Nancy Hünger

- Germany -

Nancy Hünger was born in Weimar, of the former German Democratic Republic, in 1981. Unlike many poets of her generation (most of whom live in Berlin), Nancy Hünger has remained faithful to this region of central Germany. She studied fine arts at Bauhaus University in Weimar and then fully committed to literature. She is an important actor in promoting writers and culture in Thuringia and has worked (and continues to work) for various cultural institutions, including the Schiller Garden House of the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena and Lese-Zeichen e.V..


After her 2006 debut collection Aus blassen Fasern Wirklichkeit (edition AZUR) was published to great acclaim, Hünger was awarded various prizes and scholarships, including the Hermann-Lenz Scholarship (2008), Caroline-Schlegel-Förderpreis of the city of Jena for an essay on the story “Alte Abdeckerei” by Wolfgang Hilbig (2014), and a special scholarship of the Kulturstiftung Thuringia (2020). She was named city writer in Jena (2011) and in Tübingen (2018). Today, she lives as a freelance writer in Gotha.

Nancy Hünger's publications include collections of poetry (Aus blassen Fasern Wirklichkeit. Gedichte; Ein wenig Musik zum Abschied wäre trotzdem nett. Gedichte.), boundary-crossing “more unstable texts” (Deshalb die Vögel. Instabile Texte), as well as short lyric prose (Halt dich fern; Wir sind golden, wir sind aus Blut; 4 Uhr kommt der Hund. Ein unglückliches Sprechen). Her shortness of breath – which Hünger herself says ties her to the lyric form – strikes readers as an urgent  breathlessness. Her texts are often piercingly short and intensely concentrated.


Thematically, her writings contend with structural questions of locating and being located in symbolic microstructures, such as that of the family (At table), the former East German homeland (Grimace), relationships (For D.), or even life status (My Five Unborn Daughters). The perspective evoked here remains intimate, though it is never voyeuristic or exhibitionistic. Hünger’s writing enacts a coming-to-language balanced on the precarious line between mere assumption and clarity – one that always gestures beyond the present text and its own occasion for writing: „from our tongues/ snap manuscripts as cold as the meadows” (Further how). This coming-to-language is also (and especially) reflected as a struggle with the being signified within symbolic orders: „before/ you get interpreted are you entitled/ to the most beautiful death” (house, oven and pot). Not infrequently, this is joined by a description of painful experiences: Her texts prominently feature remembered pain, painful memories, or even the actual, present experience of pain. Admittedly, these are highly (perhaps even supremely) subjective categories of the state of emergency: Depression, identity loss, loneliness, violence.


When formed, however, these supra-individual circumstances achieve clarity – without obscuring the subjects (to whom the articulated experience is bound) in pain. The result is an extremely intense reading experience. This is because Hünger meaningfully enacts states of emergency. Whoever “feels and articulates pain must inevitably set the whole world ablaze. And this burning of a whole world on the one hand and the withdrawal into one's own innermost on the other, these are the two outer boundaries that lead to an infinite gradation” [1] of expression. Hünger's texts clearly demonstrate that the opposite of pain (and its expression) is not happiness or joy, but apathy. Hünger counters this apathy with an aesthetic of empathy: „my five unborn daughters are skilled at/ hunger typhus cholera and ebola/ they live in a tent city on the edges of Nevada today […]/ I taught them 126o words for grief we wrote/ about the empathists’ international in our first manifesto” (My Five Unborn Daughters).


What might such an aesthetic look like? Hünger's language does not overinflate. Her poems „want to be stone and wood not even/ eternal no dust would suffice it flies and scatters/ i haven’t found anything lighter” (language in some places should simply be). With simple vocabulary, they invite us to estrange ourselves from that which seems familiar: „i say tree/ and already have leaves and branches and trunk and root/ still have no tree only a rumour/ about a tree that is no tree” (language in some places should simply be). This is accomplished by positioning, repeating, recombining a handful of words, usually within a short period of time – often lowercase, often without punctuation. In the maelstrom of enjambment, in which one line flows into the next, rhythm and sound replace grammatical sentences and word hierarchies as structuring forces. The reader is presented with an ambiguous play of multifaceted interpretation, rejection and reinterpretation. And so, distance and doubt surrounding familiar terms begin to creep in – creating space for new perspectives, new intimacy: „it could have been so it was not so people don’t write/ it like that any more if people


[1] Joseph Vogl in: Alexander Kluge/ Joseph Vogl: Ich habe Schmerzen, also bin ich...In: Dies.: Soll und haben. Fernsehgespräche. Zürich/ Berlin 2009, S. 25–46, hier S. 46.


Essay on Nancy Hünger, written by Pauline Selbig
translation from German by Patty Nash