Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Passa Porta

Tuesday 27 March 2012


Poetry Reading and Discussion

at Passa Porta

the brussels poetry collective of Passa Porta
Many cities already have a city poet. So Brussels could not be left out. Prose writer David Van Reybrouck and poet Peter Vermeersch worked out a city poet scheme tailor-made for Brussels: a multicultural and multilingual poetry collective.
Passa Porta offers the collective guidance in its creative work and unburdens it of non-creative red tape. The public programme will not solely be organised by Passa Porta. Other organizations can book the collective via Passa Porta.
The Collective and Passa Porta want to organize 4 or 5 literary projects each year. The largest and most important project thus far is The European Constitution in Verse.
The members of the Collective are: Liliane WoutersFrank De CritsXavier Queipo and Manza.
Laurence Vielle and Geert van Istendael were members of the Collective in 2008-2009.
Passa Porta has as well a residence program:
Passa Porta Bookshop
A. Dansaertstraat 46
1000 Brussels
Tel : 02/502 94 60
fax : 02/502 94 61


Children's corner - interesting is to see the connectivity between caterpillar and streetcar as if to suggest they move in a similar fashion forward or backward, or in association as to what artists can see in the way a streetcar dances through the streets as the case with Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov or how Vladimir Nabokov defines the streetcar as something which will vanish in near future just as did the horse drawn carriages. It is always interesting and important to see how children are drawn into the circle of avid readers despite of computers and i-pads. As long as books mean something, Passa Porta will stand for the opening to a very different world.


19.00 - 20.00

Prelimary discussion and some good food

Geert van Istendael with one member of Passa Porta

As one of the poets who helped to shape the European 'Constitution in verse', he understood immediately what was intended, when asked about a possible link between poetry and law. This the delegation of World Poetry Movement had discussed already with Katerina Stenou at UNESCO. Geert had two copies of these verses with him. Unfortunately they were both in Dutch language. However, he said that the verses can be found in other languages on the website of Passa Porta.

Since he claimed that the Constitution presented in 2005 was written in a language impossible to understand and had way too many pages, I did not respond to this argument which many used to reject at that time the proposal.  It is one of those gross misunderstandings of our times. For the record, it was not a Constitution per say, but a Constitutional Treaty which combined basically two texts: the Maastricht Treaty and the Charta of Basic Rights. It reflected the political reality of a European Union in which both citizens and member states had to come to a joint agreement. Whatever faults of that Constitutional Treaty, it had been a worthwhile effort to give EU institutions and governance a legal framework. Moreover the European Convention was a method by which problems of the European Union had been put on the table. Some reviews of the 'Constitution in Verses' indicate as well that this poetic attempt included the Right to dig in one's own nose. In other others words, it should be taken with a grain of salt or as being on a more human, equals humoristic side. Naturally there has to be granted as well the Right to Misunderstanding, especially when such criticism can be transformed into a creative counter proposal.

Geert van Istendael explained that he had been only for a short while Professor for Spatial Planning in Leuven, but that lasted only for two years and did not work out for him. After that he turned to Journalism and only later he came to poetry. Thanks to his family background, he speaks fluently six, if not seven languages. He conversed in Spanish with Fernando Rendon and greeted me in Greek once he had learned here is a German in Athens. It can evoke many good associations with poets like Elytis, Seferis, Ritsos, Cavafy and many others, including Katerina Anghelaki Rooke.

When he heard the name Eugene van Itterbeek, he groaned and mentioned that this former organizer of the 'Seven Sleepers' in Leuven wants to be everywhere. He is now in Sibiu.

Talking about other poets, we came upon a little book with the curious title of 'Treffen in Telgte' by Günter Grass. We agreed that this might be one of the best books by this author. It contains a wonderful description of the composer Heinrich Schütz who admonished the German poets of his time as not writing anything which was suitable for the opera. He lamented this sad state of affairs when comparing their writing with what Italian poets managed to do around the same time. Poets had gathered in a place called Telgte in an effort to overcome the fragmentation of Germany at that time due to the thirty year religious war. They had hoped to bring about unity rather than further strife by substantiating the German language through their poetry. Naturally each poet was jealous of the other or did not agree with his publisher. The poets were of the Baroc era.

Geert van Istendael was well prepared as moderator. Obviously he had studied the Strategic Paper of the World Poetry Movement and read carefully some of the statements made by Fernando Rendon. He showed this journalist curiosity when posing as moderator later on such questions as to the link between language and ideology or why Europe should listen to what Latin America has to say.

