Germany has one of the most interesting and richly varied poetry scenes in the world. Many of its poets are known around the world and the polyphony of world poetry would be unthinkable without them. This is why the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin, since its inception in 1991, has focused on contemporary poetry, poetry from Germany as well as from around the world. The Literaturwerkstatt’s work, its programme of events and projects are unequalled anywhere in Germany – lyrikline.org, the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival, p0es1s – Digital Poetry, the poesiefestival berlin, and VERSschmuggel / reVERSible to name but a few, including translation workshops, international networks and an excellently curated sound archive. It has proved that poetry can hold its own as an independent art form, which has brought it accolades such as praise from the UN, the Grimme Online Award and – several times – inclusion as a Landmark in the Land of Ideas. Public response shows that all generations love poetry. Poetry is close to film, and poetry is close to music. The language of poetry is intense and rich in imagery. The brevity and concision of its language make it compatible with any medium. Because of its importance for the whole of Germany, the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin has been granted six million euros of federal funds since 1998, a sure indication that the federal government is eager to take care of poetry and its poets.
To ensure that Germany as a cultural nation, the “Land of Poets and Thinkers”, can continue to nurture and make the most of its wealth of poetry, the time is now right for a positive signal to be sent by setting up an institution that is not just nationwide in its reach but also internationally significant as a player in the cultural scene, by creating something that has never before existed, a dedicated German Centre for Poetry.
The importance of poetic language for the foundations of language and consciousness is recognised everywhere. In countries such as the USA, Belgium, the Netherlands, Brazil and France, poetry centres have been working for decades with commitment and success organising events and as gathering points for poets and collections of their publications, as well as promoting new creative ways to experience and assimilate poetry, thus providing an indispensable contribution to the acquisition of language skills, social and cultural integration, promoting reading skills , and for education and knowledge generally. And so many of these institutions are appropriately funded at least in part by the state.
Germany has no such institution that can stand up at international level. There is no German Centre for Poetry. The national institutions in Marbach, Wolfenbüttel, Weimar and Darmstadt are devoted to the classic canon of established prose works and writers and cater to a predominantly academic audience. Established living poetry has no such home, let alone the emerging and new poets whose brevity, musicality and performative zest appeal most to a wider audience.
The DZP is an investment for the future.
1. The DZP will be a cultural service provider for the whole country. It undertakes tasks in the interests of the whole nation, such as promoting poetry in all its forms and in all media and collecting and preserving poetic source material in a publicly-accessible mediatheque.
2. The DZP will be a place that provides services and information, as well as being a place of work, a meeting place and a venue for readings and other events, for poets, for the interested public, producers, publishers, students and teachers, and for media and multiplicators from Germany and around the world.
3. The DZP will be the competence centre for poetry and the point of contact for institutions, publishing houses and other distributors from abroad.
4. The main task of the DZP will be to lay the groundwork for future development by offering public readings and other events, with an internationally-based programme aimed at arousing enthusiasm for using language and honing receptivity for other realities.
5. The DZP will work to gain the attention of society as a whole, working to gain worldwide notice for German poetry and for an international exchange of poetry by promoting mutual translation.
6. The DZP will develop a prize for poetry and work to gain public interest in it (similar to the German Book Prize)
7. The DZP will develop and look after a programme of residencies and grants for poets from Germany and abroad.
8. The DZP will carry out its tasks in part by forming networks at national and international level. To this end a mediatheque documenting the development of contemporary poetry will be established, which will gather and collect the artefacts associated with poetry as a cultural good and provide access to both German poetry and poetry from around the world via a web-assisted service and information pool.
9. The DZP will be especially concerned by way of cultural education to promote young and emerging poets, and to inspire and train teachers and other multiplicators.
10. The DZP will be based in Berlin, the city that since the end of the War and especially since Reunification has once more become the gateway for the two-way traffic of poetic currents and impulses. All the main political and cultural institutions in the country can be accessed here in the capital.
11. A common network linking the DZP with other institutions and initiatives devoted to poetry in Germany and abroad will serve to strengthen collaborative efforts.
The Literaturwerkstatt Berlin will be the foundation stone and then merge into the German Centre for Poetry. Platforms for national and international communication and poetry event formats that have already been developed and proved successful will be integrated into the DZP as structural components. The legal conditions for the transition of the Literaturwerkstatt to the DZP will be created to the extent that they do not already exist.
The Land Berlin has committed itself to providing part of the annual funding for the DZP to the extent provided up to now for the institutional funding of the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin. The necessary share of the funding has been applied for from the State Minister for Culture and Media.
Dr. Thomas Wohlfahrt Berlin, March 2013
© Dr. Thomas Wohlfahrt