Festival for World Literature
May 2–7, 2022 – Cologne

»Sounding Archives«

Opening event with Poetica authors
Monday, May. 2, 2022, 7.00 pm

University of Cologne, Aula I+II

The seductive sonoric qualities of poems can induce in us a meditation about the world outside solidified rational pathways. Poetic writing opens associative archives, releases whirring voices which interrogate the gaps in history and reconfigure them in relation to our present. For this year's opening event for Poetica 7, nine international authors and one sound artist introduce themselves with short readings and conversations with curator Uljana Wolf, sounding out the overtones and undertones of this year’s festival theme.

»Sounding Archives« can be understood in two ways. If we read »sounding« as an adjective, we imagine poems as »speaking storehouses«, as Thomas Kling put it – linguistic units reverberating with potential pasts. The tonal power of poetic writing reminds us of its beginning in oral tradition, its ability for conjuring, safekeeping, warning and remembering. If we read »sounding« as a verb, then it’s the poems themselves that probe, resist and actively give voice to other archives – maybe to heaps of files, to ancient quipus, or photographs or war. This year’s Poetica explores the ways contemporary poetry worldwide, with lush innovation and fierce resistance, delves into the past and its artefacts.

The evening opens with words of welcome from Axel Freimuth (Cologne University rector), Isabel Pfeiffer-Poensgen (Minister of Culture and Science, North-Rhine Westphalia) and Andrea Firmenich (General secretary, NRW Endowment of the Arts). Between the authors' readings, Günter Blamberger (initiator of Poetica, University of Cologne) and Ernst Osterkamp (German Academy for Language and Poetry) will read short essays on the festival theme »Sounding Archives – Poetry between Experiment and Document«.

With Svetlana Alexievich (Belarus), Ain Bailey (Great Britain), Don Mee Choi (USA), Yan Jun (China), Mihret Kebede (Ethiopia), Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Congo/Austria), Carlos Soto-Román (Chile), Maria Stepanova (Russia), Anja Utler (Germany), Cecilia Vicuña (USA/Chile) and curator Uljana Wolf (Germany). With the actors and musicians Philipp Plessmann, Sophia Burtscher and Katharina Schmalenberg. 

The event will be held both in German and in English.
Admission is free.
The access regulations and hygiene concepts of the respective venues apply (wearing a FFP2 or medical mask is mandatory). 
The evening will be recorded by Deutschlandfunk Kultur as media partner. The broadcast (in an shortened version) is scheduled for June 5, starting at 10 p.m.

»Poetry can extend the document«

Open discussion with Poetica authors
Tuesday, May. 3, 2022, 2.00 pm

University of Cologne, Alter Senatssaal

Muriel Rukeyser once stated: »Poetry extends the document«. In 1938, the poet researched the deaths of several hundred Afro-American transient workers at a silicon mine in West Virginia and the ensuing lawsuit filed against the owner (the case never came to court). She then wrote The Book of the Dead, which has been regarded as the first cycle of documentary poetry in the 20th century. She trusted poetry to articulate a reality which could not be found in the documents – either because they were lost, destroyed, or because the powers that be suppressed what should have been documented in the first place.

From Heimrad Bäcker’s transcript (1986), which engages sources and documentary material from National Socialism and the Shoa with the means of conrete and visual poetry, to NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! (2011), which mourns and conjures voices of a slave massacre from a court document, many poets have experimented with integrating historic testimonies into their texts. How does the raw and unpoetic material open up the poem? How does poetry open up the material and the stories behind it? And how do these experiments change our concept of what poetry can be? Poetica 7 guest authors speak about documents, poetic experiments, the role of the archive in contemporary writing.

Moderated by Uljana Wolf 

The event will be held in English.
Admission is free.
The access regulations and hygiene concepts of the respective venues apply (wearing a FFP2 or medical mask is mandatory). 