Hatto Fischer                    Photo by Boudewijn Payens

Hatto Fischer had to select like all the others two poems. At first he wanted to read the poem 'Unremittant soul', but when he heard during the discussion Fernando Rendon refer again to 'stones', as he had done at the European Commission, he decided to read a poem from the Collection 'Dialogue with Silence - the Paros poems'. It deals with stones or more precisely with stone walls. Interestingly enough a woman came up to him after the reading to say the stone walls in a landscape remind her more of a seam after having sown something even if like a chicken or a Turkey's belly after having put filling inside. More needs to be said about that poem about the stones since they have many metaphorical meanings, including bread for the poor. Why Jean Paul Sartre linked stones to a sign of Racism, that is also a hypothesis in need to be examined. The other poem he selected for reading stems from the Collection 'City Poems' just recently re-written after having transferred them from a small note book in anticipation of all the readings they would be doing in Paris, Antwerpen and now here at Passa Porta in the midst of Brussels, indeed very close to the Bourse and the Flemish Cultural Centre.

Fernando Rendon                        Photo by Boudewijn Payens


Fernando Rendon is both a poet and a director of the Medellin Poetry Festival. This touches upon a subject matter discussed with Bas Kwakman who would as director of the Rotterdam Poetry Festival never invite a fellow director to his festival. A kind of practical guideline is needed by every director with regards to the poets he invites. Naturally over time Fernando like all other poets turned director accumulate a vast knowledge of who has a name in poetry. Thus I learned from Bas Kwakman that Cees Noteboom was also at the festival in Medellin, but walked off the stage out of protest when someone proclaimed Mao to be his hero. Surrounding these festivals are always these small anecdotes which highlight in the life of a poet or writer some curious details which either remain like the stain of red wine on a white table cloth forever on the image of that poet or writer or else it evaporates like many things once time moves on and only certain things are remembered. The little things do matter on how you behave, that is talk and how you move especially in an international environment. Fernando had come with his wife Gloria with a huge baggage. It may be called 'human spirit', but also expectation to find some support and even financial help for the Medellin poetry festival. The contract for this year has not yet been signed with the Ministry of Culture. He must wait until April to know the decision, and if positive, how much money he has this time available to realize the festival come June. But he does not give up easily and is convinced by showing that ability to keep alive the fire inside of oneself, that is the human spirit, that a lot is possible.

Philip Meersman and Hatto Fischer in discussion      Photo by Boudewijn Payens



Introducing the delegation of World Poetry Movement to a professional audience of writers and poets, including the President of PEN, Belgium.

Introducing World Poetry Movement

Bas Kwakman                      Photo by Boudewijn Payens


"All political poetry is bad poetry; there is no poetry which is not political"

Bas Kwakman, Poetry International, Rotterdam and member of the coordination committee of WPM gave reference to poetry as sustaining a voice amidst many other forms of expressions. He described how they all met in Medellin, Colombia during that incredible poetry festival with over 15 000 people attentively listening over seven hours to seventy poets. He as director of an international poetry festival in Rotterdam can only dream about such a large audience. With this experience in mind, many directors like him decided in June 2011 to create the World Poetry Movement. It will unite all the poetry festivals in the world and bring about a platform for the exchange of information and good practices.

All in all, poetry can never be determined or poets told what they should write. That is why he puts at the outset this notion of 'all political poetry being bad poetry while it is impossible for poetry to be not political'. This is because poets address all issues. They touch upon many facets of life in the course of their writing.



Moderation: Geert van Istendael

Hatto Fischer, Geert Istendael, Gloria Chvatal, Fernando Rendon, Bas Kwakman, Philip Meersman                                                                       Photo by Boudewijn Payens

