Oct. 5, 2006
NOTE: This is part of a series of feature articles on some of the writers from around the world who are taking part in the University of Iowa's International Writing Program this fall.
With Inspiration From Stern, Pletzinger's Literary Career Is Off And Running
Thomas Pletzinger was a runner long before he was a writer. But now, through the inspiration of long-time University of Iowa Writers' Workshop faculty member Gerald Stern, he is both a runner and a writer -- a combination he finds quite compatible.
Pletzinger, a three-time marathoner who is representing Germany in this fall's International Writing Program residency at the UI, had begun a career in publishing when his work brought him into contact with Stern.
"He turned me in the direction of being a writer," Pletzinger says. "It was the first time that I had really closely dealt with the writer's writing and the writer himself. Before that, I always wanted to go into publishing -- I basically financed my studies by working in publishing. I thought that was going to be my path.
"I worked for Norton, and I was assisting Stern's editor. That's how I met Gerald Stern, and we worked together. I thought his work was really interesting, so I wrote a term paper on him, and then my M.A. thesis. And now I'm his translator."
Even though Stern is a poet and Pletzinger is now a fiction writer, he found a kindred spirit in Stern's work. "I like the way he approaches reality," Pletzinger says. "Sometimes he's rude, and sometimes he's really friendly, but he's a rough person, somehow.
"And I also like his whole worldview -- he's a political person, but not too much, it's not his main focus. And I like his circular worldview that allows him to incorporate so much in his work. It was just fun to read his work and to be around him. I think the reality of his poetry is really close to life. I thought, maybe I could do this too -- become a writer and be a little like him."
When Pletzinger talks about Stern being "rough," he is referring not to harshness of character, but to a kind of earthy physicality -- Stern was once a boxer, in fact -- with which Pletzinger readily identifies from his own love of sport.
Now that he is a writer, Pletzinger has even played on Germany's soccer team of writers, which has participated in the writers' soccer World Cup. "Every writer who is able to run faster than to walk is part of this team," he explains. "In the first World Cup of writer soccer teams there were five or six teams and they shipped them all to Florence. We just had a wonderful week there, and played great soccer."
The Swedes are the champions, by the way, because their mid-fielder is a former member of the national team who happens to have written a children's book.
For Pletzinger, the play of the body and the work of the mind are intimately and harmoniously combined. "The body and my writing are always very closely connected, I feel," Pletzinger says. "Doing sports to me is very important -- soccer, basketball, running, weight-lifting. For me, it's the right way to get my mind back on track. I think I always have the best ideas when I run."
"When I run, I always think about the things that are on my mind anyway, so any problem you have in any aspect of life comes up when you are running -- you are sort of meditating on it. It's not a controlled way of thinking about things; things just pop up. And after you have run for a certain amount of time, it becomes like the few minutes before you go to sleep, when you have great ideas, and you don't know where they came from."
He also finds that the disciplines of running and writing play off of each other. "I always have discipline problems, like most writers do," he admits. "I hate to procrastinate, but I always do it. And I hate the feeling of doing it. So I get up and sit down and start writing, and then I have the late afternoon off to do what I like -- to do sports, or see a movie or whatever. So it has this training aspect to it.
"And sports and writing also have this playful aspect. Running can be meditative, but in basketball and team sports you improvise, you become creative -- you have many options and you have to choose one."
Now that Pletzinger is in Iowa City, his running and writing disciplines -- and his playfulness -- have been transplanted here. He is both aiming at five pages of writing each day, and discovering favorite running routes around a city that looms large in his literary memory. One of his favorite novels is "The Water Method Man," which John Irving wrote while he was a student in the Writers' Workshop, and which is largely set in Iowa City, with a main character who lives on Iowa Avenue.
And then of course, there are the poems of Gerald Stern. Because Stern spent 14 years at the Writers' Workshop, his poems were inspired by experiences here, and are inevitably reflective of life in Iowa City -- sometimes very specifically.
"I was just reading one of his poems that has 'Dirty John's' in it, at the corner of Gilbert and Market streets," Pletzinger says of this landmark visited on a daily run. "It's great to see it!"
Twenty-nine writers, representing 22 countries, are in residence this fall at the IWP. Biographies of all the writers are accessible on the IWP website, www.uiowa.edu/~iwp.
For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to http://list.uiowa.edu/archives/acr-news.html, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.
MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073; cell: 310-430-1013; firstname.lastname@example.org