Monday, September 7, 2009

The Meeting at Telgte, by Gunter Grass

My dad sent me this book, an extremely elite thought experiment that envisions a meeting of the premier 17th Century German poets during the negotiations at the end of the 30 Years War. Gathering from far-flung regions of the country, the group finds their intended lodgings filled with loitering soldiers and stacks of paper outlining battle plans and failed treaty attempts, but allow an educated and foppish con-cum-highway-man to find them alternative lodgings in a nearby town—Telgte—at the inn of a surprisingly learned and adventurous wench (“The landlady, though undoubtedly a trollop, was nevertheless an extraordinary woman.”*)

Once there ensconced, the poets conduct their meetings, a few days’ symposium during which they sit in a circle and take turns reading their work for comment by the others. The reader sits in a chair of “honor” beside a potted thistle. The highly specialized and spirited conversation circles around their desire not only for political peace, but peace of language—a standardizing of their varying regional tongues—and arguments over poetry’s vocation (religious hymns or bawdy songs).

I don’t imagine anyone, oh, “normal,” would really like this book, and yet I found it completely fascinating and hysterical, and immediately thought of three friends who would as well. They are all poets, though. . .

*From page 15, this may have been my favorite sentence in the book, and is a prime example of Grass’ pitch-perfect sense of humor

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