Festival for World Literature
Jan. 20–25, 2020 – Cologne


Opening event with Poetica authors
Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, 7.00 pm

University of Cologne, Aula I+II

To begin with, there must be passion. Passion for literature, for the resistive pleasure it affords, its challenging, enlivening prickle. Seven authors from around the world have traveled to Poetica 6. And tonight, they will introduce their writings with short readings and themselves in talks with curator Jan Wagner, giving a taste of this year’s Poetica theme. The word resistance has three basic meanings. It defines the hardness of an object; it defines a living being’s protective system against outer influences, and, lastly, it defines the ability to oppose a situation, a person or a group of people. All three definitions apply to poetry as it strives to be hardy enough to defy time. Poesy’s stubborn insistence and timelessness is seemingly immune to fleeting Zeitgeist and all modern isms, and, ultimately, can and hopes to be a perpetual counter-draft to the status quo, a contradiction; an obstinance. To be sure, resistance, the theme of this Poetica, is plural – resistances.

Axel Freimuth, rector at the University of Cologne opens the evening, welcoming authors and audience. Between guest author readings, Minima Poetica – short, thematic, poetological essays – will be read by Günter Blamberger (Center for Advanced Studies Morphomata) and Ernst Osterkamp (German Academy for Language and Literature). Following this revue of nonconformist thought, the University of Cologne invites  to a reception.

With authors Tadeusz Dąbrowski, Luljeta Lleshanaku, Agi Mishol, Herta Müller, Sergio Raimondi, Xi Chuan, Serhij Zhadan and curator Jan Wagner. With the actors and musicians Philipp Plessmann, Yvon Jansen and Katharina Schmalenberg.

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

Admission is free.

»Poetry makes nothing happen«

Public Discussion
Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, 2.00 pm

Academy of Media Arts Cologne

What can words do when, liberated from demagogic abuse, a writer carefully weighs their meaning; when language becomes an artist’s palette? How can the realm of metaphor and cadence bear an influence on the world of power games and injustice, of real politics and factualism? Especially in times when facts have no meaning, when words are twisted, and truths demeaned, when brutality triumphs and measures of poison are sprinkled into rhetoric? Nothing. Poetry has absolutely no influence, as W.H. Auden wrote in his divine elegy to William Butler Yeats. Auden himself, however, was long considered a deeply political author, writing on the Spanish Civil War, thus admitting that linguistics did have some influence. “In our age, the mere making of a work of art is itself a political act,” he wrote, as it reminds the management, as he called it, of something managers should always be reminded of – that the people they manage have a face, are not anonymous numbers; that workers, Homo Laborans, are just as much Homo Ludens, players. What more can be said in favor of poetry? Poetica authors collectively seek the subversive qualities of poetry.

Moderated by Jan Wagner.

In cooperation with the Academy of Media Arts Cologne.

The event will be held in both German and English.

Admission is free.

»My Homeland Was an Appleseed«

Reading and conversation with Herta Müller
Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, 7.30 pm

Kulturkirche Köln

“I don’t know if we rely more on beauty, if we seek it more in private conversations, when public speech is no more than senseless rubbish,” Herta Müller once said in an interview several years ago. “I believe we listen closely to words when we know how powerful a word can be. I have always listened, have sought beauty, have waited until it showed up. I think I have scrutinized aesthetic and measured myself against it, soothing my nerves and taming my fear.”

How to defend oneself against the desolation of political speech? How to retain the freedom and courage of an own language, of idiosyncratic thought under the most adverse conditions, amidst the oppressive grey of state control penetrating the tiniest space? Where interrogation and censorship, bugged homes, suspicion and betrayal are daily fare; are a reality upon which you watch your friends shatter? Herta Müller’s novels illuminate how the hunger for words triumphs over fear under a dictatorship. Her works prove how great literature emerges from the revolt against misanthropic ideologies in Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Romania as well as from her own story and political resistance, as is evident in Traveling on One Leg, The Land of Green Plums and The Hunger Angel, the latter which is based on her friend Oskar Pastior’s life. The theme prevails, “to invent truth with language, showing what happens in and around us when values jump track.”

In a talk with lyricist Ernest Wichner, a longtime friend and, like Herta Müller herself, originally from Romanian Banat, one will realize the necessity of poetry in oppressive times; the liberating power of words that is essential to survival and also hear a reading of one of the most impressive works in the German language.

Moderated by Ernest Wichner.

The event will be held in German.

Admission 10/8 EUR

Tickets can be purchased in advance at Kulturkirche Köln and at the door.