»The voices remain«

Reading and talk with Svetlana Alexievich
Tuesday, May. 3, 2022, 7.00 pm

University of Cologne, Aula II

In his laudation of the 2013 German Book Trade Peace Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, Karl Schlögel said, »A new inflection, a new genre enters the world when things, as is the case, can no longer be said in the old, familiar language.« With the publication of her debut The Unwomanly Face of War (1985), Alexievich created a new genre of documentary literature defined as »a novel in voices«. The highly successful book was composed from conversations with women who were active during World War II, and whose voices had never been heard. The deconstruction of dominant war heroism, and of male-centered memory narratives, is a constant concern in all of Alexievich books which she once entitled the »Red Encyclopedia«. They speak of communism, of the Soviet people, of human beings marginalized and subjected to extreme circumstances. Alexievich’s documentary prose fashions unthinkable details, which often surface in asides during long, moving, open conversations. The details bring to light the wounds that the 20th century inflicted on bodies and souls. Alexievich listens to and collects voices that no one wants to hear, from Afghanistan, from Chernobyl, or from the vast post-Soviet trading posts of used ideas and shattered lifes as in Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, 2013. The clairvoyant presence of this book remains urgent especially now, with the suppression of the peaceful democratic protests in Belarus and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It documents the voids left by a disastrous sell-out of hopes, and the pain left by the »narcosis of ideas«.

The Nobel Prize winner will read passages from Secondhand Time and discuss with Katharina Narbutovic the role of literature in unearthing the weight of oppressed voices from both the past and the present.

Moderated by Katharina Narbutovic

The event will be held in Russian and will be translated simultaneously.
Admission 15/8 EUR
Tickets are available now through the advance ticket sale at Qultor/Offticket and at the door.
Please have a deposit ready for the issuance of headphones and transmitters to receive the simultaneous translation.
The access regulations and hygiene concepts of the respective venues apply (wearing a FFP2 or medical mask is mandatory).



Literary workshop with Uljana Wolf
Wednesday, May. 4, 2022, 10.00 am

University of Cologne, Alter Senatssaal

Poetry chafes against reality, against facts, discourses, science and politics. How is documentary material integrated into the poem? And how does this change the language, our concept of what lyric is, what lyric can achieve? How do we give our research an open, unspecified experimental shape, posing further questions, not answers, so as to be continuously surprised by linguistic events? What textual, intermedia formats can we invent?
At the Poetica 7 literary workshop, Cologne University and Academy of Media Arts students come together to work on their texts with each other and Poetica curator Uljana Wolf. Only students matriculated at Cologne University and the Academy of Media Arts may participate.


Write a poetic text in dialogue with a »document« – an official letter, a photograph, a birth certificate or passport, they don’t need to be German – absorbing, extrapolating on, extinguishing, overwriting text fragments or photo material in your work. The document should remain somehow visible in your text. Your work can also be or incorporate a sound file, a photo, an image, treated scan, etc.

Interested participants are asked to submit a text sample – no more than two pages – in response to the assignment above. Send submissions to Amelie Liebst (). (Application deadline is 25 March 2022.)

In cooperation with the Academy of Media Arts Cologne.

This event is not open to the public.
The access regulations and hygiene concepts of the respective venues apply (wearing a FFP2 or medical mask is mandatory).

»I want to become a river«

Readings and talks with Fiston Mwanza Mujila, Anja Utler and Cecilia Vicuña
Wednesday, May. 4, 2022, 7.00 pm

Filmforum at the Museum Ludwig

Poetry which focusses on sounds also modifies the idea of a lyrical speaker. It decenters the logos, making the poem become porous and open to background noises, to non-human sounds, to the various relations between humans and world. Does that mean that sound-poetry was always ecological? This is certainly true for this evening’s poets. Anja Utler listens to encrusted silences between generations which stretch out like dried-out rivers. Her poems enact a dystopic dialogue between mother and daughter with »bite marks of past fluids«. The Congo on the other hand flows through Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s jazzy, whirling, turbulent lyric: »A river without / nationality. A free river. An independent river. A river / capitalized. A RiverRiver!« His river is at once a mournful grave hungrily devouring dreams and unclaimed bodies and also an ecstatic emblem of human resistance in the face of devastating poverty, exploitation and civil war. The devastation and destruction of our planet – and of our memory – has been the focal point for the Chilenean artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña, from a decidedly feminist perspective. Her critique of violent usurpation and the drive to dominate is also a rejection of the concept of human singularity and stable origins, which are used to justify belonging and violence. As such, her work expresses aesthetic and political positions, meandering through media, arts and languages. Remembering and protecting the »sacredness of water« is her most important task because, as she said, the rampant exploitation and privatization will render Chile one of the first countries on Earth without free access to drinking water.

