Building a platform for modern German poetry and mediating its reception by English-speakers
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
Unit of AssessmentModern Languages and Linguistics
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Professor Leeder has made a major contribution to raising the levels of
cultural awareness and understanding of modern German poetry in the UK and
beyond. Her research has enabled the English-speaking public to discover
poetry previously unknown to them and has brought emerging poetry into the
public realm. It has revived interest in forgotten writers via public
engagement, commissioning and translation of new work and through Leeder's
advisory work with media and cultural institutions. Leeder has influenced
the programming and presentation of German poetry, engaging new media to
create new audiences. Her research and translation expertise has
contributed both to changing how German poetry is translated and performed
by others, and to how artists respond to it in their own work.
Since 1993 when Karen Leeder, now Professor of Modern German Literature,
arrived in Oxford, she has pioneered research on modern German poetry and
its reception in English, treating both canonical and emerging writers.
Leeder was one of the first to examine the reception of Bertolt Brecht by
English-language poets[see §3.1]. This led to HEFCE
funding in 2003-4 to compile a database of poetry `after Brecht',
to publish two anthologies of these poems and a further four articles
drawing on the research to illuminate the reception of Brecht's poetry
today. Leeder's research moves beyond the political controversy that
traditionally surrounds Brecht's reputation, and explores the work of the
great lyric poet. In putting Brecht's poetry into new contexts - for
example his relationship with the English-speaking world, the reception of
his poetry by later generations - she has redefined ways of approaching
him. Leeder undertook similar research on Rilke, another great German
poet: tracing the `English Rilke' from first translations through
to modern responses from a range of major UK and US poets, examining how
they reflect the contexts in which he has been rewritten, and what it
reveals about his lyric capacities. Preliminary conclusions were published
in her contribution to The Cambridge Companion to Rilke.
Arising out of these `legacy' projects came Leeder's growing interest in
`lateness' in modern poetry, the notion of work influenced by old
age or incapacity, or self-consciously `after'. Leeder is the first to
apply this to the poetry of the `belated' nation Germany, but
simultaneously also to challenge the biographically-inflected notions of
`late style' as advanced by Adorno or Said and to place `lateness' as a
broader category within the context of philosophies of time and speed. She
has published five pieces on different poets along
with Nach Duino, the first volume to examine
Rilke's neglected late work after the Duino Elegies, as a body of
poetry. A special interdisciplinary volume of New German Critique
is due to appear in 2013, edited and introduced by Leeder and containing
her contribution on the late poetry of Heiner Müller.
Leeder has also organised a series of research symposia on 20th-century
German poetry and has edited collections of pioneering essays arising from
them. They each seek to place German poetry in new contexts: the British
Academy-supported `Flaschenpost' presents an
overview of a `long twentieth century' of German poetry, focussing on the
competing claims of poetry and politics; in doing so it explores the
dominant trope of the `message in a bottle'. `Schaltstelle',
a 550-page account of contemporary German poetry, elucidates various
strands such as late poetry, dialogue with tradition, poetry and the body,
poetry and place, language games and new writing.
The intensive research involved in the commissioning, shaping and editing
of such volumes has helped define the field as a whole, but Leeder's own
contributions have also been concerned to bring emerging poets
into the public realm: she was among the first to write in German or
English on the poetry of Ulrike Draesner, Raoul Schrott, Barbara Köhler
and Evelyn Schlag; her work has been
instrumental in defining and advancing their reputations.
References to the research
 Karen Leeder, `"After Brecht": The reception of Brecht's poetry in
English', in Karen Leeder, ed. [with Tom Kuhn], Empedocles' Shoe.
Essays on Brecht's Poetry (London: Methuen, 2002). Available on
request. Published by leading London publishing house with reviews Tribune
27 September, 2002, Morning Star, 26 August 2002, Contemporary
Review, January 2003; Modern Language Review 99.2 (2004):
 Karen Leeder, `Rilke's Legacy in the English-Speaking World', in
Karen Leeder, ed. [with Robert Vilain], Cambridge Companion to Rainer
Maria Rilke (Cambridge: CUP, 2010);
Cambridge Companions are a renowned series of authoritative guides,
written by leading experts in the field and published by a leading
university press with reviews Times Literary Supplement (21 May
2010); German Studies Review 34.1 (February 2011); German
Quarterly, 85.4 (2011): 514-15.
 Karen Leeder, Ed. [with Robert Vilain], Nach Duino: Studien zu
Rainer Maria Rilkes späten Gedichten (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2010).
