The literature week (LW) came to an end on Monday.
On Sunday evening there was the public reading with the winners of the literature prize: Marcel Beyer and Nadja Küchenmeister. Each of them got the prize for their book of poetry. That is uncommon (mostly authors get the prize who write prose), but maybe that´s the reason why there were not so many people in the audience like the last few years. I mean, there were around 120 people and that´s not bad, but that is less if you compare it to the last 5 or 6 years, when the winners read excerpts of their novels or of their short story collection. However, it was an interesting evening with excellent poems and talks about writing.
On Monday the LW came to the very end with the prize-giving ceremony in the old city hall of Bremen. The mayor made a speech in the beginning, then there were two laudatio speeches in honour of each winner and the winners made their thank you speeches. Nadja Küchenmeister talked in her speech about the process of writing poetry and about the power and strangeness of objects she is writing about in her poems. Marcel Beyer made a brilliant and very political speech about a protest movement we sadly have since the end of last year in Germany. Every Monday evening thousands of people (especially in Dresden) demonstrate against immigration (fortunately, also thousands of people demonstrate every Monday against that movement and for immigration). Beyer, who has lived in Dresden for 20 years made a courageous speech against that movement and their ideas. He quoted slogans these people use and mixed it up with phrases of Dantes Inferno, so that was quite fascinating.
As promised I will tell you about the literature week (LW) today.
The LW opened in the Wall-Saal of the city library with a public reading of the Bremen online magazine BOM13. The magazine is conducted by a collective of journalists, editors, photographers, writers, illustrators, comic book artist, designers and programmers. The idea is to make a magazine with plenty of room and a content that is just in the interest of the collective, regardless of advertising, editors, specified formats and subjects. So, in there you can find comics, photo art, short stories, poems and articles, which may go beyond their “normal” length. Every edition has a particular topic. This edition is on the topic of monitoring, which is, as I told you, the topic of the LW. So, half a dozen of the collective read reports, stories and poems, and a singer-songwriter played a guitar song – all about monitoring.
The same location as the day before, the same topic in one way, but more specific. The author and journalist Alexander Krutzfeld introduced his book about the Deep Web (also called Darknet or Hidden Web), this digital parallel world (if you compare it to the “normal” or surface internet). It was not a classical literature-reading, it was a mixture of a video-lecture, a reading and a discussion about the Deep Web. My job on stage was to introduce Alexander Krützfeld and his book, to ask him the right questions, to moderate the discussion with the audience and to finish the event at the right time. So, I would say all in all, it was a very interesting evening, everything worked well. There were more than 100 people in the audience and nearly all of them stayed to the end. Last but not least, there was a nice atmosphere on stage between the author and me, we both enjoyed working together (that´s important for the evening).
Recently there have been many very different reasons and occasions for me to think about my writing. One reason being the invitation to write a small contribution to this blog. So: what is important for and what is central to my writing? To my own surprise, the answers seemed all at once to stare me clearly in the face and were no longer an inextricable knot of thoughts, beliefs and vague notions.
I am convinced that there is nothing as important as finding “our own stories”. I think that we must develop something like an individual, literary fingerprint on to which flows everything we have ever experienced and read and written. All our nightmares and fears and concerns and our disappointed hopes. And above all our questions. Our surprise and our amazement. I believe that that is the source of each individual’s manner of perceiving the world; and I think that a large part of our job consists of finding a form and a tone for that. I know that the “stories which only we can tell” are not the first ones we encounter (and, unfortunately, mostly not the ones that follow either) – and that the search for it can be a long and laborious process.
Meanwhile I have been surprised at how much I have been wrong in the past about so many aspects of writing. I completely overestimated the relevance of talent and underestimated practical experience and constructive criticism. I used to believe that a person either had imagination and creativity at their disposal – or they didn’t. I didn’t realise that the need to write can also develop and grow. I didn’t know how important it is for us to be open to our own ideas and that we also have to endure this when these threaten to become uncomfortable. But above all I had no concept of the fact that it is necessary “to become the one person who can write the book which one has to write” (Jonathan Franzen). I believe that’s how it is.
Katharina With our Critical Whiteness and Cultural Studies background, and our experiences and reflections during our anti-racist performance work in 2012, Carolin and I are curious to continue the talk on „Writing the Other & Authenticity“, held by Ronald and Nora on 8th January.
To give you just a few impressions of our performance Black/white. Strangely mine/ The Other Self, we posted some of the photos and a short explanation below. For our two-months group process from which we developed the performance, one idea was most central: Each one starts from and speaks only for his or her own experiences of being Black, white, „normal“, different, male, female, German, European, African etc. Our first condition was not to speak for or even define the Other, because we found that the Other is a product of our own relationships to the outer world, and it is always tied to our own identities.
To open this discussion, we would like to point out some aspects of Nora’s and Ronald’s talk. But before – to stay with our opinion that speaking for and about ourselves comes first – we want to make our own reflections on and experience of our whiteness visible. I should rather say, my and Carolin’s whitenesses, as they are not identical, although we grew up in the same white dominated German society.
