Ulrike Almut Sandig

- Germany -

Born in rural East Germany, Ulrike Almut Sandig now lives with her family in Berlin. The performance poet started publishing her poetry by pasting poems onto lamp posts in Leipzig and distributing them on flyers and free post cards. After completing her studies in Sociology of Religions and Modern Indology, she graduated from the German Creative Writing Program in Leipzig. Volumes of short stories, pop music albums, radio pieces, poetry collections and her novel Monsters like us (Seagull Books 2022) have been published to date. She has been awarded many prizes, most recently the Roswitha-Prize (2020) and the Erich-Loest-Prize (2021).


For her poetry performances Sandig works with musicians, sound and performance artists from around the world, such as Hinemoana Baker (New Zealand), fusion rock band Alif (India) and poet and blogger Ahmad Katlesh (Syria). She is frontwoman of the poetry collective Landschaft, with Grigory Semenchuk (Ukraine) and Sascha Conrad (Denmark), which combines poetry, film and loop-based electronic music. Her CD album LANDSCHAFT appeared in 2018 and was followed by three digital single releases during the Covid pandemic.


In 2015 Ugly Duckling Presse (Brooklyn, USA) launched a selection of her early poems in Bradley Schmidt’s translation. In 2016 Karen Leeder’s translations of Sandig’s poetry collection Thick of it (Seagull Books 2018) won the EUNIC English PEN translation Pitch and was awarded a PEN America/Heim Translation Fund Grant. Her latest poems in English translation I Am a Field Full of Rapeseed, Give Cover to Deer and Shine Like Thirteen Oil Paintings Laid One on Top of the Other (Seagull Books, 2020) reanimate the dark side of The Children’s and Household Talesof the Brothers Grimm and use it as a backdrop for contemporary European concerns: war, migration, the rise of the Right. Her new poetry volume Leuchtende Schafe (Shining Sheep, 2022) brings together powerful visual poems that resonate in the ear and appear as filmic image explosions. She uses speech software to bring the legacy of Romanticism into the present and captures its colonial other in exquisite anagrams. Above all she creates “worlds full of mythic images that embed themselves deep in your soul“ (Matthias Ehlers, WDR).


“Ulrike Almut Sandig is a master storyteller who writes in beautiful poetic prose” (New Books in German). She is a member of the German PEN section.

Anyone who has ever heard Ulrike Almut Sandig perform her poems knows that it is not, or at least not only, a case of her reciting lines of printed verse, baldly transposing printed material into sound, but rather that she sets about bringing a score to life, offering a musical interpretation of her poems, a setting, as it were. In this Ulrike is placing herself in an ancient tradition. Not only that the word ‘lyric’ is derived from a string instrument, the lyre. Medieval minstrels did not read their works at court, they sang them, often presumably accompanied by instruments. Ulrike, for her part, works with composers, creates audiobooks and her readings are as much concerts as readings, giving her performances a determinedly (and, I believe, ever more determinedly) musical accent. I myself experienced such a performance in an old, dilapidated theatre in Mumbai, with plaster crumbling from the ceiling, which made it even more impressive, where she performed with a delightful group of musicians from Kashmir, while the pigeons fluttered above our heads and the subtropical heat did not let up until late in the evening. And so, it is no coincidence that the basic meter of so many of Ulrike’s poems is the dactyl, a meter that consists of a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables, which when placed one after the other, as a dactylic chain, leads to a highly musical, singable structure that even invites us to dance. This structure we meet again and again from the first book on: ‘I go to the send key and sleep with the martens. / they shut up the mailbox, shoot up the demons / they are lovers in public beyond the embankment / they’re dreaming of grit and of sunshine and // snow’ Here the musicality is reinforced by internal rhymes and the line and stanza break before the last word. This pause, this catching one’s breath before the final ‘snow’, illustrates what every musician knows, namely that the pause, the silence between the notes is just as crucial as the sounds themselves. Sometimes these pauses become white gaps in the line, clearly visible to the eye, but basically intended for the performance – and perhaps to be followed by the turn to the audience or to the unknown addressee of the song: ‘are you still listening?’ (...)

Ulrike Almut Sandig’s poetry not only turns to the world, but also gives a name to the political and social darknesses in it and fetches them into the poems. It leaves us in no doubt – despite all their grace (or in German ‘Anmut’ which could, to my mind, be Ulrike’s middle name just as well as ‘Almut’) – that we will have to wait a long time, all too long, for those fat cows, that peace, that good news intimated in her song ‘Lullaby for all those’.


In the meantime, while we continue to wait and hope in vain, the best thing, Ladies and Gentlemen, will be to read a poem, one by Ulrike. And perhaps as we read it, we will suddenly notice that we are lifting just a little – barely perceptible to outsiders, but unambiguously, without any doubt – until we find ourselves one or two centimeters above the familiar ground, floating.


Extract, Jan Wagner, ‘Laudatio’, translated by Karen Leeder