In the format of a rich trans-media exposition of German poet Helmut Salzinger’s critical and creative work, this retrospective included a photograph and broadside exhibit, lecture & poetry reading, and an online interactive experience, introducing the viewer to Salzinger’s life, community, and work.
Salzinger’s critical writing and poetry served as a stimulus / nexus for writers & poets from the nineteen-sixties until his death. His life is celebrated in the German (Humus – Hommage á Helmut Salzinger, 1996, Modick, Salzinger, Keller), but his work has received little attention in the English-speaking world. This documentary project represents an appreciation for his work and the desire to bring Salzinger’s life and work to the English-speaking world.
Salzinger’s body of work provides a look into the artistic, musical, and literary criticism scene of the seventies and eighties in Europe. It opens a window into the eco-poetics movement of that era, and the community of writers supported and influenced by their association with Salzinger and his publishing house, Head Farm Odisheim.
Begun as a commune for poets & writers, Head Farm evolved into a cooperative publishing enterprise housed in a farm outbuilding behind Salzinger’s country home. Funded by Salzinger, it was largely managed by his personal assistant, poet and translator Stefan Hyner.
Hyner’s role as co-editor with Joanne Kyger of San Francisco Buddhist-influenced journal Gate gave Salzinger access to the contemporary American poetry community, whom he hoped to publish in translation through Head Farm. The imprint created the monthly journal Falk, publishing monthly beat and contemporary poets from both sides of the Atlantic for three years.
In his preoccupation with wildness and gardens, Salzinger resonates the eco-poetics of today, exploring as it does wildlife, especially birds, and plant life of the local ecosystem. His was the perspective of one whose experience with people has left him skeptical of humans’ ultimate place in the scheme of things. These photographs from the retrospective exhibit, taken in that region, reflect this outlook in their isolation and emptiness.
Even in his death, the poet/critic seemed to dissolve himself into this landscape that he found ultimately more attractive than the human landscape. Ironically, his grave marker, a large boulder, was removed from the grave to serve some utilitarian purpose at the cemetery.
Years later, Wolfgang Winkler, a novelist, soldier in the German army, and Salzinger’s associate during the last several years of his life, tracked down both the grave and the marker stone, which now sits as in Winkler’s yard, alongside his driveway.
The grave remains unmarked.