Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990) is commonly seen not only as the most prominent Swiss novelist, playwright, and essayist of the twentieth century but as one of the most influential authors of modern literature. His works, which include the plays The Visit (1956) and The Physicists (1962), as well as the novels The Judge and His Executioner (1952) and The Pledge (1958), have been translated into virtually all languages. In 2001, The Pledge was even adapted for the screen (directed by Sean Penn and starring Jack Nicholson). What only a few readers and scholars realize, however, is that in addition to being a prolific writer of prose, Dürrenmatt was also a formidable poet, who moves effortlessly from epic ballads, nursery rhymes, and exotic forms such as the maqam, to short lyric bursts and personal anecdotes, from socioeconomic critiques of Switzerland and postwar Europe, reinterpretations of ancient myths, and poems about craft, to investigations of modern science and culture. In fact, the Dürrenmatt scholar and biographer Peter Rüedi, who wrote the afterword for the poems, argues that some of the author’s verses offer “rare moments of another, lyric Dürrenmatt,” poems “where Dürrenmatt speaks as Dürrenmatt, a voice we can usually hear only in his later prose—pieces where he allows himself some sensitivity.” More significantly, often viewed as mere byproducts of his prose, Dürrenmatt’s poems, first written on maps, envelopes, napkins, and odd scraps of paper, undoubtedly represent a crucial narrative that parallels, informs, and illuminates his development as an author and playwright.
Surprisingly, this important part of Dürrenmatt’s oeuvre has—until now—never been made available to English-speaking readers. The publication of The Possible Is Monstrous, the first individual collection of Dürrenmatt’s work as a poet, therefore, fills a crucial gap and allows one to experience Dürrenmatt as he saw himself at the beginning of his literary career—as a poet.