The Art of Topiary


The Art of Topiary

"In our most violent of centuries: here is the poet who is willing to stop, and stand still, in the intense brief moment of being, and see the largesse in the smallest of astonishments.”—ILLYA KAMINSKY
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A dual-language collection of vivid, tightly knit poems from one of the most important contemporary poets writing in German.

The Art of Topiary is the gorgeous product of a long collaboration between Jan Wagner and American poet David Keplinger. With the care of master gardeners tending their plants, Wagner and Keplinger have shaped Wagner’s originals—acclaimed internationally, now in English for the first time—into precise, delightful, and highly modern translations.

Along the way, the collection unfolds dialogues between discipline and freedom, sound and sense, faithfulness and improvisation. In these poems, formal structures are a corset loosened by each line of verse, a garden always pleasurably at risk of being overrun. Yet for all Wagner’s wit and sharp poetic detail, The Art of Topiary is written with an intimate earnest: a swarm of gnats take on an urgent mystery as they hum in code around the speaker’s ears, a bird atop a rhino’s leathery back becomes a fragile porcelain cup, and the antlers of an elk reach for the air like a champion for a trophy.

Compact, lightfooted, and curious, The Art of Topiary is the exciting American debut of a stunning and joyful voice in global literature.

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5.5 × 8.5 × 0.4 in
7.2 oz

Jan Wagner is a German poet, essayist, and translator. He is the author of The Art of Topiary, translated in collaboration with David Keplinger. The editor of two influential anthologies of German language poetry, Wagner is also the German translator of several British and American poets, including James Tate, Matthew Sweeney, and Charles Simic. In 2017, he was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize. He lives in Berlin.


David Keplinger is the author of Ice and Another City. His collections of poems also include The Most Natural Thing, The Prayers of Others, The Clearing, and The Rose Inside. His translations include Carsten René Nielsen’s World Cut Out with Crooked Scissors and House Inspections, a Lannan Translations Selection; his most recent translation is Jan Wagner’s The Art of Topiary.

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