Festival for World Literature
Jan. 21–26, 2019 – Cologne

»High Five«

Opening Event with the Poetica Authors
Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, 6.00 pm

University of Cologne, Aula II

There’s a seventh heaven and a sixth sense — now there is the Poetica 5.

At this year’s festival for world literature, invited authors turn their minds to enhanced states of being. Since time immemorial, art and ecstasy, rapture and ritual have made common cause. People, among them many artists, ingest substances not for their nutritional value, but to induce euphoria. The Leipzig physician Louis Lewin, founder of the »science of poisons,« once compiled consciousness-altering substances under the title Phantastica (1924). Is literature such a drug? Does the right word dope the mind? Do well-wrought phrases expand consciousness?

At Poetica5, eight writers join author and festival curator Aris Fioretos to explore literary states of euphoria. Investigating different forms of inspiration and artificial paradises, they will discuss high-flying ecstasy but also the burden of gravity. At the opening event at the Cologne University aula, the guests are presented in talks with the curator and through readings from their works (in both native language and German translation). The evening will be introduced by Axel Freimuth, president of Cologne University, who will be joined by Günter Blamberger (Director of the Institute for Advanced Study Morphomata). Following the event, there will be a reception.

With the Poetica authors Mircea Cărtărescu (Romania), Oswald Egger (Germany), Christian Kracht (Switzerland), Mara Lee (Sweden), Agi Mishol (Israel), Lebogang Mashile (South Africa), Marion Poschmann (Germany), Jo Shapcott (England) and the curator Aris Fioretos (Sweden). With the actors and musicians Nicola Gründel and Philipp Plessmann.

The event will be held both in German and in English.

Admission is free.

»In extremis«

Conversation with Christian Kracht
Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, 2.00 pm

CHANGE OF LOCATION! University of Cologne, Hörsaal II

Rapture and detachment, unease and self-obliteration: from the beginning, Christian Kracht has oscillated between extremes. Already in his debut novel Faserland (1995), an odyssey through the late Federal Republic of Germany (the »fatherland« of the title), dejection and euphoria played defining roles. Since then, Kracht has explored borderline experiences in the Far East, in revolutionary Iran as well as in a Swiss Soviet republic both invented and deteriorating. His latest novel, Die Toten (The Dead, 2016), takes readers to the edgy Berlin of the early Thirties’ film industry and into the fickle world beyond — to noirish Los Angeles glittering beneath a feverish sun and the gloomy skies above neon Tokyo. Time and again, Kracht depicts balance as a hard-won existential strategy and adventure as temptation and perdition alike.

In conversation with Poetica 5 curator, Aris Fioretos, Kracht unfolds his thoughts on rapture as experience, on style as poise, on shuddering as a form of insight.

Moderated by Aris Fioretos.

The event will be held in English.

Admission is free.


Readings and Conversations with Mircea Cărtărescu, Christian Kracht and Agi Mishol
Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, 7.30 pm

Cologne Public Library

In physics, the term »excitation« describes how electrons are elevated to a higher level, temporarily giving atoms a higher energy. How are such forms of incitement generated in literature? Are they brought about »through longing, desire, / through lust, passion, through emotion, through lasciviousness,« as in the poetry of Mircea Cărtărescu? Does literature thus »reach the utterly perfect clouds,« which, in Christian Kracht, float »wholly detached … above earth«? And where, pray, does it find itself once it has arrived at this »most shrewd and puzzling place,« as Agi Mishol puts it?

Through readings and in discussions, the authors reflect on excitement as form and temptation. In his journal, Cărtărescu declares himself a »self-replicating bomb explosion« whose »stream of consciousness writing,« as unpredictable as it is suggestive, triggers delight and dismay in equal parts. In his novels, Kracht celebrates prose as an adventure of the mind, journeying into the world of affects, where being human is half miracle, half curse. Time and again, the poetry of Agi Mishol strives for the balance between self-posession and ecstasy, that »dense matter of alchemy« in which »proximity« and »departure« are in balance.

Together with curator Aris Fioretos, the authors will engage in literary vivisection. On this night, they lay bare the nerves of their works.

Moderated by Aris Fioretos.

The event will be held both in German and English and will be translated simultaneously. In cooperation with Cologne's Public Library.

Admission 8/6 EUR

Tickets can only be purchased at the door.


