Beyer was born on November 23, 1965 in Tailfingen, and studied German and English literature in Siegen. Until 1996 he lived in Cologne; since then he has been living in Dresden, moving to what was once East Germany. Beyer is a writer, editor and translator of authors like e. e. cummings, William S. Burroughs, Gertrude Stein and Michael Hofmann.
Ever since his 1995 novel The Karnau Tapes (Flughunde), Marcel Beyer has been one of the most talked-about – and actually read – young authors in Germany today. In addition to Spione (2000) – another novel that like The Karnau Tapes oscillates between fact and fiction, historical research and invention – Beyer has published several volumes of poetry. Since the publication of Falsches Futter (1997), he has been considered one of the most important poets of his generation.
The dominant issue in The Karnau Tapes and Falsches Futter are the echoes of the German past between 1933 and 1945 in the present, and the traces of this past in language. This theme is flanked in Beyer’s most recent volume of poetry Erdkunde (2002) by additional intersecting complexes. The literary exploration of eastern Europe, which can be understood – in the polyphony of the poems – as “excursions to buried language zones”, as Nico Bleutge recently put it in a review, is undertaken in seemingly everyday arrangements. Their finely drawn details serve to present links between perception and the movement of language.
In the poem ‘Rape’, for example, an emerging field of rape that surfaces in the wordlessness of the narrating subject triggers an avalanche of words that link seeing and seen, subject and object to one another in a highly musical diction: “and then this: rape,// hard edge, clean line, scattered, dense rape work,/ hatched and cross-hatched rape, the field fills, the screen fills with rape,/ rape up to your hairline, brimful of rape”. The tectonics of the poem show how language and experience mutually affect one another in a non-linear fashion. Rape is thus perhaps a ‘rap’, and an image of the poet’s own technique.
“For me, writing begins where concepts are no longer fixed,” Beyer wrote in Nonfiction, a collection of essays published in 2003, “where something becomes fragmented, where I want to hear something beside what I was able to hear up until then.” A poem like ‘Dust’, for example, explores phenomena that ultimately cannot be explained in all their aspects with any one conceptual pattern. Analogous to this is the endless reach of the semantic field of the word ‘dust’, which first allows the poem to emerge, in repeating always new, poetically precise questions: “Dust is in the blue, air, and my/ question, dust into the sky, until it’s dark.”
Marcel Beyer is a writer who knows how to combine theoretical awareness and allusion with precise (self-) observation. The word ‘snow’, for example, in Beyer can serve as a sign for the unfathomable polyvalence of every sign and every gesture – or perhaps just mean ‘it snowed’. Or maybe it didn’t.
Kleine Zahnpasta. Poems 1987-1989. Paris, dead language press 1989.
Walkmännin. Poems 1988/89. Frankfurt am Main, Patio 1991.
Falsches Futter. Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp 1997.
Erdkunde. Cologne, DuMont 2002.
Obsession. Bonn, Okeanos Press 1987.
Das Menschenfleisch. Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp 1991.
Flughunde. Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp 1995.
Spione. Cologne, DuMont 2000.
Nonfiction. Cologne: DuMont 2003.
Rudolf Blümmer, Der Stuhl, Die Ohrfeige und anderes literarisches Kasperletheater. Stücke aus dem Sturm [Vergessene Autoren der Moderne 35]. Siegen, Universitäts-Gesamthochschule 1988.
Grosz – Berlin. Autobiographisches, Bilder, Briefe und Gedichte. Co-edited with Karl Riha. Hamburg, Nautilus 1993.
Rudolf Blümmer: Ango laìna und andere Texte. Co-edited with Karl Riha. München, edition text + kritik 1993.
Gertrude Stein: Spinnwebzeit/ Bee time vine und andere Gedichte. Co-edited with Andreas Kramer and Barbara Heine. Zürich, Arche 1993.
William S. Burroughs. Co-edited with Andreas Kramer. Eggingen, Isele 1995.
Ernst Jandl, Friederike Mayröcker, Andreas Okopenko: Gemeinschaftsarbeit [experimentelle texte]. Siegen, Universitäts-Gesamthochschule 1998.
Jahrbuch der Lyrik 98/99. Ausreichend lichte Erklärung. Co-edited with Christoph Buchwald. München, Beck 1998.
Friederike Mayröcker, Gesammelte Gedichte 1939-2003. Edited by Marcel Beyer. Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp 2004.
Nordrhein-Westfälischer Literaturpreis, 1987.
Klagenfurter Ernst-Willner-Preis, 1991.
Förderpreis des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, 1992.
Neusser Diotima Literaturpreis, 1992.
Berliner Literaturpreis der Stiftung preußische Seehandlung, 1996.
Johannes Bobrowski-Medaille zum Berliner Literaturpreis, 1996.
Preis des Deutschen Kritikerverbandes, 1996.
Uwe-Johnson-Preis der Mecklenburgischen Literaturgesellschaf, 1997.
Förderpreis zum Horst-Bienek-Preis für Lyrik der Bayerischen Akademie der Schönen Künste, 1998.
Förderpreis zum Lessing-Preis des Landes Sachsen, 1999.
Poems, info and audio material.