12 May 2005


The “Poesiealbum” series of poetry magazines was published in the GDR between 1967 and 1990. It represents a unique distillation of GDR literary life and has hitherto remained uncharted as a series.

Each numbered “Poesiealbum” consists of 32 pages of selected work by one poet, in addition to which there are 16 “Sonderhefte” which mainly present groups of young poets from the annual FDJ “Poetenseminare”. In all, the series consists of 291 small magazines of national and international poetry, which were published monthly by the Verlag Neues Leben in East Berlin and sold at newspaper stands and bookshops throughout the GDR.

Copies of the complete set are held at the Taylorian Library in Oxford and at the university library in Bamberg.

The “Poesiealbum” series exemplifies the role of an officially-published poetry magazine in the GDR. It illustrates the possibilities which poetry offers, as against other literary genres, in the relatively controlled environment of a socialist regime. The series was by no means a cramped ideological organ of the ruling Party. Rather, it became a repository for some of the most compelling poetry published in the postwar period. At the same time, it was subject to censorship, as indicated in the Zensur in der DDR: Ausstellungsbuch of 1991.

The “Poesiealbum” booklets contributed to the GDR’s definition of the poetic canon in German: the dates at which some poets and some poems appear in the series – Luther’s religious poetry or the Expressionist poets, for example, – seem to mirror shifts in GDR cultural policy.

Amongst GDR readers, the series was particularly renowned as a source of international poetry in German translation. The publication of American poets, for example, (such as Poe, Bukowski, Williams, Whitman) both pushed against the cultural boundaries and brought new literary influences to the GDR. The “Poesiealbum” series also became a forum for new poets of the GDR to present a first collection. It therefore offers an opportunity to analyse the earliest published work of those emerging from the state’s literary institute, who have become significant figures in the contemporary German poetry scene, such as:
Steffen Mensching, Poesiealbum 146 (1979)
Kathrin Schmidt, Poesiealbum 179 (1982)
Kerstin Hensel, Poesiealbum 222 (1986)

Overall, the series provides a new focus from which to explore the history of GDR poetry-reading and cultural developments, contributing to the on-going post-unification reassessment of GDR literary life.

A necessarily meagre selection of poems from the magazines became an anthology in 1999: Katrin Pieper, ed., Poesiealbum 1967-1990: Dichter aus jenem Land mit Gedichten aus jener Zeit. Berlin: Neues Leben, 1999, 191 S.

Update added 2013: I have now begun to publish on the Poesiealbum: first attempts are the 2008 and 2011 articles listed here.