Creative Writing Workshop with Aris Fioretos and Mircea Cărtărescu
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, 10.00 am

Morphomata International Center for Advanced Studies

When people experience shock, their arrector pili muscles contract, the fine hairs stand erect; they begin to shudder. Now »quivering patterns … cross the body obliquely,« as Marion Poschmann puts it in »Tarnfarben« (Camouflage), collected in Geistersehen (Seeing Ghosts, 2010),                                                                          »taking the shape                                                                               we wish to avoid. only                                                         gooseflesh gives a quiet inkling.«

What happens in such a physiological assault? How may an emotional state of emergency be defined? Can shuddering offer particular gains in insight? Within the framework of the Poetica 5, students at Cologne University have the opportunity to present and discuss their texts in a literary workshop mentored by Aris Fioretos and Mircea Cărtărescu. The number of participants is limited to twelve. Only students matriculated at Cologne University may attend. Those interested are asked to submit a one-page (1) sample text (prose or poetry) on the nature and effect of gooseflesh to Antonia Villinger (). Deadline is December 18, 2018.

This event is not open to the public.

»Loci of Longing«

Readings and Conversations with Oswald Egger and Marion Poschmann
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, 7.30 pm

Literaturhaus Köln

As an aggregate for longing, poetry may provide a Baedeker to a territory namned »Xanadu« (Coleridge) or »Otaheiti« (Hölderlin), beyond geography, yet on this side of grammar. For Marion Poschmann and Oswald Egger, yearning and its loci are of paramount importance. In their works, readers may visit a medieval hortus conclusus (secret garden) and the intriguing Val di Non, but also sites such as the Japanese pine islands (Matsushima) and the Hombroich Rocket Station, possible to locate by way of GPS, yet also extra-territorial. Their texts demonstrate that the places explored poetically are all but one thing, and that, too, they share with longing: they are not exchangeable. Thus every poem must be reinvent poetry.

In Egger, readers encounter a »glassy arete-like, waxy, teeming formation of similar and dissimilar figures and contours.« His texts belong to an ever-mutating language which reconnitres worlds to the same extent as it creates them, revealing »inner landscapes, an abundance of often aimlessly effervescent shapes without shape.« In Poschmann, too, readers are spellbound by an ever-changing glitter, much like the liquid I of her Hundenovelle (Dog Novella, 2010): »I wanted to touch it, it escaped me. Like a living being. Drew me into itself. It scattered my vision, spread me over the skin’s surface of this arm, that seemed new, alien.« Poschmann and Egger insist that poetry should not be viewed as a representation of reality, but rather as an experience and form of being. Their singular creations of air and alphabet soothe and unsettle as they gently expand the limits of the known — both inwardly and outwardly, as if offering lyrical renditions of the Klein bottle of mathematics.

On an evening dedicated to longing and its loci, Egger and Poschmann investigate poetry as life form and elixir with curator Aris Fioretos and literary scholar Barbara Naumann.

Moderated by Aris Fioretos and Barbara Naumann.

The event will be held in German.

In cooperation with the Literaturhaus.

Admission 8/6/4 EUR

Tickets can be purchased at the door and in advance from Offticket (www.offticket.de) or the following bookshops:
Lengfeld’sche Buchhandlung, Kolpingplatz,
T. +49 (0)221-257 84 03
Buchhandlung Bittner, Albertusstraße, T. +49 (0)221-257 48 70

»Flight Data Analysis«

Public Discussion
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, 2.00 pm

Morphomata International Center for Advanced Studies

Physics talks of a body’s »specific weight,« referring to the ratio of body force to volume. For a long time, aerodynamics was subject to this principle. For a flying object — be it a hot-air or gas balloon, a majestic zeppelin or a flapping apparatus replete with sail and bicycles chains — to glide through the ether, it had to be lighter than the air it supplanted. Around 1900, German engineer Otto Lilienthal worked out the opposing principle, marking a breakthrough for modern air travel. Thanks to motion and speed, flying machines considerably heavier than air could now lift from earth. Henceforth, distances that until then had required days of wearisome travel could be covered in hours. Are there corresponding circumstances in literature? Where may gravity be found in a poem, what makes a novella soar? The Romans spoke of gravitas, the dignity, seriousness, and significance attributed to a work or a person. Conversely, there was levitas, which referred to the lissom lightness demanded by an account or a presentation. What grounds poetry? What makes it levitate? Does euphoria require jettisoning weight?

In a roundtable discussion with open end, this year’s Poetica authors ponder literature’s centrifugal forces and gravity — offering, in the words of the prematurely deceased poet Thomas Kling, analyses of »flight data.«



Brief introductory talk by Barbara Naumann.

Moderated by Aris Fioretos and Günter Blamberger.

The event will be held in both German and English.

Admission is free.

