Eva Maria Leuenberger

German, Droschl, Graz, 2021

“the dead bodies in the parking lot / a woman disappears / in the screen’s pixels / as if time were / a clear river / flowing backwards”

“anything can be true / when the lie is good enough”

In her second collection of poetry, kyung, Eva Maria Leuenberger pays her respects to the poet Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, who was murdered at the age of 31. Leuenberger explores her own pain with intimacy and passion, using poetry to indite every form of violence.

Eva Maria Leuenberger’s collection kyung is an unconventional poetic jewel. The title refers to the poet and artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951 – 1982), who in 1982 “was raped and strangled by a security guard and serial rapist”. Kyung’s unpublished “book about identity, power and language”, Dictée, inspired a hommage to the poet from Leuenberger in which she, like Kyung, “probes” her own biography and her own pain. The poetic inspiration and the narrator overlap in a polyphonic text. This lends the intimate dialogue a form which makes their affinity intensely and vividly tangible. Eva Maria Leuenberger’s kyung is a literary hybrid, interweaving poetry with creative non-fiction. With her unconventional personal manuscript, the author frees herself from all formal constraints. With short passages of prose, individual poems, and brief fragments of quotes and thoughts, often repeatedly like leitmotivs, she creates a fluid yet brittle continuum which also leaves room for emptiness, for silence. The white pages reflect an oppressive silence as well as something (self-)imploring in which a passionate appeal against violence and exploitation can be heard.

In her probing exploration, Eva Maria Leuenberger avoids, as she puts it, appropriating experiences “beyond my own horizon”. She prefers to quote from other sources or from Kyung’s fantastically “disconcerting” text, which weaves together English and French passages. “I search for words – and stumble upon a body,” she notes, whereupon an English quote of Kyung’s encourages her: “tell me the story / of all these things.” The text thus naturally opens up a sphere between languages. The translator is confronted less by lyrical restrictions such as meter and verse form than by the need to capture and transmit a web of discrete references and fragile atmospheres.

Text by Beat Mazenauer

Droschl, Graz
Translation rights
Annette Knoch,
Publication date


Eva Maria Leuenberger

Eva Maria Leuenberger was born in Bern in 1991 and lives in Biel. She studied at the University of Bern and at the Bern University of the Arts. Publications were included, amongst others, in manuskripte and Literarischer Monat.She is a two-time finalist of the open mike in Berlin (2014 and 2017). In 2016, she received the “Weiterschreiben” scholarship from the city of Bern. Her poetry debut dekarnation was published in 2019, and awarded the Basel Poetry Prize in 2020. Eva Maria Leuenberger was also awarded the Literature Prize of the Canton of Bern 2020, the Orphil Debut Prize 2020 of the City of Wiesbaden and the Poetry Debut Prize Düsseldorf 2021.

Photo: © Anja Fonseka