From Embracing the Sparrow-Wall, or 1 Schumann-Madness

by Friederike Mayröcker (Austria)
translated from German by Jonathan Larson

print book | bilingual edition
8” x 5” | 46 pages
Release date: September 15, 2019

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it’s a matter of drafting of drawing up realms of feeling, of drafting jots and scribbles, wild telephones, nightmares, elastic hinges

ach! to find the scale balanced between the pleasure gardens of language

I see your floating hat your panicked mouth, puffy-sleeved in the garden in the garbling coos

Originally written in German by one of Austria’s most important experimental poets, From Embracing the Sparrow-Wall, or 1 Schumann-Madness, is a “revisionary incantation” of the lives of 19th-Century composer Robert Schumann and pianist Clara Schumann, alongside that of the poet herself, Friederike Mayröcker, and her “heart-and-hand companion,” Ernst Jandl. Initially conceived as a musical performance and published as a textual record of a radio play, this book showcases Mayröcker’s wild, innovative use of language, as well as her unique mode of textual production, in which details and lines from lives and letters are interwoven with her own. In the words of the translator, Jonathan Larson: “Robert Schumann’s diary entries set up the source motif, their relations of sexual experience, personal medical history, and artistic musing are all flush sampling materials for Mayröcker to recompose a new text from an old one, as if it were written as a reinterpretation of Robert Schumann’s diaries (‘1 has to feel it, 1 has to feel language, to lay on or take off 1 weight here and there like pharmacist scale, so it must sound, so tuned’).”


Praise for From Embracing the Sparrow-Wall, or 1 Schumann-Madness:

Friederike Mayröcker is a tuning fork: her work has taught me how to write in neologic or screwball “crimsonspring” sixteenth notes that bend to hear each other; and her world-building in Embracing the Sparrow-Wall or 1 Schumann Madness has this familiar patter/pattern too, an ejaculatory, tearful, yet soft capaciousness where the pronomial “one” is 1 of many, “I” of another. The compositions are a “wide-eyed audience” for themselves, and for their ongoing interlocutors the composer and pianist, who triangulate with the narrator to make an almost scented, breathing speech-art/thorny Hörspiel, no ennui necessary. Jonathan Larson’s translation tends knowingly, almost graciously, to Mayröcker’s ear—for she is listening—and this knowing tunes, too, the connections between the Austrian poet’s fond, elongated reach toward conversation with particular references, and her elevation of what is given in language, for “>>the air is full of our cries<< (Beckett),” “while the valleys flashed.”

Corina Copp,
author of The Green Ray
(Ugly Duckling Presse, 2015)

Mayröcker, through Larson’s well researched yet wild English, invites us to imagine a world of new words and new bodies, where music and sound have physical effect on the earth and on the very notion of language. This book forces me to rethink what collage is, how we can collaborate with the dead, and what poetry can be when we play freely with old forms and conventions.

Allison Grimaldi Donahue
author of Body to Mineral (Publication Studio, 2016)
Senior Editor at Queen Mob’s Teahouse
Associate Translation Editor at Anomaly


A Note from the Translator

For the last three-quarters of a century Friederike Mayröcker has established her name as a world-force of literature, having published upwards of 100 titles that include radio plays, librettos, children’s books, and works of ungenred poetry and prose. She spent most of her working career as an English teacher in Vienna before she was able to take an early retirement in 1969, after which she committed herself to a life of full-time writing. Around that same time the poet Ernst Jandl— Mayröcker’s ‘heart-and-hand companion’ until his death in 2000—was approached about producing audio plays for the radio, four of which he would collaborate with Mayröcker on while they continued their various book projects. Since then she has written just over thirty radio plays of her own, this collection initially being one of them before it was published in book form as the textual record.