»Prepare for levitation«

Creative Writing Workshop with Jan Wagner
Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, 10.00 am

Center for Advanced Studies Morphomata

T.S. Eliot once said a model poet also embodies a critic. But shouldn’t we all, considering we author poems and are perforce our first and most decisive readers? Aren’t we driven by our inner resistances to think further and leap higher; to even fly?

This year’s Poetica also offers Cologne University students the opportunity to come together in a literary work studio and introduce their writings under the guidance of Poetica curator, Jan Wagner. To allow an intensive exchange, the number of participants is limited to twelve. Applications are only limited for students matriculated at the University of Cologne and the Academy of Media Arts.

Applicants are requested to submit a sample of their work – one to two poems, no more than two pages – to Antonia Villinger (antonia.villinger[at]uni-koeln.de). Submission deadline is December 18, 2019.

This event is not open to the public.

»Notes on the Mosquito«

Readings and conversations with Tadeusz Dąbrowski, Agi Mishol and Xi Chuan
Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, 7.30 pm

Literaturhaus Köln

If it itches persistently, it was effective – and all the greater the pleasure when we are bit again. A good poem tails, haunts us, and just when we believe we have forgotten it, it returns and buzzes temptingly in our ear. That the world refuses to leave poets in peace, persistently urges them to write of all the beauty and of all the darkness, becomes apparent this evening when three celebrated poets from three very different language areas come together. Two of them have dedicated at least one poem to the mosquito: Tadeusz Dąbrowski lets it drink from his calf before turning to the “sacred song” of a bumble bee floating away over barbed wire, and Xi Chuan traces the genealogy of the fragile, yet often deadly, insect; following its career between sunrise to sunset, its surprising appearance, “Whenever a suitcase is opened, a mosquito flies out.” Also open to the tiniest or most magnificent revelations and their political coherences, Agi Mishol shares her colleagues’ fluctuations between personal plaints and precise societal inventories as she listens to the footfalls of a suicide assassin, mourns transplanted olive trees and observes ruthless breaststrokes in a swimming pool. “Forgive me,” she calls out to her muses, “when I accost you with our story /that repeats itself.”

Reading their works and talking with Jan Wagner and Lea Schneider, the authors Agi Mishol, Tadeusz Dąbrowski and Xi Chuan will reveal what drives them to versify – and how it evolves beneath their hands to great linguistic art.

Moderated by Lea Schneider and Jan Wagner.

The event will be held both in German and English.

In cooperation with the Literaturhaus.

Admission 10/8/6 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

»Defense of Poetry«

Public Discussion
Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, 2.00 pm

Center for Advanced Studies Morphomata

In England of 1820, the writer Thomas Love Peacock published an essay entitled The Four Ages of Poetry that in one blow condemned all of poetry, from its beginnings to the end of the Roman Empire and beyond, especially scathing the verse of his own times, the lyric of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron. Moreover, the polemic pamphlet aimed to vilify poesy itself – and that from a writer with both love and peacock in his name. He wrote, “Poetry was the mental rattle that awakened the attention of intellect in the infancy of civil society,” and flatly denied any purpose poetry may have, saying it was time for reasonable, mature people to finally put aside this child’s play. Doubtlessly, this work would have long crumbled to dust and darkness if an acquaintance of Peacock’s, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, had not felt incited to compose a thorough and valid rebuff, Defense of Poetry. And today? Must we still, or again, defend poetry? Shelley’s verse may be timeless while the name Peacock has long been doomed to obscurity, but his caveats, the Peacock admonishments themselves, have easily outlived The Four Ages of Poetry.

Together, the Poetica authors consider the role of poetry in today’s baffling world and devise possible strategies of defense. The round will open with a current statement on poetry as Sergio Raimondi offers excerpts from his Berlin speech, Problems Writing an Ode to the Pacific Ocean.

Moderated by Jan Wagner.

The event will be held in both German and English.

Admission is free.

»Resist and Bide Your Time«

Readings and conversations with Luljeta Lleshanaku, Sergio Raimondi and Serhij Zhadan
Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, 7.30 pm

Cologne Public Library

What is worthy of lyric in our times? The answer is easy. Today, as has always been, anything at all can be the subject of a truly well-crafted poem, everything has its place in a verse; in a strophe. And though in the long history of poesy, works rarely enjoyed a broad reader audience, this has never deterred poetry from addressing the greatest, most complex relationships.