»That Is Poetry«

Readings and Conversations with Mara Lee, Lebogang Mashile and Jo Shapcott
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, 7.30 pm

Altes Pfandhaus Cologne

In 1870, Emily Dickinson confessed in a letter: »If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?«

On an evening devoted to Mara Lee, Lebogang Mashile and Jo Shapcott, these »ways« of experiencing poetry (and perhaps others, too) will be explored. As a feature of initiation rites, ecstasy has long been part of poetry. But what is ecstasy? Is there a language for the loss of control? Does it follow rules? For Lee, everything begins with breath. She dreams of a punctuation mark »somewhere between the exclamation point and the dot-dot-dot, corresponding to a more physical kind of breathing — both a hiatus and a moan.« In Mashile’s poetry, the I may be »without air between breath«: »My pen and paper create the song / Where I am man / I am woman / I am God at first breath.«  Shapcott, too, aquainted with the particular state of emergency offered by the breath-adventure of poetry. As »cartoon girl,« she learns to dwell in »the hiccup of white space,« sensing that the risky miracle of poetry may require pushing thought across the gap »between me and the pointed stalk / of my speech bubble.« Could thar transparent shape hovering in the air be the »breathalyser« of which Lee is dreaming — a kind of poetry that records oxygen satiation rather than the blood alcohol level?

Moderated by Aris Fioretos.

With actors Nicola Gründel, Yvon Jansen and Philipp Plessmann.

The event will be held both in German and in English.

Admission 8/6 EUR

Tickets can be purchased at the door.

»This Wild Muscle«

Reading and Conversation with Aris Fioretos and Denis Scheck
Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, 8.00 pm


It is the most legendary of human organs. There is hardly a religion that manages without its splendor, at the same time it is little more than a muscle accompanying us through life. Usually it is gentle and unobtrusive, at times agitated, even frantic, its labor constant until the last wisp of air leaves the body. The heart, blood pump and life principle alike, is the focus of the penultimate Poetica evening, dedicated to the works of curator Aris Fioretos. As a muscle, the heart may feel like a bull, strong and unpredictable; other times, it seems no larger than a walnut. There are even moments when it needs to be aroused, as in that old ditty (Song 572 in the Swedish Church songbook): »Timid heart, awake from your slumber! Have you wholly forgotten what you have?« At others, reins are needed in order to harness a galloping force too large for life. At its most beautiful, Fioretos suggests, the organ trembles »like a clenched fist of exultation.«

Together with literary critic Denis Scheck, Fioretos reflects on matters of the heart. They will address the pulse of a text and blushing as bodily oracle. What happens when passion spreads through our limbs like carbonation? What ensues when blood freezes in our veins? Jitters and desire, fear and trembling — literature has always also been a question of managing consternation. Must an author keep a cool head in order to navigate between the Scylla of sentimentality and the Charybdis of blood-misted rage? Ultimately the question should be allowed: Why write if not in order to aim at the heart?

With Aris Fioretos and Denis Scheck.

Music by Philipp Plessmann.

The event will be held in German.

Admission 8/6 EUR

Tickets can be purchased at the door.

»Rapture. States of Euphoria.«

Poetry Meets Scenery
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, 8.00 pm

Schauspiel Köln, Depot 2

»Between the exclamation point and the dot-dot-dot« (Mara Lee)

! – pingle – prickle – fluttering – palpitations – anticipation – excitement – thrill – clarity – delight – animation – inspiration – elation – high – fireworks – inebriation – euphoria – ecstasy – gooseflesh – bliss – pulse – rhythm – trance – shudder – loss of control – falling – drunkenness – inertia – melancholy – Katzenjammer – fog – hangover – blackout – attitude – rituals – rules – style – form awareness – affect management – haze – bubbles – cloudiness – vapor – sky – atmosphere – stratosphere – immensity – inconsistency – condensation – intensity – out – done – finished – hush – sh – hhh – …

What happens when poetry meets the performing arts? 

With the Poetica authors Mircea Cărtărescu (Romania), Oswald Egger (Germany), Mara Lee (Sweden), Agi Mishol (Israel), Lebogang Mashile (South Africa), Marion Poschmann (Germany), Jo Shapcott (England) and the curator Aris Fioretos (Sweden).

With the members of the ensemble Yuri Englert, Nicola Gründel, Lola Klammroth, Justus Maier and Philipp Plessmann.

Director and Music: Philipp Plessmann; Dramaturgy: Sarah Lorenz; Stage design: Katrin Lehmacher; Costumes: Jean Louis Frère

In cooperation with the Schauspiel Köln.

Admission 12/7 EUR

Tickets are available at Schauspiel Köln

( at +49 (0)221.221-284 00).