The form of the German language radio play—'Hörspiel,’ which translates literally to ‘audio play’ or ‘listening play’ in English, would be mostly unfamiliar to English language listeners as something heard on the radio since it has a lot more in common with sound art and sound poetry than radio dramas. It is characteristic for these plays to collage voice-overs, polyvocalisms, soundscapes, stereophony, musical interludes and accompaniments, analogue and digital sound effects, i.e. a musique concrète that also includes the voiced text as a compositional element. Not only did these radio plays provide a surplus stream of income for writers, but they also allowed and encouraged writing that dialed up the acoustics and punning—the melopoeiac frequencies of charged sound—as a way of counteracting western linear syntactic conventions that spoke in terms of subject-verb-object. In her acceptance speech for the oldest radio play award, the radio play prize of the war blinded, which she received together with Jandl for Fünf Mann Menschen (Five Man Humans), Mayröcker described the radio play as “calling up a distinct reaction from the listener, something that shares an affinity with musical pleasure, but is sparked by words and noises instead of notes [Tönen].” Even though Mayröcker has said that audio plays serve only as a side lane to her writing, the generative influence the form has had on her prose work, in particular, is evident in the crowding of voices, eavesdropped snatches of dialogue and recollection, ambient sounds, and above all, musicality coming together as a textual fugue from that point on. We witness the lyrical I qua microphone.

In that vein the first stage of this title—from Embracing the Composer on the Open Sofa—was produced and performed with the artist and friend of Mayröcker’s, Bodo Hell, who intoned echoes and susurrous undertunes to Mayröcker’s reading for their live public sound performances during the summer of 2010 in Vienna. The project was then made into the radio play 1 Schumann-madness, which received its third life by Mayröcker’s publisher, ‘Suhrkamp Verlag,’ when it appeared on the page with the title of this book. Not only do the 19th Century composer and graphomaniac Robert Schumann and the pianist Clara Schumann feature alongside Jandl and the poet herself as central figures in this piece, or rather as each other’s doubles, with details and lines from their lives and letters interwoven. Robert Schumann’s diary entries set up the source motif, their relations of sexual experience, personal medical history, and artistic musing are all flush sampling materials for Mayröcker to recompose a new text from an old one, as if it were written as a reinterpretation of Robert Schumann’s diaries (“1 has to feel it, 1 has to feel language, to lay on or take off 1 weight here and there like pharmacist scale, so it must sound, so tuned”).

The piece was itself initially conceived as musical performance. Cutting up musicians’ biographies first became a mode of textual production in Mayröcker’s groundbreaking 1978 prose collection Heiligenanstalt (translated into English for ‘Burning Deck’ by Rosmarie Waldrop) in which the musings of Chopin, Brahms, Robert and Clara Schumann, Bruckner and Schubert are interwoven with first person accounts. Mayröcker’s 2009 collection Scardanelli (which I translated into English for ‘The Song Cave’) similarly re-tapestries lines from Hölderlin’s biography, letters, and poems to induce a Rimbaldian ‘I is another’ orientation, a technique prevalent throughout Mayröcker’s oeuvre, whether in drawing on telephone conversations with artist friends, the piano playing of Glenn Gould, invoking the works of Francis Bacon, Francesca Woodman, or Cy Twombly, or writing in response to Jacques Derrida, Gertrude Stein, or Francis Ponge. Because this text overruns with resonance and reference, deriving from a (re)visionary incantation of Robert Schumann’s lifestyle, I’ve endeavored to convey each phrasing with a corresponding density and grain of phrasing so that it might carry Mayröcker’s tune, even when not hitting each note…

About the Author

Born in Vienna, Austria in 1924, Friederike Mayröcker has written over 100 works of poetry and prose among children’s books, librettos, and radio plays. She is the recipient of countless prizes and awards, including the most important prize for German language literature, the Georg Büchner Prize. Mayröcker’s collections available in English translation include Night Train (1992, trans. Beth Bjorklund); Heiligenanstalt (1994, trans. Rosmarie Waldrop); with each clouded peak (1998, trans. Rosmarie Waldrop and Harriett Watts); peck me up, my wing (2000, trans. Mary Burns); Raving Language: Selected Poems 1946-2006 (2007, trans. Richard Dove); and brütt, or The Sighing Gardens (2008, trans. Roslyn Theobald); A Requiem for Ernst Jandl (2018, Roslyn Theobald); and Scardanelli (2018, Jonathan Larson).

About the Translator

Jonathan Larson is a poet and translator living and working in Brooklyn. His translations of Francis Ponge’s Nioque of the Early-Spring and Friederike Mayröcker’s Scardanelli were published by The Song Cave.