Caro, how did you discover your whiteness and how did it change during the years?
When I visited Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, two years ago, I met a parliamentarian to talk about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the governmental way of dealing with the brutal civil war that had shaken the country in the 1990s. It was quite early on a Tuesday morning in December; my driver had to wait in front of the bungalow in which the parliament was situated. After we were allowed to enter the grounds, we had to wait again in the parking lot, until finally I was guided by an employee to an office with thick leather sofas and a couch-table with bottled water on it.
‘My’ parliamentarian, let’s call him ‘A.’, entered the room, a well-dressed and very polite man in his mid-thirties. He was a member of the CNDD-FDD, the leading party in Burundi. The CNDD-FDD dominates the parliament, the country, and it controls most of the little money that circulates in the seventh poorest country in the world. A. told me how glad he was that I was willing to talk to him. Others, I learned, refused to talk to his party, preferring to make up their mind about the country by talking only to the NGOs, the ‘other side.’
Sitting in his office with the leather sofas and bottled water, A., referring to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, told me that people in his country had finally plucked up the courage to reappraise the events of the civil war. But due to bureaucratic procedures the commission had still not been finally approved, yet. The greatest shortcoming, which A. of course didn’t mention, was that it was all in the hands of the authoritarian CNDD-FDD party which ruled the country without a whisper of parliamentarian opposition.
Hello authors, contributors and readers. It has been so interesting following the discussions on this blog and engaging in them as well. I was so grateful for the discussion that started on poetry slams. I am first and foremost (if not only) a poet who writes and performs frequently.
It has been an interesting experience moving between the page and stage. I often borrow from one arena to enrich the other but unfortunately find myself compromising my vision for the sake of the platform and audience.
The writing process
I find that when I sit to write for the page, I have a more critical eye but also tend to experiment more since there is no concern with responding to physical or real time feedback. It is also more likely readers will take their time to explore the writing and reflect on it, so I do not worry the work will be misunderstood.
(At this point it becomes clear how self-conscious of a writer I am.)
In writing for the stage, I worry more about the narrative and simplifying the work. I often sacrifice the concise line for a longer, more indulgent line that I believe the audience will enjoy. When I reflect on my performance pieces, they tend towards entertainment.
I have to appreciate that moving back and forth between the two platforms gives me a heightened awareness of an audience. I am a selfish writer, usually focused inwards especially in my initial drafts. But as I develop a piece I edit with the reader or audience in mind. This is only important in that it fulfils my need to feel I am putting something out there that is of use to others.
I once asked my mentor how he defines home, and he said: “Home is where you hang your hat.” I pondered his words for a moment, and remembered that I had also read somewhere that home is where your heart is. Can one’s heart be in just one place though? Can one confine one’s heart? I think home can be the place where one lives, home may also be the place where one has lived before and has found peace and joy. Home may also be a place one longs for. Some people consider home to be a place where one can find love, protection, acceptance, security, peace, happiness, joy and a sense of belonging.
It was the end of the evening. I was the last one of twelve participants. I was 22 years old, extremely nervous, and maybe a little bit drunk. I’ve had three or four glasses of red wine, perhaps too much, but I had to calm myself down – this was my first stage appearance ever. I was standing in the spotlight which was too bright for me. I had a couple of pages with poems in my hands and a microphone in front of my face (I had never read with a mic before). The presenter introduced me and joked with the audience. I was too tense to listen. Then he addressed me directly, and from then on things were up to me. I bumped into the microphone and people in the audience started laughing, but I began reading – or rather: I tried to read. It was anything but a good performance. My voice was trembling, I was sweating, I read too fast, and (to be honest) my poems were actually really bad. But surprisingly, the event didn’t end in a disaster. I read my poems, I received my applause, and – most importantly – I survived.
This was my first experience of reading at a poetry slam. It was held at the culture centre Lagerhaus in Bremen – which was the only place in town that organized slams at that time. Nowadays there is a vivid slam culture in Bremen and these so-called ‘open mics’ are a good opportunity for authors to get out and present their texts to an audience. But, these kind of events are only suitable for specific types of texts. Where to go, if you are not a slammer? Where to go to present more complex poetry or prose writing to an audience? Why do people seem to be so much more interested in open mic sessions than in other forms of public readings? The Slammer Filet which is organized by the Tower club for instance is always crowded with students, whereas you usually don’t find more than a handful of people under the age of 60 at more conventional readings.
So, the question for me was and still is: how to create a space for local authors of all kinds of genres to present their work? And: is there a way to bring the above mentioned audiences and generations together? In collaboration with the Bremer Literaturkontor I started a reading series called Doppelpack at the culture centre Dete last spring. Each time we brought together two writers of different generations for a public reading of their works. Afterwards, we opened the stage for other writers of all age groups to participate. Almost one hundred people between the ages of 16 to 80 showed up for these readings. They listened with dedication and gave some terrific feedback after the event. I loved it, and I hope that we will continue to make this happen.