When Argentine poet Sergio Raimondi espies a fish, he advances from its scales to fishing fleets, freight statistics, container shipping. He lyrically follows the global fish branch to its tiniest twigs in Contributions to a Study on the Export Industry – yet moves fluidly in creative space to commemorate the homeless in Silenus in the Train Station or to gaze at his newborn son with love. For Serhij Zhadan, Ukrainian poet and musician (with a knack for filling concert halls) the theme he approached in his younger lyric and prose is as torturous as it is oppressive - the eternal war in his homeland’s East. Zhadan is the war’s powerfully eloquent chronicler, mastering analyses as perfectly transparent and modest as his texts are gripping: “Let us attempt it once again:/Time returns to our old home/and finds no trace of us.” And then, Luljeta Lleshanaku’s compelling images take us to the Albania of her childhood and present, where a five o’clock shadow becomes ants on the smooth stone of a chin; where the secret of prayer is explored, and streets that eventually lead to Alaska are followed back to their origin.

Reading and relating, the three poets and curator Jan Wagner contemplate whether poetry’s ostensible powerlessness can be related to the surprising power of water as Lao Tzu, Xi Chuan’s renowned compatriot, once praised, “In this world / there is nothing softer or thinner than water. / But to compel the hard and unyielding / it has no equal: its non-existence is its power. // The weak overcomes the strong, the hard gives way to the gentle.”

Moderated by Jan Wagner.

With the actors Nicola Gründel and Philipp Plessmann.

The event will be held both in German and English. 

In cooperation with Cologne's Public Library.

Admission 10/8 EUR

Tickets can only be purchased at the door.

»Europe in Poems – Grand Tour«

Readings and conversations with Tadeusz Dąbrowski, Erik Lindner, Luljeta Lleshanaku, Helen Mort, and Serhij Zhadan
Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, 8.00 pm

Altes Pfandhaus Cologne

As opposed to its political condition, Europe’s lyric is in top form. Poets of all European countries cross national and linguistic borders with exhilarating casualness, absorbing neighboring influences. They write to, encounter, discuss and share with each other. And, of course, they translate the poems of friends and colleagues into their mother tongues to benefit homeland audiences, and thus enrich their own language and literature.

Perhaps the ancient, living form of poetry – harking back to mythical times – is not the meanest method of discovering where we are on the map, which place or state of being we inhabit on our itinerary to an ideal Europe. Perhaps poetry, this allegedly outdated linguistic art, can reveal Europe’s current fears, hopes, expectations, tensions, can place them under a burning lens. Perhaps verse allows a particularly precise and illuminating view of the realities and dispositions in the North, South, East and West of the continent.

The anthology Grand Tour. A Journey Through the Young Poetry of Europe, edited in two-part, Italian-German harmony by the poets Federico Italiano and Jan Wagner (Hanser Publishing, 2019), brings forth hundreds of authors from 49 countries and in nearly as many languages. Several authors presented in the anthology can now be seen – and most importantly, heard – in Cologne.

Moderated by Federico Italiano and Jan Wagner.

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

Admission 10/8 EUR

Tickets can be purchased at the door.

»Other People’s Dreams«

Staged reading with the Poetica authors
Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, 8.00 pm

Schauspiel Köln, Depot 2

There are as many ways to versify as there are writers of verse. And each unique voice, be it soft or forceful, can influence their times (and the times to come) and the world that nourishes them.

When on the final evening, Poetica guest poets perform their diverse traditions and languages on the Schauspiel Köln stage, the audience can not only bathe in a beautiful Babel, they will once more come to realize how closely beauty and insubordination, desire and revolt lie, no matter whether a direct link to topical issues is found or not. “Language. With language we also mean the esoteric, the experimenter, the radical. The more language contradicts linguistic conventions, the more tenacious it is,” wrote Günter Eich in his Darmstadt Speech. “It is no coincidence that language is pursued with dogged wrath by the powerful. Not because acceptable content is lacking, but because it is impossible to enforce practicability. Because something emerges that the powerful cannot turn to its own uses. It is not content, it is language that countermands power. A partnership with language can be stronger than opinions’ feud.”

With Tadeusz Dąbrowski (Poland), Erik Lindner (the Netherlands), Luljeta Lleshanaku (Albania), Agi Mishol (Israel), Helen Mort (England), Sergio Raimondi (Argentina), Xi Chuan (China), Serhij Zhadan (Ukraine) and the curator Jan Wagner (Germany).

With the actors Lola Klamroth, Philipp Plessmann, Jörg Ratjen, Katharina Schmalenberg and Kristin Steffen.
Director and Music:: Philipp Plessmann; Dramaturgy: Dominika Široká ; Stage design: Stella Lennert; Costumes: Jean Louis Frère.

In cooperation with the Schauspiel Köln.

Admission 12/7 EUR

Tickets are available at Schauspiel Köln

(tickets[at]buehnenkoeln.de or at +49 (0)221-284 00).