen …”/”One of Those Classic …” is one of Brinkmann’s most anthologized poems, first published in his volume Westwärts 1&2 (1975). Translation: Mark Terrill for Parlor Press 2011 (click to enlarge)

A full-length collection of my previous translations, Like a Pilot: Rolf Dieter Brinkmann. Selected Poems 1963-1970, was published by Sulphur River Literary Review Press. Some of these translations have appeared in Atlanta Review, Basalt, Chelsea, Circumference, Denver Quarterly, Great River Review, Green Integer Review, International Poetry Review, Luna, Mantis, Origin, Partisan Review, Poetry International, Sulphur River Literary Review, Talisman, Whispering Villages: Seven German Poets (Longhouse Poetry) and Van Gogh’s Ear. Other translations of his work have also been published in French, Swedish, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovakian, Spanish, Greek, Portuguese, Italian, Catalonian, Galician, and Norwegian.

Rolf Dieter Brinkmann: An Unchanging Blue. Selected Poems 1962-1975. Translated and with an introduction by Mark Terrill. Anderson, South Carolina: Parlor Press 2011, 211 p. (= Free Verse Editions. Edited by Jon Thompson). → Publisher’s website

Excerpt from the book → open the PDF
Contains the full version of the introduction as well as two poetry samples.
Find further examples of Mark Terrill’s translations of Brinkmann’s poetry here and here.

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Mark Terrill was born in 1953 in Berkeley/California and shipped out of San Francisco as a merchant seaman to the Far East and beyond, studied and spent time with Paul Bowles in Tangier, Morocco, and has lived in Northern Germany since 1984. The author of 16 volumes of poetry, memoir and translations, currently lives on the grounds of a former shipyard near Hamburg, Germany, with his wife and a large brood of cats. His literary translations (both into American and German) and his own texts have appeared in more than one thousand magazines and anthologies.

A three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize, his own work has been translated into German, French and Portuguese. A selection of his poetry has been published under the title Great Balls of Doubt, illustrated by Jon Langford (Verse Chorus Press, 2020). Other recent publications include The Undying Guest (Spuyten Duyvil, 2023), an anthology of his own prose poems and short prose; the novel Ultrazone: A Tangier Ghost Story (The Visible Spectrum, 2022), collaboratively written with Francis Poole, about William S. Burroughs’s time in Tangier, Morocco, as well as various translation projects (see below).

See also his answers (in German) to “Four Questions concerning Rolf Dieter Brinkmann” on this blog.

Translations by Mark Terrill (selected book publications)
R. D. Brinkmann: Like a Pilot. Selected Poems 1963–1970. Sulphur River Literary Review Press, 2001.
● Whispering Villages. Seven German Poets
[= Kersten Flenter, Silke Scheuermann, Volker Sielaff, Marco Kunz, Florian Voss, Christine Thiemt, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann]. Longhouse, 2006.
● Nicolas Born: The Bill for Room 11. Longhouse, 2008.
● Rolf Dieter Brinkmann: Some Very Popular Songs. Toad Press, 2009)
● Rolf Dieter Brinkmann: Under Glass. Longhouse, 2010.
● Jörg Fauser: An Evening in Europe. Toad Press, 2011.
● Thomas Brasch: The Murdered Poet. Cold Turkey Press, 2022.
● Thomas Brasch: Kottbusser Tor. Cold Turkey Press, 2022.
● Gregory Corso: The Muse. Moloko Print / Cold Turkey Press, 2022.
● Lewis Warsh: Ein Platz an der Sonne. Moloko Print, 2023.

For a comprehensive list of Mark Terrill’s publications as poet and translator see his Wikipedia entry.

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Publications from & about Rolf Dieter Brinkmann (slideshow)

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Primary sources
● Numerous translations (poetry) by Hartmut Schnell in the US literary journals Dimension (1975, 1981) and New letters (1977-1983)
● Three poems in the book German poetry in TRANSITION 1945-1990 (bilingual edition). Edited and translated by Charlotte Melin. Hanover, NH : University Press of New England, 1999.
● Rolf Dieter Brinkmann: “Fifteen Poems”. Translated by Peter Lach-Newinsky, 2020 → read online
● Rolf Dieter Brinkmann: No One Knows More. Translated from the German by Mark Kanak. Schönebeck: Moloko plus, 2023. → more information

● Gregory Divers: The image and influence of America in German poetry since 1945. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2002.
● Alexander Greiffenstern: “German Beats. Friendship and Collaboration”. In: A. Robert Lee (ed.): The Routledge Handbook of International Beat Literature. New York; London: Routledge, 2018, pp. 144-156.
● Thomas Groß: “‘Ladies and gentlemen, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann’. Thomas Groß introduces new recordings from Germany’s great negator who died tragically 30 years ago in a car accident in
London”. In: (22/04/2005) → read online
● Richard Langston: Visions of Violence. German Avant-Gardes after Fascism. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2008.
● Agnes C. Mueller: “Sampling ‘America.’ Rolf Dieter Brinkmann and Thomas Meinecke’s Poetics of Postmodernism.” In: Christoph Zeller (ed.): Literarische Experimente: Medien, Kunst, Texte seit 1950. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2012, pp. 255-267.
● Harry Louis Roddy: Germany’s poetic miscreants on the road: from beat poetics to Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, Nicolas Born and Jürgen Theobaldy. Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 2004. → access to full text
● Jan Röhnert: “A German Poet at the Movies: Rolf Dieter Brinkmann”. In: Christiane Schönfeld; Hermann Rasche (eds.): Film to literature – literature to film. IX. International Galway Colloquium. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007, pp. 100-112.
● Carrie Smith-Prei: “Re-Authoring the Self: Brinkmann’s Zorn”. In: Robin Curtis and Angelica Fenner (eds.): The Autobiographical Turn in German Documentary Filmmaking.  Rochester: Camden House, 2014, pp. 235-254.
● Jonathan Woolley: An Ethics of Spontaneity in the Poetry of Rolf Dieter Brinkmann. College Literature West Chester University, 30.4, Fall 2003, pp. 1-31.


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