Writer Uwe Dick Better Free than Smug

Uwe Dick
Uwe Dick | Photo (detail): © ASKU-Books

Uwe Dick’s literary work comprises poems, short stories and novels, which have remained largely unappreciated by the arts section. Dick became known primarily through his eloquent and powerful stage performances.

“Better free than smug” is the motto of Uwe Dick. As a child, the 1942 born author was already unruly, and because he didn’t understand why he should sit about in school, he preferred to give performances of his texts for friends. Later he wrote poems, which thanks to the efforts of his grandmother were even published in the newspaper. Today he is over seventy years old, lives near Passau and still writes poetry – and prose has been added to his repertory, cabaret programmes, angry plays, a biography without me (ohne ich) and the Sauwaldprosa (i.e. Hogwoodprose), a chronology of current events that appears in loose succession. It is his ambition never to repeat himself stylistically. Every genre, whether the novel, detective story, fairy tale, saga, reporting, environmental whodunit, philosophical discourse or sermon, is represented in this œuvre. Dick has said of himself: “I’m a person without any imagination whatever. Everything is experienced and nothing been made up”. For his wicked, caustic play Der Öd (i.e., Dullsville), for example, he carefully studied thirty pub brethren and incorporated their movements and manner of speaking. Thus he invariably creates an image of the reality that surrounds him and mirrors in this microcosm global events, which may be larger, but are at bottom exactly the same.

Uwe Dick – 2007 Jean Paul Prize – short portrait

Lost amidst the press

Dick, who also worked as journalist, metamorphoses into a fire-spewing volcano when one comes to speak of this profession. He, who knows the business from inside, expresses himself today only disrespectfully about “journullists”, as he calls them. It was not long before he turned his back on the press and performed his first cabaret evening on stage. Dick is of the opinion that his former colleagues have since then been reticent about reviewing him, whether because of envy, rivalry or some other reasons for wrath. The Süddeutsche Zeitung felt his winning of the 2007 Jean Paul Prize was worthy of only three lines. This award suits hardly anyone better. A lexicon on literature writes of Jean Paul’s style: “In Jean Paul’s narrative work, extravagantly digressive self-dramatizations of the narrator triumph over linear plot”. Dick’s work could not be characterized better. He received the Tukan Prize of the city of Munich twice, in 1987 and 1992, and the Marieluise Fleißer Prize already in 1986.

Rebellious models

Heinz Erhardt's Noch’n Gedicht (i.e., Let’s Have Another Poem) was the first book capable of fascinating Dick. “Erhardt won my heart. The sound, the surprising punch lines and polemical puns very much impressed me.” Other models were Ezra Pound, Jean Paul, Ernst Jandl, Wilhelm Busch, Karl Kraus and Arno Schmidt. “I like everything that is artistically rebellious”, he says of his list of favourites. “And don’t forget Karl Valentin; he is the unequalled authority on absurdity. He showed in the most relishing way that language is good for many things – but not for understanding.” There is a facet of Dick in each of these guiding stars.

The poet as cabaret artist

For forty years Dick travelled from performance to performance and played to sold-out houses. Today his stage performances have become rare because he must, since his heart operation, treat himself more gently, which is a pity. Dick sees himself as a language musician, for “what is emotion without sound”? The whole range of his linguistic and acting skills comes into its own in his stage appearances. But he by no means sees himself as a dialect writer, for which he is always (mis)taken. He loves the precision, the subtleties and nuances of dialect, which the standard language never achieves.

In unquiet retirement

Despite his versatility, Dick has not become rich. But there are after all more important things: real life. He has lived happily together with his wife for more than fifty years. She has always run the household so that he has been able to work in peace. Nowadays both of them are devoted to the garden, which makes a lot of work and contributes to their table, making the small pensions they receive somewhat more comfortable.

If here the impression arises of a lonely, impoverished and embittered poet in his poet’s cottage, it should be said that Dick is not a bitter man, but rather a crystal clear thinker with a sharp sense of humour. On top of this, he is a brilliant writer who relentlessly gives people a piece of his mind and holds up the mirror to them. “I don’t let people pigeonhole me as a misanthrope. Sublimated anger, that captures it better. And actually I look for people. In the Sauwaldprosa, there are portraits of very vital people, unjustly neglected poets or musicians, who have long been eliminated from the canon of mass culture”, he remarks. As for his acerbic tirades, he says: “I give back the aggression that you encounter everyday. Der Öd or Radlermonolog (i.e., Cyclist’s Monologue) are studies in aggression – I give it back before I get a cancer. A few people have written that I’m a misunderstood genius. That’s right, I’m totally vacant! And that’s the game and it’s fun for me”.