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Klaus Merz

Klaus Merz was born in 1945 in Aarau, Switzerland. He has published twenty volumes of poetry and numerous works of fiction, most notably the short story collection “Adams Kostüm” (2001) and the novellas “Jakob schläft” (Sleeping Jack, 1997) and “Der Argentinier” (The Argentine, 2009).


“Klaus Merz shows us what remains until we become dust—and how in spite of this, we can even expose impermanence with great joy. Even while reading, we age. Seldom has one—line by line—moved closer to the inevitable as in these conciliatory yet perishable verses.”

– Tages-Anzeiger

“Klaus Merz has a eye for the substance of things; his poems can be interpreted as lyrical snapshots… [and yet,] despite his knife-edged precise reductionism, his poems are not stark and severe, but often packed with humor and irony...”

– Liveres–Bücher

“A master of the short form who…permits the phenomena to speak for themselves instead of infusing them with an external meaning. With a laconic frugality, he succeeds to enter the substance and metaphysical depth of objects and make them quite visible.”

– Basler Zeitung

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Out of the Dust

Out of the Dust: Less Is More


There is a freshness of approach, an originality of metaphor in Out of the Dust by Klaus Merz (beautifully translated by Marc Vincenz) that is astounding. Alongside that magnetic originality — of image, phrase and characterization — is a kindness and romantic (with a small “r”) impulse that makes his poetry irresistibly appealing.

The opening poem “Hard into the Wind” turns the tables on being a nonconformist — “Never played golf…or sailed hard into the wind” — speak to the poet’s self-loyal lifestyle and values, a “never” contrasted with what he HAS frequently done, “see(ing) within my nearest /, all the way into her /childhood faces.” Thus the poem conveys a soft but firm sense that not sailing “Hard into the wind” is hard too.  Reversal of direction, and the startling oxymoron, are two of Merz’s spirited array of techniques.

Moments like “Clouds roll/adamantly by” (“Pinacoteca”), “Since yesterday he owns a mobile and/the world considers him healed,” (“Back Office”), and “Entered an area/somewhere south of trepidation”) all convey the truth that when a poet enhances reality with metaphors, truths much harder to find than appearances are revealed. Nowhere is Merz’s artful blending of characterization and oxymoron more evident than in the brief poem “Beyond Recall”:

“Towards midnight
a yodeling moped driver zips
past my window
with his visor open as if
he were going off to a happy war.”

Merz conveys the ludicrous concept of a “happy war” through the peculiar, almost unreal moped driver; he manages to make his (admittedly vague) antiwar statement a humorous one. The conclusion — “Why then, a little later / does the noise / of my burning cigarette paper / terrify me?” — suggests an intuition against war on the part of the apparently very high strung narrator, one that emphasizes the absurdity of a “happy war.”

Merz’s world is a shimmering window onto beauty and insight, so precisely understated that many of the poems border on the hypnotic and can be read time and time again. It’s no wonder that so many are short, eight or ten lines or less: his eye and ear are both so incisive that if he wrote at too great length the resultant intensity could be painful. Merz is a poet who expands and deepens with his conciseness, who embodies imagism’s implied aesthetic of “less is more.” This book of exceptional magic will expand the horizons of anyone who reads it.

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