Geert van Istendael posed several questions in his opening reflections which matter if poetry is to be understood in its appropriate context. If not a physical encounter as some young poets might have it, if not merely a performance, but something like gauging as to what is possible, he did not come to Adorno's question is poetry still possible after Auschwitz. However, he felt there are certain constraints nowadays and that makes a difference in how poetry is being approached. He would very much like to find out this link between poetry and ideology, or what Bas Bwakman indicated as a sensitive and problematic relationship between poetry and politics. Here Hatto Fischer responded to the usual claim made by many that the world is governed by the socalled Euro-speak language which hardly anyone understands, by asking Philip Meersman and the others who were as a delegation just now by the European Commissioner whether or not this world was really so inaccessible? Naturally after so many days spend on meeting people in Paris, Antwerp and Brussels to discuss the agenda of World Poetry Movement, it is clear that a lot is being done especially in Flanders to promote culture and the written forms of expression like literature and poetry. That it is important to open up more spaces for those who have as Eli said it in Antwerp in their pockets on a tiny note a poem and that there is the question about peer groups keeping to themselves, hence many others outside the very space preserved for the well recognized poets. Being a published poet or not makes a difference. Equally the European Commission translation program promotes only already published works and therefore helps more the publisher, not the author or poet. There is a difference in the degree to which any poet or writer can be helped but certainly one attribute of World Poetry Movement is to open up more spaces and to connect them internationally so that the voice of poets is heard.

Here it became a matter whether the Poetry Festival in Medellin, Colombia is an exception and therefore the ultimate proof of a successful engagement for poetry. Alone the sheer size of the festival with an audience of 15 000 people figures greatly in the mind of any director of poetry festival, but also it affects any poet once he or she has read her poems in front of such an audience. One Flemish poet who became the City Poet of Antwerp was such a case. Before he went to Medellin, he was reserved, inclusive as much as exclusive, and this in the sense of being highly refined or sophisticated. He came back from Medellin very much changed. Something had opened him up and took him to new fields of engagement with a different attitude and world view!

Hatto Fischer explaining                    Photo by Boudewijn Payens

Naturally big audiences is not the only thing a poet needs to do. Everyone knows William Carlos Williams about whom Enzensberger said remarkable about this poet is that he did not travel much but still he was in touch with the entire world. And he complemented his view of a person as a doctor with his view of the human being as a poet. Whenever a patient came into his practice, the type writer and the poem he was writing at the moment disappeared into a drawer. The moment the patient had left, out came again this mechanical instrument for writing well known before the age of the computer and notepad. Naturally there is something to be said about Enzensberger himself. For Uwe Johnson shouted after him when he left New York for Cuba that it is impossible to improve one's own moral stance by changing states. Enzensberger has been active as writer and translator. By giving attention and therefore recognition to other poets, he would introduce them into his own cultural world and alter thereby the references or even paradigms for further reflections. Such alterations in value premises are crucial if the impact of poetry is to be understood.

When Geert asked if other festivals exist like the one in Medellin, Hatto mentioned that he knows from Greece that not only the poets are known since Theodorakis and others have composed them to music sung by everyone, but also he has experienced similar audiences. For instance, during the conference 'Myth of the City' which brought together fifteen poets and fifteen planners, architects, philosophers etc. while traveling together through Crete for one week, they had a poetry reading in the village Kamilari by Festos. The entire village turned up to hear 15 poets read till well after midnight and then came the food which had been prepared for the past five days. There were about 500 people and all listened even when poems were read in different language and followed by a translation into Greek. He recalls one man pumping the ribs of his wife sitting next to him when Katerina Anghelaki Rooke was reading her poems. The voices of poets mean something in Greece. Over and again people urge the poets to say something in public to save the land since people will listen to them even if they do not listen to many other voices, and in particular not to politicians.

Fernando Rendon    Photo by Boudewijn Payens


Fernando Rendon does not agree or disagree. He has his own course of thought and valuation. He knows after many years of experiences what counts is a change in a crucial attitude towards poetry. For the human spirit is expressed through poetry. Too often poetry is denied. That kind of negation creates a fortitude of negativity and can transform everything into stone. Such discourse is best understood at symbolic level. He predicts poetry itself will turn into stone, if it does not heed the human cry and the desperate voices. Above all there is a need for human solidarity. He fears European poetry can become like that and then no one will listen anymore to such poetry which is out of touch with reality. This is what he means when saying Europe should listen to the voices of especially the poets of Latin America. Geert van Istendael had asked him why should Europe do this, especially now that Europe is declining in world status and in a deep financial crisis. That question is all the more acute when Fernando repeats the thesis of Borges who said the roots of Latin America culture are to be found not in Europe, but in Africa.



Question from the audience                                       Photo by Boudewijn Payens

One question was posed by the President of Pen- Belgium why the World Poetry Movement does not link up with PEN, given the fact that the first letter in its logos stands for Poetry?

Bas Kwakman replied that the World Poetry Movement is an attempt to bring together all poetry festivals.


