Scardanelli, by Friederike Mayröcker
Translated by Jonathan Larson
In Scardanelli, Friederike Mayröcker, one of the most well-known poets in Austria associated with the experimental German writers and artists of the Wiener Gruppe, continues to sharpen her mystical and hallucinatory poetic voice. Filled with memory and loss, these poems are time-stamped and often dedicated to the friends they address, including Friedrich Hölderlin--"I do often go in your shadow"--who appears in the first poem of the book and stays throughout. Even the title, Scardanelli, refers to the name that Hölderlin signed many of his poems with after having been diagnosed with madness toward the end of 1806. Mayröcker uses her own eclectic reading, daily life, and the scenes and sounds of Vienna around her to find a new language for grief and aging--"I am counted among the aging ones though I would prefer to consort with the young (rose of their cheeks)." Despite the intractable challenges Mayröcker’s layered language and unconventional use of signs and symbols presents to translation, Jonathan Larson manages to convey masterfully the unmistakable singularity of her work.
Tumult, ferocity, ﬂow, exaltation, immersion: Friederike Mayröcker, among the world’s greatest living writers, reinterprets literary vocation as total theater. Swimming through the language-tide, she cuts syntax into new folds and undulations. Responding to her gestural commands, words form constellations, clusters, diaristic strings of inference. Like Kandinsky, she oscillates between abstraction and ﬁguration, and treats phrase-groupings as pungent, aimed vectors, ambushing the senses from the picture-plane’s four corners with ﬂoral insinuations and hermetic explosions. She doesn’t narrate; she ampliﬁes and conjures, turning linguistic intake into a synesthetic, intertextual act of voracious reincorporation. Jonathan Larson’s gorgeous translation does Rosenkavalier service, mediating Mayröcker and tuning Scardanelli’s luster into Anglophone receivers. Mayröcker’s bouquet—a notebook, an event, a demand—gives Ponge a run for his money. —Wayne Koestenbaum
Very consistently, in verse and prose, [Friederike Mayröcker] has combined collage procedures with fantasy and free association, relying on the imaginative power, elegance and inventiveness of her language alone to make up for the loss of referential coherence, linear plots in prose or ‘subjects’, as distinct from themes, in poems. Her combinations of the most disparate material have their being in total freedom. —Michael Hamburger
Friederike Mayröcker was born in Vienna in 1924. Since 1956 she has been publishing works of poetry and prose, radio plays, and children's books. She has received countless awards for her writings that include among others the Georg Büchner Prize (2001), the Hermann Lenz Prize (2009), and the Austrian Book Prize (2016).