Leo Tuor
(Switzerland, 1959)   
Leo Tuor

Leo Tuor was born in Rabius in the Swiss canton Graubünden. He studied philosophy, history and literature in Zurich, Fribourg and Berlin. For seventeen years he spent the summer months as a cowherd and shepherd in the Alps.

Giacumbert Nau (1988), the book which, partly through an unsuccessful attempt by the authorities to suppress it, made him a literary “Geheimtipp” overnight, was written in Sursilvan, one of the five variants of Rhaeto-Romance spoken in the region straddling the Swiss-Italian border. Rhaeto-Romance has a centuries-old literary tradition and Tuor himself spent years preparing a six-volume annoted edition of the works of the Rhaetian poet and historian Giacun Hapser Muoth (1844-1906).

Giacumbert Nau itself is fed by various traditions: next to quotes from Nietszche, Dante and Brecht it contains direct and indirect references to local customs, sayings, legends and annals. At the same time, however, Tuor crosses every borderline between traditional genres: lyrical reflections, matter-of-fact diary entries, literary quotations, dream visions, seemingly authentic (because partly incomprehensible) love letters, frenzied political diatribes, and dour aphorisms alternate and form a mosaic from which the figure of the shepherd Giacumbert finally bears down upon the unsuspecting reader or tourist larger than life.

Who is Giacumbert Nau? The autobiographical narrator, a kind of post-modern Zarathustra, or Tuor’s own creation of an “authentic” herdsman? Peu importe. Giacumbert is the man who “detests papists, policemen, patriots, poets and plebs, and everything starting with P”. Giacumbert loves his cat, the mountain mist, the Greina plateau, and his unspoilt and uninhibitedly sensuous Albertina, but:

In man’s innate goodness, he did not believe.
“I know I am evil.”
That was one of his few phrases. The sound of his words made me shiver, and his magnificent eyes burned into mine when he added:
“You, too, know you are evil.”
I knew, then.

© Maarten Elzinga (Translated by Ko Kooman)

[Leo Tuor took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2002. This text was written on that occasion.]

On Lyrikline you can find additional information (in German) about Leo Tuor and hear him read his poems.


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