Poems performed and read by

Philip Meersman

Fernando Rendon

Hatto Fischer

Stone walls

These stone walls were put up by men many moons ago,

as elongated borders they partition the landscape

and end something which belonged once to all: the free land!

Was it only to keep out the wolves and in the sheep?

What if the golden eagle comes, for then

no wall suffices against that swoop from high up

till not only sheep but everyone gets carried away

to leave behind a landscape gone silent.

A landscape kept in constant movement by the wind

beholds at a distance the view of the sea

and closer by the Acropolis overrun and burned down one day

back in history full of upsets and ousters

of the one who had collected riches behind stone walls.

Immediately brittle when they could no longer beat back

determined invaders grimly armed to the teeth

as if a mixture of pirates and angry angels

send by the Gods to announce victory means defeat.



- for David Smeeton, the 'tiger' of the BBC

My manifestation is one of pain.

So many details

about the event when Reagan

came to Berlin

are still flung at me,

as if I should have known better.

Yet silence fills only the air.

Then came still other, harsher words

thrown like stones at my head.

Even a man pointed a gun at me

and demanded that I should stop meddling

in the life of others.

It is like bottling in demonstrators

till their Rights to protest

are denied in the name of their safety.

No wonder that false justifications prevail

since the news that evening showed

but stone throwing protesters,

as if these static pictures of violence

speak all by themselves.

At least, it was the editor's argument

at the evening news desk.

Even the camera man asked

why were left out

the sequence of events to show

that first the police trapped

the demonstrators

by imprisoning them with razor like wire

after which they shot tear gas into their midst?

It so happened that day

on Nollendorfplatz in West Berlin.

Yet all of this does not explain

why the population stayed silent,

and the media remains unchallenged

even though it left the accusation standing

that the demonstrators were wrong

and not the state working with the media

to dispute such a manifestation

meant to be a civil protest

against the most powerful man

of the world at that time.

Reagan was a Hollywood actor

with public relations in mind

when he challenged Gorbachev

that same day

to take down that wall -

but not the razed wire.

Hatto Fischer - from the collection 'City Poems'


and the poem not read, but intended


Un-remittent are our disturbed souls,

Even when they cling to wishes we cannot fulfill.

But life is not just a dream.

Reality catches me most of the time out of breath.

Stars, tell me, what can I do?

Sea, how can I heal my wounds?

Sand, what signs should I draw with my feet to change my fate?

Wherever I go, the road has never been easy.

Even if my country is filled with thorns,

A stony path down to the sea is not the greatest of all obstacles

Nor does the wind make me feel alone.

For I love the sea, the wind and the sand and stones,

yet pathways through my heart are much more difficult.

Cumbersome is the resurrection of my heart.

After I was left standing to bleed nearly to death,

I saw the light coming through the roof 'cause full of holes.

I found myself in a hut on an empty beach,

slept there like a pirate’s wife

and dreamt to drink all night with the men.

Yes, I even dared to joke about their toothless swords,

and asked if they could only see themselves in the mirrors

of a dark eyed women they all desire like fata morgana

beginning to exist when someone shouts ‘land ahoy’.

O yes, I forgot those daily bills. Don’t remind me of that.

I wish a donkey or some other magical trick

like a goose which lays some golden eggs

would save my soul from tax collectors, debtors and other thieves

who never take into account the value my life has for others

even when they cannot count on their fingers

how many times I have saved their lives

out of sheer courage of my heart.

There is no need for a monument for my deeds.

It is just a fact, not non-sense. Any parrot or cat

can do better than that, I know.

A modest measure to distract would be to reorder the kitchen

or to start cleaning the house all over again

since life brings with itself constant disorder.

It keeps me busy, my thoughts occupied and shy enough as I am

to admit that I would not mind smoking with all the pirate’s pipe.

Yes, I dream about a rich ship at anchor, ready to be taken

like a beautiful bride as the prime dowry

when the wind picks up and fills the sails

to depart along the coast until safe anchorage

can be found in one of those secluded bays

where no one knows your face.

Yes, I wish to share that kind of life with you

for I am armed to the teeth with love.

The audience at Passa Porta                                  Photo by Boudewijn Payens

Thanks to the audience who came together that specific evening when the delegation of World Poetry Movement came to town and found the door wide open and a sense of direction to go in.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 4.4.2012

Film of the podium discussion at Passa Porta on youtube by Boudwijn Payens


^ Top

« Meeting with EU Commission Culture | Poetry and practical agenda for Culture »