Black Lawrence Press

The Possible is Monstrous: Selected Poems by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

The Possible is Monstrous: Selected Poems by Friedrich Durrenmatt translates by Daniele Pantano

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.


  • "Much the way Dürrenmatt himself reclaims in verse the psyche of the Minotaur from the ancient labyrinth, so Daniele Pantano brings down from the Alps and the secret land of bank vaults the poetry of Switzerland’s most important writer of the twentieth century."
    —James Reidel

    "What was the Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt, author of The Visit and one of the greatest and most inscrutable dramatists of the 20th Century, really thinking––about life, love, drama and politics? Here, in The Possible Is Monstrous, a tremendously revealing and stimulating German-English dual language volume of his selected poetry, is a perfect place to find out. For in his poetry Dürrenmatt reveals sides of himself not readily discernible in his plays. In addition to providing English-speaking readers with new access to Dürrenmatt and his work, The Possible Is Monstrous will be of great interest to scholars of the dramatist."

    "Daniele Pantano's translations of Dürrenmatt's poems into English are themselves
    a significant achievement in poetic translation. His translations of Dürrenmatt's poems are
    a model of the elusive and delicate balance between accuracy and readability that makes
    The Possible Is Monstrous so satisfying."
    —Dr. Victor Peppard

    "Who knew that the great Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt wrote poetry? Fortunately for us, the gifted poet and translator Daniele Pantano (born in Switzerland) did; he now brings us the first English language collection of Dürrenmatt's fascinating and accessible poems. This bilingual edition is always lively, often touching and disturbing, as lyrics and ballads mix with love poems and social criticism. Dürrenmatt's vision is dark, more melancholy than angry, but his love of the world and its language shines through on every page."
    —Peter Meinke

Friedrich Dürrenmatt

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