Moderated by Uljana Wolf.
With the actors Sophia Burtscher and Philipp Plessmann.
In cooperation with the Academy of Media Arts and the Literaturhaus Cologne.

The event will be held both in German and English.
Admission is free.
The access regulations and hygiene concepts of the respective venues apply (wear­ing a FFP2 or med­i­cal mask is man­da­to­ry). 

»Sonic Autobiographies / Klang-Autobiografien«

Public Workshop with Poetica authors led by Ain Bailey
Thursday, May. 5, 2022, 2.00 pm

Academy of Media Arts Cologne, Aula

Ossip Mandelstam saw the poet as an empty conch shell, an uninhabited house in which the night deposited sounds: »You fill with foamy whispers / with rain, mist, wind...« For his part, Walter Benjamin held the 19th century conch shell to his ear and heard »the stifled explosion as a match ignites the gas mantle«. Sounds and tones, our »lifetime soundtrack«, influence our identity, our self-perception, our understanding of language, rhythm and melody – and our writing.
And what do the Poetica 7 authors hear? Guided by sound artist and DJ Ain Bailey, poets will bring sound material to discuss the role of »sonic autobiographies« in their writing. Bailey conceived of this form first in a workshop with refugees and the LGBTQIA+ community in the Serpentine Gallery. Together with architectonic acoustics and field recordings, sonic autobiographies form a significant aspect of her art. In this workshop, Bailey focuses on the interaction between individual sound memory and collective deep listening. For Bailey, this interaction is a political act, »Because we all have this idea that we are very separate, ›everyone’s out for themselves‹. And I think in that moment, there’s a collectiveness that we don’t necessarily experience regularly.«

The workshop will be led by Ain Bailey.
Moderated by Uljana Wolf.
In cooperation with the Academy of Media Arts Cologne.

The event will be held in English.
Admission is free.
The access regulations and hygiene concepts of the respective venues apply (wearing a FFP2 or medical mask is mandatory). 

»A voice from the hole of a bagel«

Readings and talks with Don Mee Choi, Carlos Soto-Román and Maria Stepanova
Thursday, May. 5, 2022, 7.00 pm

Historical Archive of the City of Cologne

»Let’s gather up this body, all its stumps / limbs in one suburb, in another its rump«Maria Stepanova’s poetic sequence The Body Returns renders an impressive testimony to the power of poetry to collect what has been historically displaced. Coming from and drawing on diverse languages and traditions, this evening’s poets are united in their efforts to poetically converge disparate material: Bodies, memories, text shreds, photos, forms, files. Thus, American translator and poet Don Mee Choi investigates the persistent repercussions of war, occupation and colonialization drawing on photographs of her father, a war journalist. Images and interviews bear witness to her nearly forgotten childhood in South Korea – estranged memories folded into new textual spaces. Choi calls this layering »memory’s memory« – which incidentally recalls the English title of Maria Stepanova’s celebrated novel, In Memory of Memory (2021). In her laconic, artful novel, as well as her poems, the Russian author creates a memory-architecture reverberating with East European history and its literary forms – a »speaking in tongues« that encircles history’s gaps like the »bagel’s hole«. Conversely, the work of Chilean author Carlos Soto-Román reveals how gaps in documents become lies – lies that can be exposed by creating new gaps. In his conceptual, visual and documentary poetry, he treats documents and files until manipulated images release the truths that have been ignored or suppressed.

Moderated by Uljana Wolf.
With the actors Philipp Plessmann and Brit Purwin.
In cooperation with the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne. 

