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Hopkins professor shares bilingual poetry book

By AMANDA AUBLE | April 16, 2015

Hopkins English professor and published poet Donald Berger read from his latest poem compilation titled The Long Time alongside Terrence Winch Wednesday night in the Tudor and Stuart Room.

Berger has previously taught at the University of Maryland, College Park. Currently teaching an Expository Writing class at Hopkins titled “Living Other Lives in Contemporary American Short Stories,” Berger has now published his second volume of poems. The Long Time features narratives, dramatic monologues and lyric poems that are also translated into German by Christoph König. Prior to this joint reading, Berger discussed his work with The News-Letter:

The News-Letter: The Long Time is a bilingual text. How did you incorporate the German language into your book?

Donald Berger: I was giving a reading in a German University where a friend [Christoph König] of mine teaches. After the reading he just very nicely said at the dinner “Oh, we have to publish these.” I just forgot about it, and I took the train back to Berlin. Next thing I know, he sent me an email saying, “Send me 48 of your poems. I’d like to translate them and send them to my publisher.”

So that’s what happened and we waited a year and then another like year and a half, so now it’s finally out. [König] has translated it and with his help I got it published at this house, which is maybe one of the two or three best places I could’ve published it in Germany. I didn’t even realize it was that big of a press. So I kind of lucked out.

N-L: What is your history with the German language? Do you speak German?

DB: I speak German, yes. I lived a total of four years of my life in Germany. Two years in the southwestern town of Tübingen, and on two separate occasions I’ve lived a year in Berlin.

N-L: Do you plan to read in German at all?

DB: No, but I’m giving a reading in Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. on April 25. The translator is coming to that reading. He’s flying over so he’s going to read in German, and we’ll be doing sort of a bilingual reading.

N-L: How would you describe the poems in this book?

DB: Some of them are narrative, some of them are a little like dramatic monologues, and some are more elusive lyric poems. So it’s a mix of the three.

N-L: Can you mention any of the overarching themes that your book touches on?

DB: That’s a good question because what I ended up doing was, it was such a long time between my two books, that I basically selected from poems that crossed 20 years. Some of the themes would definitely be a kind of German motif of Berlin, living in Berlin. Washington is a big motif because I’ve lived in Washington. Places in general where I’ve traveled. Beyond that I don’t know what other common threads you might find, but I guess I’d leave that up to the readers to find out.

N-L: What do you hope students will take away from your reading?

DB:I hope that maybe it excites them to actually hear somebody who is reading their own work and maybe make them a little more curious about reading poetry if they don’t already. I don’t quite know what to expect as far as the effect it will have. We’ll see.

N-L: Who are your writing influences?

DB: I have a lot of them. It depends almost week to week on who I’m reading. I always come up with a few basic ones. One guy I really like is a french poet named Blaise Cendrars; a poet James Tate, who was my teacher; Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Creeley. But I was in college at a time when there was a huge translation boom. So there were a lot of European and Latin American poets being translated. My influences are as much European and Latin American as they are British, and my teacher was a Francophile too.

N-L: What are your future writing plans?

DB: I have stockpiled another few manuscripts at home. I’m trying to find the best poems from among some of those and put them together into a book. I’m glad you asked that because it helps me to kind of plan ahead... I joke with my friends and say I’m sort of on the posthumous plan. I’m writing these and you can read them whenever you want.

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