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The Stasi Poetry Circle

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‘Liebe Mitstreiter’, he says. Dear comrades in arms. Today we are going to learn about the sonnet. In 1982, East Germany’s fearsome secret police – convinced that writers were embedding subversive messages in their work – decided to train their own writers, weaponising poetry in the struggle against the class enemy. The Stasi Poetry Circle reveals how a group of soldiers and border guards gathered for monthly meetings at a heavily guarded military compound in socialist East Berlin to learn how to write lyrical verse. Journalist Philip Oltermann spent five years rifling through Stasi files, digging up lost volumes of poetry from mouldy basements and tracking down this red poets society’s surviving members to uncover this little-known story of the famously ruthless intelligence agency’s obsession with literature. Using first-hand accounts and exclusive interviews, this unconventional group biography charts the history of the German Democratic Republic from its utopian origins to its descent into a paranoid culture war: a literary detective story filled with spies who were moulded into poets; poets who spied on fellow writers.