Simply put, the poetry of Paul Celan is not an easy art to grapple with nor should it have been, for Celan was a poet of cultural and geographic exile, victimized by the brutality of the Second World War (losing both parents to prison camps). Celan, a survivor of the Holocaust, wrote some of the most hauntingly powerful verse of post-war Europe, often with the aim of trying to reconcile the psychologically grating problems associated with his use of the German language while retaining his Jewish identity. Celan always felt like an outsider and his poetry reflects his lifelong struggle with the kind of irreconcilable dualities that bestows great poetry with its power to name terror and redeem its voiceless victims. Celan’s poetry echoes many of the kinds of thematic concerns and influences that mark the work of his European contemporaries (Theodor Adorno, E.M Cioran, Maurice Blanchot, Edmond Jabes, Jacques Derrida e.g.), including his fellow Parisian exile, Samuel Beckett.
Widely known for his much anthologized poem Death Fugue, Celan set about crafting a body of work distinct for its cryptic abstraction, monosyllabic gasps, references to Jewish symbolism and themes of trauma and human dislocation. Celan's poetry is heartbreakingly expressive even as it reduces language to its sparest essentials. His influence can be seen in the work of poets working today, including Michael Palmer, Rita Dove, Sharon Olds and Adrienne Rich.
Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan