Red poets society: The Stasi Poetry Circle’s battle for hearts and rhymes

Philip Oltermann in the Irish Times:

Some time in the tense winter of 1983, when Nato forces rehearsed a nuclear endgame to the Cold War so realistic that Soviet counter-intelligence briefly suspected it to be a cover for a real attack, a Stasi officer read out a stream-of-consciousness poem to a fellow intelligence operatives inside a heavily fortified compound in East Berlin.

“Match reports state visits plague of locusts”, the poem starts breathlessly, with flagrant disregard for punctuation. “Computer production readers letters TV listings”. Then a chill runs down the spine: “Lightning triggered the firing of three American rockets from their missile silos.” A line break to indicate a sigh of relief. They are only “meteorological rockets”, which won’t sow death and destruction but merely harvest information about wind and the weather.

Written by a second lieutenant in the Stasi’s central information service, these experimental lyrics still lie in a cache of poems at the Stasi Records Archive in Berlin, subsumed into the German federal archives last year. The folders full of typewritten verse – some written in jaunty rhyming couplets, others in tense vers libre – bear testimony to one of the most bizarre experiments of the socialist German Democratic Republic, when one of the most fearsome secret police forces in European history tried to weaponise the vaguest of literary disciplines, the “art of substantiating shadows, and of lending existence to nothing”, as Edmund Burke once wrote.

More here.