Opening Address by Federal President Horst Köhler at an event to celebrate 10 years of the ‘lyrikline.org’ Internet platform on 26 October 2009 in the KulturBrauerei Berlin
Ladies and gentlemen,
I’m pleased to be the guest this evening of a small, “radical” minority. I very gladly, and very consciously, accepted your invitation to help celebrate ten years of lyrikline.org.
When asked, from time to time, what I’m responsible for as President, I often say, “for the overall picture”. This is correct, overall, but when one looks more closely at that overall picture one sees that it consists of myriad small pieces.
This is true of society, which is held together by countless different initiatives and groups and by committed people who have noticed that something is missing and have devoted themselves to filling that gap. Our society depends on those who get involved, who get down to work, who make an issue their own.
Cultural life, too, depends on the creative ideas of individuals, the novel initiatives of minorities. The new and surprising, the provocative and progressive – these ideas are mostly the product of individual minds, of small movements and projects.
As I understand it, this is the way lyrikline began. Although this idea appears, with hindsight, to be the most obvious thing in the world, someone first had to dream it up, and be capable enough – and indeed tough enough – to make that dream a reality, to make it live and grow.
This idea, which today is so self-evident, was to combine the oldest form of art, poetry, and the newest medium, the Internet, to let anyone who wishes experience something that is very old and at the same time once again very popular: a poetry reading by the poet him- or herself.
That idea took off – flying for the past ten years now – and has spread across the world. For that reason I warmly congratulate those who thought up that idea, in particular the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin, but also all those who work for and support lyrikline, as well as their partners around the world!
It’s obvious to all of you that in spite of the Internet poetry and verse will not move the masses. But this isn’t about masses at all, but rather about enabling interested individuals around the world to gain access to what is meaningful to them, what they need for their spiritual life.
Why do many people find poems important, and above all those read out? Because poems are the most intense, sophisticated and subjective way of shaping language, of summing up the world in words, of expressing one’s existence. Poetry is a small pocket of resistance against the massive flood of verbal trash which hits us each day from the media. We talk about the era of communications and information in which we live, but we often feel that communication was never as irrelevant and information never as content-free as they are today. The TV and radio stations have to broadcast round the clock and the online news services have to change their headlines hourly if possible – meaning that language suffers from a kind of over-production crisis.
In this situation the poem represents a pause. It briefly interrupts the constant flow of verbiage and lets us catch our breath – and perhaps experience a moment of truth and self-awareness.
For that reason I think it’s a wonderful ruse that, thanks to lyrikline, the read-out poem allows us this breather in what is perhaps the most talkative of all media. I’ve been told that the most hits are during the lunch break, when people need to take time out, and when they want to literally let their thoughts run free.
Poems have to be read out loud, as they are the form of language most closely related to songs, which also contain and show the melody and rhythm of language. I’m constantly fascinated at what the mere reading out of poetry can communicate, even if we don’t understand the language. Last year Lebogang Mashile was my guest at Schloss Bellevue, along with other African writers, and we were all wowed by her performance. Ms Mashile, I’m pleased to be able to see – and hear – you again this evening!
The fact that you are here today brings to our attention a major aspect of lyrikline – that it strengthens and supports the international community of poets and poetry-lovers. This is a fine contribution by this German initiative towards global cultural and spiritual exchange.
Individualists above all need solidarity, and poets are individualists. Particularly writers from poor countries who can only dream of having their work printed and edited, have found lyrikline to be a unique means of communication. For this, too, I congratulate you.
The globalization of poetry does not, however, negate the uniqueness of each individual culture. The fact that the foreign authors on lyrikline are not chosen here in Germany but by partner organizations could almost prove that poetry can be seen as the avant-garde of globalization in a spirit of partnership. But I don’t want to instrumentalize here.
Poetry and verse have their own right to exist, their own raison d’être, and for that reason we need and love them. You, the friends and staff of lyrikline, have made a great contribution to poetry, and therefore to the overall picture.
Thank you once again!