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The first book of Kurt Schwitters' writings translated into English

Poems Performance Pieces Proses Plays Poetics

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Kurt Schwitters, edited by Jerome Rothenberg, translated by Pierre Joris

Pen Center USA West Literary Award for Translation, 1994

"My aim is the total Merz art work, which combines all genres into an artistic unity. First I married off single genres. I pasted words and sentences together in poems in such a way that their rhythmic composition created a kind of drawing. The other way around, I pasted together pictures and drawings containing sentences that demand to be read.... I did this in order to erase the boundaries between the arts."
Kurt Schwitters

Although Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) is increasingly recognized as one of the great visual artists of the twentieth century—a recognition reconfirmed in 1985 by a highly acclaimed retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art—his achievements as one of the major poets and theorists of Modernism have not received the same degree of attention. This collection of Schwitters' literary work, presented by two American poets of international standing, brings the vast range and unique genius of his writings to English-language audiences for the first time.

Coining the word "Merz" to identify his one-man version of Dadism, Schwitters sought to "erase the boundaries between the arts" and to emphasize the reciprocal relationship of his visual and verbal works. Schwitters worked with and developed more new forms and genres than almost any poet of his time. The wide sweep and inventiveness of his literary output—essays, plays, fiction, manifestos, as well as poetry—reflect or prefigure movements such as expressionism, surrealism, sound-texts, concrete poetry, performance art, and language poetry.

To present Schwitters' astounding range, the poet-translators of this volume have selected poems, "proses," performance pieces, and manifestos; included complete major works, such as "Augusta Bolte" and "Ur Sonata"; offered selections from Schwitters' plays; and provided a sampler of the collaged and word-filled paintings (some in full color).

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Reviews

"Alone, the artist's work would remain equally strong and radical, but I think it is fortunate that his work fell into the hands of Joris and Rothenberg....The[y] provide a clear historical background while establishing the importance and current validity of Schwitters' written work."
American Book Review

"Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris, themselves important poets, have given us a wonderfully supple idiomatic translation of Schwitters' major poems, fictions, and plays. Form the radical language experiments of the early twenties—'An Anna Blume' and the 'Ur Sonata' are cited in virtually every book-length study of Dada and European avant-garde—to the later plays and the Merz manifestos, Rothenberg and Joris have done wonders in conveying the tone and pace of Schwitters' poetic and performance pieces. Anyone who cares about the Modernist avant-garde will want to own this book, and its critical apparatus makes it ideal for classroom use."
Marjorie Perloff

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Contents

Introduction

Part I: Poems & Performance Pieces
1. The World
2. Unstupid
3. Nights
4. "Thou"
5. Legborders
6. Green Child
7. Wound roses roses bleed
8. Light & Low
9. Cnudgel
10. Madd Madd World
11. He She It
12. Simultaneous Poem
13. Repose
14. An Anna Blume
15. Anna Blossom Has Wheels
16. Call It Killing You Off
17. The Bahnhof
18. Execution
19. To Johannes Molzahn
20. Herwarth Walden
21. Portrait of Herwarth Walden
22. Portrait of Nell Walden
23. Portrait of Christof Spengemann
24. Portrait of Rudolf Bliimner
25. Portrait of Rudolf Bauer
26. Mary the Red
27. To Maria
28. On a Drawing by Marc Chagall
29. A Flower Like a Raven
30. Private Gentlemen, Attention Please!
31. Decay's Way
32. Wheelers Dealers
33. Evening
34. Waggling
35. From the Back & from the Front to Start
36. Murder Machine 43
37. Chinese Banalities
38. The Prisoner
39. Workers Song
40. Subway Poem
41. High Fashion Furs
42. Raspberry Bonbons
43. The Meadow
44. The Critic
45. For Franz Marc
46. The Great Ardor of Dada
47. Cigarren
48. Simile
50. Your Most Humble
51. To the Berlin Proletariat!
52. Desire
53. Candle Fat
54. Ice Clocks
55. Village Poem
56. Dumb Poem
57. Wirecircus
58. The Hand
59. Analysis
60. Roses abloom like daisy blossoms
61. Autumn
62. Twelve
63. Poem 25
64. Z A
65. Register
66. Typographic Visual Poem
67. AO Visual Poem
68. A-A Visual Poem
69. S-S Visual Poem
70. Ur Sonata
71. Indecent i-Poem
72. p p p p p p p p p
73. Banalities (1) and (2)
74. From Hannover Merzbau
75. [1 7 10]
76. Ideas for Poems
77. Autumn / The Last Fly
78. Four Bear Songs
79. Tortrtalt
80. Devil in Need
81. For Anne: A Poem to Be Sung as a Round
82. If I Were, When I Was
83. Four Visual Poems:
84. Mai 191, Oon, Difficult, Esir
85. Premonitions
86. When someone once said
87. Small Chinese Poem
88. Flight
89. Perhaps Strange
90. There was a little Kew
91. Imagination
92. Funeral Furnitures at your service
93. She Dolls with Dollies
94. Königsberger Is Like That
95. Dadar
96. I and You
97. [Frohe Tage]
98. And in the night
99. She is my fairy queen
100. Count Sardinowhocount
101. [To avoid]
102. London Onion
103. Opinion
104. One day
105. Far away from
106. At first men were limited
107. The Prisoner
108. A fishbone fish a fefishbone
109. Pin
110. Die Gazelle zittert / The gazelle trembles

Part II: Proses & Plays
111. The Onion
112. Kurt Schwitters to the Swiss Dadaist Arp. Blackberries (2)
113. A Quarter of the Feelings of Old Man Automato in His Ancestral Castle Atho
114. The Secret Drawer
115. Vexation Plays
116. Dramatic Sketch
117. Buckets
118. Augusta Bolte
119. Shepherd's Play
120. Shadow Play
121. Profane Words over the Eternal City
122. In the Middle of the World a House Stands
123. Two Choruses from Above and Below
124. The Family Plot
125. For Exhibition

Part III: Poetics
126. The Artists' Right to Self-Determination
127. From Merz
128. i
129. Consistent Poetry
130. What Is Madness?
131. Language
132. [What art is, you know... ]
133. Grotesques and Satires
134. Numbers
135. typography and orthography: small letters
136. My Sonata in Primal Sounds
137. About me by myself
138. Stone upon stone is a building
139. Present Inter Noumenal
140. PIN

Chronology
Index of Titles
About the Translators

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About the Author(s)

Jerome Rothenberg is the author of more than fifty books of poetry and the editor of six groundbreaking anthologies of experimental and traditional poetry. He is currently Professor of Visual Arts and Literature at the University of California, San Diego.

Pierre Joris has published twenty books of poetry, several anthologies, and many volumes of translations (into both English and French). He is Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York, Albany.

Subject Categories

General Interest
Literature and Drama
Race and Ethnicity


In the series

Border Lines: Works in Translation, edited by Lawrence Venuti.

Border Lines, edited by Lawrence Venuti, is a translation series designed to make important foreign literary works available to an English-language audience and to recognize and support the role of translation in promoting cultural diversity. The books will be primarily fiction and poetry, but the series will also consider drama and non-fiction genres like memoirs and criticism. Preference will be given to foreign writers who have never been translated into English, and to foreign literatures that are underrepresented in Anglo-American culture because of aesthetic, cultural, or political differences.

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