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Brendel’s complete output of more than 200 poems is collected here, together with a selection of artworks including pictures by Max Neumann, George Nama, Elisabeth Haas, Edward Gorey and Hans Arp. The translations are, Brendel emphasises, ‘versions’, as ‘they incorporate liberties a faithful translator would hardly feel entitled to take.’ The inclusion of the 30 illustrations is particularly apt, as Brendel’s poetry has been so much influenced by visual images – theatre, film, cartoon, etc. Brendel has also spoken of his surprise at becoming a poet: (the poems were) ‘suddenly there’, ‘started to write themselves’.

Anyone familiar with Brendel’s performances of the Viennese classics – especially Haydn and Beethoven – will know that he is without equal in exposing wit, irony and eccentricity, qualities so often underplayed. These attributes are equally evident in his own poetry.

Here is a brief example of his irreverence: ‘The gentle Buddha - ensconced in his fat – dripping sometimes – in hot weather – numb with content – What happened – to make him jump up – howling in anger’ – ‘his bottom – had come to rest – on a bee.’ The poem ‘Composer’ (page 452-3), with its inversion of the modern concern with noise abatement, illustrates Brendel’s delightful sense of irony, his original and playful mind. Musical references may be found in ‘Cologne’ (noisy audiences), ‘Brahms’ (I-IV), ‘Pianos’, ‘Tritsch-Tratsch’, ‘Beethoven’ and others.

Brendel relishes the absurd, whimsical, macabre (one can understand his liking for the work of Edward Gorey), surreal, and subversive. He hopes that readers will take away ‘a sense of ambiguity’, ‘the pleasure of being disquieted’, and ‘the enjoyment of lucidity plus weirdness’.

Anyone with a taste for these sensations, together with Brendel’s admirers and, I suspect, many other curious readers, will derive much enjoyment from this beautifully produced volume. One small irritation – to find the title of each poem, with few exceptions, one has to refer back to the contents.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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