Clemens Setz

As well as writing two highly acclaimed novels and a new collection of short stories (see the review on NBG), being shortlisted for the German Book Prize and winning the Leipzig Book Fair Prize, Austrian author Clemens Setz is soon to publish his first collection of poetry. Here we present an exclusive selection of those poems, in English versions by prize-winning translator Peter Constantine.

To a Poltergeist in the Bedroom’s Northward Wall

Your senile hollow knocking has
remained ever the same, no
development, no punctuation,
you repeat yourself day after day,
night after gray sleepless night,
always with the same beat, as if you were a heart
seeking to strike sparks on the stones
of the old house. A heart knocking softly
with knuckles on the incisors
of the future, seeking an entrance
or a reason to stay.

The Theory of Literature

An infinite number of monkeys
with typewriters, it is said,
would ultimately produce the complete
works of Shakespeare.
And shortly thereafter the works of Dante,
then Joyce, Goethe, Kafka,
Then, after some months,
a few personal writings about things such as
paws, trees, or
perpetual repetition.
Then a little Dostoevsky again
followed by the whole of Shakespeare
all over from the beginning,
line by line.
And in between a few pieces about trees,
paws, bananas,
and perpetual repetition.

The Palace at Four in the Morning

When nobody is looking, the queen removes
her garments, leaf by leaf,
the prince sinks into the tub,
the lithe princess rolls under her bed.
Only the king, a strutting Tom Thumb, marches
valiantly on through his empty, forlorn chambers,
his eyes gazing at black, black windows
and the bitter truth of the tapestries.

Under Stones

I sat on a stone
and thought of the grass beneath it:
ungreen, broken blades
in the heavy dark.
I settled in.


Today I woke up
around one in the morning
on my twenty-sixth birthday,
got up and walked about
in my dark apartment.
The video recorder
was recording something
and I tried to remember
what it was. The minutes counter
went from twenty-six
to twenty-seven.
Then to twenty-eight.
By the time the movie reached
fifty minutes, I’d peacefully fallen
asleep again in the lonely armchair
next to the television.
That’s where they found me in the morning,
woke me,
and wished me many happy returns.

North Sea

The little witch Bibi Blocksberg
has a brother
by the name of Boris.
But only up to the ninth episode, then
"he is sent off to live with grandma and grandpa
by the North Sea.”
The reason we are given is that he has a cough
and that the fresh sea air will do him good.
That’s the last we ever hear of him.
Even at Christmas and Easter
the family no longer 
mentions him.


Clemens Setz is a young Austrian poet, novelist, magician, jazz pianist, and mathematician. His novel Die Frequenzen (‘Frequencies’) was shortlisted in 2009 for the German Book Prize, Germany’s most prestigious literary award, and his poetry and prose have also received the Ernst Willner Prize (2008), the Bremen Literature Prize (2010), and the Outstanding Artist Award (2010). His first collection of poetry is forthcoming with Suhrkamp Verlag, who have also published his first collection of short stories (see review p. 31). That collection was awarded the Leipzig Book Fair Prize 2011.


Peter Constantine’s most recent translations include Sophocles’ Theban Trilogy and The Essential Writings of Machiavelli. A 2010 Guggenheim Fellow, Constantine was awarded the PEN Translation Prize for Six Early Stories, by Thomas Mann, and the National Translation Award for The Undiscovered Chekhov. He is one of the editors of A Century of Greek Poetry: 1900–2000 and of The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present.