The event will be held in both German and English.
Admission 12/8 EUR
Tickets can only be purchased at the door.
The access regulations and hygiene concepts of the respective venues apply (3G rule and wearing a FFP2 or medical mask is mandatory). 

»This poem is not quiet«

Readings and talks with Yan Jun, Mihret Kebede and Uljana Wolf with Poetica guest appearance by Valzhyna Mort
Friday, May. 6, 2022, 7.00 pm

Altes Pfandhaus Cologne

A poem about quietude is not quiet. A poem about a quiet place is not quiet. A poem about a quiet place where students are forbidden to protest – is this a quiet poem? Is it a poem about the absence of sound? Yan Jun’s poem June 5th commemorates the Tianmen massacres on June 4, 1989: »beneath a broiling air conditioner / one hundred students sit / on a train / leaving beijing. Continuing: when I sketch out other people’s books / small black things fly from the pages / every mosquito in shenzen has the same last name / a library of blood-loss: / bless your flight and death«. The suprising use of the words »blood« and »death« – relating to the mosquitos, not the students – is exemplary of the Chinese poet/musician’s artistic practice. He weaves tiny, everyday acoustic details into his performances and texts, investigating subtle social sonic landscapes. The works of Ethiopian poet Mihret Kebede also explore everyday archive of silence. Whether solo or with her formation Tobyia Poetic Jazz, she captures the development of the Ethiopian society, the gaping disparity between rich and impoverished: »When you snatched away my bed…I stood still and dreamed big / When you snatched away my food…I gave it to you and pretended I was fasting / But, please leave me my only voice…for this I will fight to death. / How else can I scream out, shouting, I’ve been robbed!?« The voice in Babeltrack, a cycle by curator and poet Uljana Wolf, has also gone missing. Wolf’s poem-notations about motherhood cast the circle from stillness to suckling, link a baby’s first babbling to the mother’s vanished voice amidst fluid roles and languages: »where something both constructs and dismantles itself, such un-shingling, i lack it this ring-thing, kling-e-ling, which when it changes is wild and not yet trail…«

Moderated by Uljana Wolf.
With the actors Seán McDonagh and Katharina Schmalenberg.

The event will be held both in German and in English.
Admission 12/8 EUR
Tickets can be purchased at the door.
Wearing a FFP2 or medical mask is mandatory. 

»i am a recording device«

Poetry meets Scenery
Saturday, May. 7, 2022, 8.00 pm

Schauspiel Köln, Depot 2

What is that whirring and buzzing sound, poetry or a recording device? Or is the poetry the recording device? Which model, from which year? Does it still use batteries? Where’s the mic run off to…here, Mirko, press that red button, yes, that one, press it twice…are we recording? Testing…testing. At the final event, Poetica poets take the stage at Cologne Theater’s Depot 2, sounding out a myriad of voices, archives and materials. The audience merges with an enchanting, waffling, acoustic memory space reaching into the present, living proof that archives, as Jacques Derrida once wrote, do not refer to the past but to the future – the future of all humanity, the language of all peoples. And in the midst of it all is poetry, will-o’-the-whisping, a perpetually shifting experimental lab of curiosity and tenderness and ever-willing to question ourselves and the source from which we create.

With Ain Bailey (Great Britain), Don Mee Choi (USA), Yan Jun (China), Mihret Kebede (Ethiopia), Valzhyna Mort (Belarus), Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Congo), Carlos Soto-Román (Chile), Maria Stepanova (Russia), Anja Utler (Germany), and curator Uljana Wolf (Germany). 
With the actors Sophia Burtscher, Yuri Englert, Philipp Plessmann, Katharina Schmalenberg and Kristin Steffen.
Director and music: Philipp Plessmann; Stage Design: Katrin Lehmacher; Costumes: Melina Jusczyk; Dramaturgy: Sarah Lorenz
In cooperation with Schauspiel Köln.

Admission 15/8 EUR
Tickets are available at Schauspiel Köln
The access regulations and hygiene concepts of the respective venues apply.