World Poetry Day: winding houses over deep ground

When UNESCO decided at its Paris conference in 1999 to proclaim March 21st as World Poetry Day, it was not concerned with the diverse manifestations of poetry itself. The resolution at the time, in gruesome bureaucratic English, professes that poetry is a rescue tool for endangered languages ​​– and a reservoir of educational effects. It is about a “social movement towards the recognition of the values ​​of the ancestors”, which “could help young people to rediscover basic values” by increasing the “acceptance of language as a factor of socialization and structuring of the human individual”.

Is there anything more intimidating? And: Is this the perspective from which one does justice to the pleasure and often inseparable effort that has accompanied the reading, writing and reciting of poetry through the ages? The practice of World Day did not linger long with such misguided expectations, thank God. Once a year, a genre draws attention to itself that has long since ceased to be suitable for knowledge and self-knowledge in the public eye, although its thinking in images can always compete with the conceptually fixed philosophy.

The psychoanalyst CG Jung once described the human soul as a building “whose upper story was built in the nineteenth century; the ground floor dates from the 16th century and closer examination of the masonry reveals the fact that it was converted from an 11th century tower house. In the basement we discover Roman foundations and under the basement there is a buried cave, at the bottom of which stone tools are uncovered in the upper layer and remains of the contemporary fauna in the lower layer.”

This image, which the philosopher Gaston Bachelard developed into a “poetics of space” in his classic of the same name, also conveys something of the layers on which contemporary poetry is built – even if it only opens a spoken word window here and there boldly rhymed metaphor fug aired.

The striking thing is that beyond all intellectual excellence there seems to be an almost animal need for poetry that, more or less scratched in the dirt, lets off steam in the most unlikely places. An example is the “Poems from Guantánamo” published by Matthes & Seitz. Prisoners who had never written verse before took refuge in poetry — whether it was memorizing it or scribbling it on Styrofoam cups with apple stalks.

Lyrical secrets

A few years ago, Werner von Koppenfels collected lyrical memorabilia for an anthology “From the dungeons of Europe”. Some of the greatest were represented here, such as François Villon, who was briefly sentenced to death, or the communist Jannis Ritsos, who was imprisoned on several Greek islands. Their need for expression differs from that of the Guantánamo inmates primarily in the level of language used.

The list of “Poetry Recommendations 2023” published by the German Academy for Language and Poetry for World Day ( Ten German and translated titles await readers. Whether one tends towards Christian Lehnert’s mystical-theologically inspired re-enchantment of the natural world (“opus 8”) or wants to go back to Ernest Wichner’s Romanian-German origins (“Heute Mai und Morgen du”), whether one wants to share a relationship with the Hungarian Ágnes Nemes Nagy one of the most important female poets of the 20th century, prepared for the Anthropocene (“My brain: a lake”) or a formative figure of the 21st in the form of the Russian Maria Stepanova (“Girl without clothes”): together with video clips on YouTube, one becomes find it here.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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