Give[s] a sense of the fertility of his pristine, unsentimental language and the breadth of subject and form ... A collection this size is often said to contain something for everybody. In this one, every reader is sure to find something to take offense at ... and yet 'Brecht is a great poet,' the translators write in their introduction, 'one of the three or four best in the whole of German literature.' This volume holds enough evidence to support that claim ... For all its dry precision Brecht’s language in works like this retains poetic dignity. The poet speaks in unadorned verses like an orator with a soapbox under his feet. These lines demand to be recited slowly, with clear enunciation as in an echoing space.
Brecht’s poetry is so little known in the United States that the mere existence of a body of work that fills over 1,300 pages may come as a shock. With many poems appearing in English for the first time, translators Kuhn and Constantine offer English speakers an indispensable resource into the intellect and soul of one of the 20th century’s greatest writers ... If the current volume sacrifices a feeling of clandestine, dangerous contraband compact enough to smuggle over the border, the extraordinary depth and comprehensiveness make the trade-off worth it. The collection can almost serve double duty as a poetry collection and a biography of the writer. The chronological ordering of the poems and the succinct and superb introductions by the editors take us on the journey of Brecht’s life ... In the impossible struggle translators of poetry face between content and style, Kuhn and Constantine always favor the former — which necessarily means at the expense of the latter ... But this shortcoming should not take too much away from the tremendous value of this collection — instead, this collection is a necessary starting place for what will hopefully be a long history of translations of Brecht’s poems into English (Kuhn and Constantine even admit to this aspiration in their introduction).
This immense book of poems couldn’t be less obscure or difficult—not that they lack subtleties, especially of voice ... The poetry of protest—against war, fascism, prostitution, poverty, cruelty, and callousness—has no finer practitioner, whose work these formally faithful translations make almost as powerful in English as in German.