Available on request. `It is a tribute to the evocative richness of this
stimulating volume, which enhances our understanding of Rilke's
"Spätwerk", to say that virtually all the essays invite further study and
in many cases provide the basis for entire monographs on their topics'
(Theodore Ziolkowski), Modern Language Review, 106.3(2011).
 Karen Leeder, ed. `Flaschenpost': German Poetry and the Long
Twentieth Century, special edition of the journal German Life and
Letters, 60.3 (July 2007)
German Life and Letters is a leading peer-reviewed journal in
British German Studies It was described as `full of fascinating essays,
rich in insights from some of the best scholars of German poetry', in Modern
Language Review, 104.1 (2009): 287-9.
 Karen Leeder, ed. `Schaltstelle': Neue deutsche Lyrik im Dialog,
German Monitor 69 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007). Available on request. The
German Monitor book series has a system of double-blind peer-reviewing.
`Leeder's volume brings together an all-star line-up of groundbreaking
essays on contemporary German-language poetry. It is a volume that
students of newer German-language poetry will want to keep nearby.' H-net
Reviews in the Humanities and Social Sciences, online July 2008.
 Karen Leeder, `"Time, Love and Literature!": The Work of Elegy in the
Poetry of Evelyn Schlag', invited paper for special edition of Austrian
Studies (The Austrian Lyric), 12 (2004): 231-248 http://www.jstor.org/stable/27944725
Austrian Studies is a peer-reviewed journal published by the MHRA.
Details of the impact
Leeder has played a crucial role encouraging and advising poets,
translators, artists and cultural organisations to advance the performance
and presentation of modern German poetry in the UK and beyond. Leeder's
research insights and prize-winning translation expertise have contributed
greatly to increasing the accessibility and coverage of modern German
poetry in the UK, attracting new audiences, and enabling more culturally
and historically revealing performances and presentations of existing and
Advising creative and cultural institutions
Leeder has regularly advised cultural organisations concerned with
promoting international cultural cooperation and mediating public
awareness of contemporary European literature, such as the Goethe-Institut,
The Austrian Cultural Forum and the South Bank Centre,
on how to make European literature (especially German poetry) more visible
through translation and transmission via various media. Her guidance has
enabled these institutions to expand their coverage of modern German
poetry and to deliver new interpretations, bringing it to new audiences.
She advised the Senior Commissioning Editor of Oxford University Press's Oxford
World's Classics book series on translations of Rilke; she regularly
advises BBC Radio 3 and 4 on German poetry programming, and
advised the premier New Zealand trade poetry magazine SPORT about
its special German issue for the Leipzig Book fair (2012).
Leeder's research was cited as influential in the
preparation for the BBC Symphony Orchestra's UK premiere
performance of Detlev Glanert's `Musik für Violine und Orchester, Op 33'
inspired by Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus (Barbican, 11/02/2011).
Engaging public audiences through radio
Leeder has regularly used the discussion of her research on BBC Radio
3 and 4[i] culture and arts programmes
such as The Verb, Word of Mouth,
and Night Waves as a way of reaching a large public
audience and broadening their understanding and appreciation of modern
German poetry. Her appearance with Dennis Marks, on `Fin de Siècle
Vienna', at the Proms Literary Festival, 05/08/09 (broadcast on
Radio 3), was described as "warmly authoritative, informal and informing"
in BBC feedback. The producer of the Radio 4 programme `The Women of
Rainer Maria Rilke' (16/05/09) said of Leeder's contribution: "Your
knowledge and expertise are utterly invaluable to us and your tone,
enthusiasm and appraisal of the texts were absolutely perfect for our
audience". She also participated alongside Martyn Crucefix, Don
Paterson, Philip Pullman and Rowan Williams in `Among the Ranks of
the Angels - Rainer Maria Rilke' (Radio 3, 27/03/11 and 05/08/11),
unpacking Rilke's Elegies for a general audience.
The confidence and interest in Leeder's work has led to repeat requests
for advice and participation. Leeder was commissioned to write and present
a Radio 4 programme on Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus (Dancing the Orange,
21 and 27/07/13, Radio Choice in The Times,
20/07/13). The producer said: "A number of people who heard the programme
told me that they were impressed by Karen's depth of knowledge, her
ability to communicate complexity engagingly and her own engagement with
the subject. My editor and the commissioning editor were pleased and have
encouraged me to submit more proposals for programmes presented by Karen."
