Anthony Quinn at The Guardian:
Philip Oltermann’s engrossing The Stasi Poetry Circle recounts a history so outlandish and unlikely that you feel it must be true. The author was inspired to investigate after running his own poetry group for pensioners at a day centre in London’s King’s Cross . How had a brutal spy agency alighted on poetry, “this vaguest of disciplines”, as a tool for training its employees? His research brings him into contact with soldiers and border guards who attended monthly meetings of “writing Chekists” at the Adlershof compound, a place so secret it didn’t even feature on a map of Berlin. Here, they would mull over the finer points of verse while bearing in mind the writer Friedrich Wolf’s stern credo: “The material of our age lies in front of us, hard as iron. Poets are working to forge it into a weapon. The worker has to pick up this weapon.” You can almost hear the sound of pens being chewed.