Born in Iowa in 1982, Ann Cotten moved to Vienna with her parents at the age of five. She received a degree in German Studies from the University of Vienna in 2006 for work on the ‘Lists of Concrete Poetry’. In the same year she moved to Berlin, where she still lives.
In addition to her poetry, she writes prose and essays about poetry as well as works of literary theory. She translates poetry and scientific essays.
Since 2000 her texts and drawings have been published in anthologies and magazines such as Die Rampe, Kolik, Zwischen den Zeilen and Schreibheft. Her first volume of poetry, Fremdwörterbuchsonette, came out in 2007. The collection impressed critics that she was dubbed the Wunderkind of the German poetry scene. Her second volume of poetry, Florida-Räume, was published in 2010. In 2010, Cotten also collaborated with visual artist Kerstin Cmelka on a book called I, Coleoptile, which consists of original English poetry and film stills.
Ann Cotten’s poetry appears to evolve out of a playful effortlessness, yet there is an exceptional and omnipresent power in her texts. Sometimes hermetic, but always light and unmannered, her texts convey an immediacy that appears like natural poetic speech.
Ann Cotten uses varied linguistic and literary methods and styles to talk about many things. Coming from the Viennese experimental tradition, her idol is clarity, albeit through disjunct rather than harmony. Her methods are sometimes uncivilised: overriding syntactic rules and abandoning patterns, she roughly sketches her verses. Playful and earnest by turns, her erratic but musical moves suggest some inner necessity; her imagery and its inventive combinations are unconventional and sometimes appear displaced.
Entering Ann Cotten’s poetry means finding oneself in the middle of a wilderness of mirrors. Playing with perspectives is an essential part of her poetic process. Other aspects of her poetry include the melting of seriously arranged, poetry-critic statements and her playful handling of words. Positions and motives occurring in Ann Cotten’s poems are also to be found in her essays and theoretic concepts.
For her, a poem does not exist “to describe the emotional stock of the lyrical I as precisely as possible by use of metaphors”,* or to preserve a moment. According to Ann Cotten there is no hidden meaning in a poem that could be paraphrased in an easier way.
The opening text of her volume Florida-Räume mentions the panicky compulsion to incorporate everything into an explanatory system. In her essay ‘Etwas mehr’ she contrasts “the institutionalised syntax and lexis with the unobserved, hardly tangible, mighty and timid realm of association as a quasi counterweight, a wilderness next door”.* Thus, she argues vehemently for estimating what exists out of the reach of the current individual mind.
In the end, her poetry is about the relationship between world and language and the place of truth and truthfulness, which might be anywhere in between. Ann Cotten knows that in playing with language the reference to the world cannot be lost. But she demands of herself and of her poetry colleagues that they “carry on playing with utmost seriousness, with no less at stake than one’s own complete existence.”*
Ann Cotten also works with sound collages and drawings. You might meet her onstage rendering a Mendelssohn theme as a gouache square. She works with musicians of all kinds (from choirs to electronic musicians) and exhibits artwork in galleries in several languages. Together with her poetry colleagues Monika Rinck and Sabine Scho she stages the Rotten Kinck Schow from time to time.
* Quotations are English translations of excerpts from her essay ‘Etwas mehr’ (about the meaning of what we are able to do with words).
Fremdwörterbuchsonette. Gedichte, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2007
Nach der Welt. Die Listen der konkreten Poesie und ihre Folgen, Ralph Klever Verlag, Wien, 2008
Das Pferd. Elegie, SuKuLTuR, Berlin, 2008
Glossarattrappen, Ausnahme Verlag, Hamburg, 2008
Florida-Räume, Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin, 2010
I, Coleoptile. Broken Dimanche Press, Berlijn, 2010
Ann Cotten’s Glossarattrappen online (German)
Ann Cotten’s books at Suhrkamp Verlag
Recordings of Ann Cotten reading her poems on lyrikline.org
Many relevant links about Ann Cotten can be found here