Reaching out through cultural events
Leeder has participated in, chaired and curated public events, as a
vehicle for raising cultural awareness and public appreciation of modern
German poetry. Her research on the reception of Brecht's poetry led to an
invitation to chair a public event with poets Bernard O'Donoghue
and Jamie McKendrick (03/03/13), as part of the `The Rest Is
Noise' festival[ii]. The session combined readings
and poems sung with piano accompaniment and discussion to engage the 400-
strong audience with Brecht's poems. The Festival Programme Manager
said: `Karen's academic expertise was to the fore in advising on the shape
and material used in our Brecht poetry event [...] the event [...] was
very well judged, allowing space for new research and insights about
Brecht to come to the fore.'
She advised on and chaired a post-performance discussion with
distinguished photographers Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
and conductor Paul Kildea at the film and opera event based on their
artists' book War Primer 2[iii] (a
contemporary recasting of Brecht's Kriegsfibel) at the London
Photographers' Gallery (25/04/2013). Chanarin emailed afterwards:
`Thank you for a wonderfully informative introduction last night. I think
you managed to set just the right tone, and create an atmosphere in which
the audience felt able to participate' (26/04/13). The Academy of Arts
in Berlin has requested a repeat of the event next year.
Developing professional practices for translators and other
Leeder's research and prize-winning translations have helped to change
how German poetry is translated into English, and how artists respond to
it in their own work. She has served in a consultative capacity on various
non-academic bodies including the English PEN, the Translator's
Association of the Society of Authors, the British Centre for
Literary Translation, and New Books in German (a trade
magazine). She was a member of the editorial board and then a trustee of Modern
Poetry in Translation and a Judge of the Schlegel-Tieck Prize
for German translation, the Times / Stephen Spender Poetry Competition
and the Poetry Society Corneliu M. Popescu Prize 2013[iv].
This has further enhanced the visibility of German poetry in the UK and
within the poetry and translation communities.
She has influenced translation practices through working directly with
translators such as Martyn Crucefix and also through
knowledge-sharing via events and the media. Thus she chaired a round table
on `The Art of Translation', with Jenny Erpenbeck, Michael Hulse, and
Marco Szondi, for an audience of 250 at the Writers and Readers
Festival in Wellington, New Zealand (04/13). In 2008 she held a
round table with industry specialists (publishers, theatre workers,
translators, etc.) at Tate Liverpool[v] intended
to overcome the practical and cultural challenges of presenting
German-language culture to a British audience. One translator at the event
commented: `Leeder has been a substantial influence on my career as a
translator [...]. I have also been inspired by her approach to the
practice of translation - hearing her talk about translating poetry has
helped me to think through the process, and to develop my own creativity
in translating literature.'
Stimulating and shaping creative practice
Leeder's research on Rilke and Brecht has led to work with major UK
poets. She has advised Jamie McKendrick, Robin Robertson, and Martyn
Crucefix on their Rilke translations and poems
`after', Rilke, including Crucefix's version of the Sonnets to Orpheus
(2012) and the Duino Elegies (2006) which has been toured by Aya
Theatre in London (2012 and 2013). She worked with Andy Croft
on his poems `after Brecht'; his poem `In the Brecht Museum' (in Sticky,
Flambard Press, 2009) is dedicated to her and responds directly to her
research on Brecht [§3.3].
Leeder's research on emerging German poets and her translations of their
work has helped them to establish their presence and careers. Her research
on the Austrian poet Evelyn Schlag led to
commissions which have been instrumental in increasing Schlag's profile in
the UK and beyond: e.g. Schlag's poem `Honeymoon Years' (tr. Leeder) was
selected for World Poetry Day by the European Commission and the
European Parliament, November 2008. Schlag was selected as Austria's
representative in the 2012 London Olympics' Poetry Parnassus
[vi] where she read a poem translated by Leeder.
Schlag said of Leeder: `Not only have her articles given me a profile,
collaborating on the translations with a sensitive translator such as
Karen Leeder has also had an influence on my own writing.'
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Email correspondence from The Rest is Noise Festival Programmer, The
 Email correspondence from the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Radio 3
 Email feedback from a BBC Radio Producer
 Email testimonial from poet and translator
 Email testimonial from an emerging poet
[i] Example links to some of Leeder's BBC Radio appearances:
[ii] Event programme: The Rest is Noise Festival, The South Bank Centre:
[iii] Event information and podcast: War Primer 2 performance,
London Photographers' Gallery:
Podcast of Q&A session: http://vimeo.com/67305432
[iv] Website information about the Popescu Prize and judging panel:
[v] Event podcast, `The impact of German-language culture in the UK',
Tate Liverpool, 24/07/2008:
[vi] Website and podcast, `Poetry Parnassus' (2012): http://ticketing.southbankcentre.co.uk/poetry-parnassus/poets/schlag-evelyn