Poesiefestival Berlin: our director’s cut

June 30, 2009

Berlin roofscapes by Eleanor LivingstoneI’m back from Berlin, with a ‘feine gebäckmischung’ of chocolate biscuits and stories of poets, translators and festivals from Stockholm to South Africa. I didn’t manage to buttonhole Rita Dove with a copy of the SPL leaflet: we use two lines from her praise-poem ‘Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967’, but I feel sure that such an amiable and accomplished poet would be pleased to be quoted in that context.

Conversation with the Director of Poetry International Rotterdam revealed that the Dutch Queen attended the festival’s opening session, marking its 40th anniversary. She stayed for the whole evening and spoke to assorted poets as though she’d actually read their work. Eleanor Livingstone, director of StAnza, remarked – resignedly – that she hadn’t seen Prince William at any StAnza event during his time at St Andrews. (Perhaps someone out there glimpsed him at a late night open mic session?)

On the other hand, right-wing candidates in the recent EU election had singled out PI for the axe, should they come to power. Not such an idle threat these days.

Olga Sedakova (who spoke warmly of her visit to the SPL in 1996), has been teaching in Italy recently and told me that students were rediscovering Dante for themselves, and not only the Inferno, reciting his work in public places. While Jackson Kaujeua from Namibia issued his challenge: ‘poverty is not a calling’ – no one is vowed to it though so many are bound by it.

Everyone in this leafy corner of Berlin was talking about poetry and swapping names of poets to look out for – the best kind of Festival exchange. Poesiefestival Berlin is celebrating its 10th season, finishing on 5 July with a staging of Les Murray’s narrative poem, Fredy Neptune: Fredy, of course, includes Berlin and Australia in his epic life voyage. I was sorry not to see out the week, but we’ve got Jen Hadfield reading here on Thursday evening, and I’m happy to be back for that.

~ Robyn

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