Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Poetry and practical agenda for Culture


"We have to discover the places of silence before the lyrical protest covers them up." - Michel Foucault


A practical agenda for EU Culture – in need for a poetry mode in cultural programs


At the meeting with Commissioner A. Vassiliou, the delegation of the World Poetry Movement consisted of:

one key agreement was reached during this meeting, namely

that poetry can be taught and, therefore, be learned or else can be gained by making experiences through poetry.

It means that the main aim should be to learn to express oneself in such poetic terms, that the self understood can also be what is the least self understood, especially in a global society, so that giving space and time to poetry would already be the beginning of practical policy discussion as to what can be done to support and to further poetry and the poetic language.

In reference to Michael D. Higgins, whom the World Poetry Movement delegation had visited prior to this meeting in Brussels, his considerations for a practical agenda for culture should be included in this discourse about future EU cultural policy.

It is of importance what recognition is given to poetry within such an agenda, since culture has become a common reference point within the European debate and policy framework. Once some initial ideas about a future policy for poetry have been articulated, this initiative should be followed up by further going discussions within all poetry circles and promoters of poetry. The latter includes schools, libraries, book stores, literature houses, poets of cities as well as sections of UNESCO as much as of various Ministeries of Culture. At the same time, there is a spread of poetry through social media i.e. on line forms of publications. Almost all poets maintain by now as well their individual websites or blogs, if they do not communicate via Facebook and Twitter.

During the discussion with the Commissioner, there was referred to the world wide experiences within the various poetry festivals starting with the one in Medellin, Columbia, but also what happens in Berlin or in Rotterdam.

During the discussion there was cited as well the experiences made in book shops which can create special audiences around the poet. It can be a participatory event best expressed by open mikes being made available. Also another level is attained once there has been created the post of city poet as the case in Antwerp, Belgium. Poetry can and does assure that a flow of ideas and of people conjoins in public spaces where it is possible to tell and to discuss the truth about the state of democracy in Europe, and to reflect this through various poetic forms of expression in order to know and to acknowledge what takes place in the life of people of all ages and walks of life, insofar their poetic belonging to the world will help shape the future of the European Union.

The European Union as a 'political project' is identified right now by Jürgen Habermas as one practising 'executive federalism'. This is especially negative in a period of acute crises, and therefore deeply flawed in terms of demands for democracy. Given the need for such measures to overcome the democratic deficit and the lack of moral legitimacy due to the failure to ratify the EU Constitutional Treaty which in 2005, a poetic response to an unsatisfactory patchwork of Treaties defining together with the latest, namely the Lisbon Treaty, the legal basis for European Union actions, is a Constitution in Verses (see Passa Porta).

Consequently it would be good to ask poets to image Europe and thereby create a truly original text from which all can draw inspiration to move forward in life, while able to link local, regional, national and European levels not in the complicated, technocratic language of multi-coordination levels but as a metaphorical description of European life becoming poetic once measures taken succeed to advance towards world governance.

As this has to take place on a sound ethical base which links Human Rights and Human Dignity as prime set of shared values by all in the world, the poetic perspective for Europe of the future needs being addressed by a mitigation of ideas.

Aim, Organization and Purpose of the Practical Agenda

  1. The aim of such a practical agenda should be to imagine such poetic efforts which are in need of support, and which is based on the recognition that they promise

  1. The World Poetry Movement is a new organization founded by poetry festivals around the world and which wishes to gain support when aiming to unite all poetry festivals around the world. As proposed by Bas Kwakman from Poetry International in Rotterdam, this is done best by creating a platform for exchange of good practices so as to facilitate translations, publications and dissemination of knowledge about poets and poetry organizations in other countries. At the moment, the coordination committee of the World Poetry Movement convenes every two weeks to discuss and to decide outstanding issues.

  1. The function of any future cooperation with the European Commission and therefore European Union is to facilitate an open and ongoing relationship by creating and supporting such a platform for poetry and poetry related matters. The platform should draw attention specifically to the EU cultural policy in the making while relating to all other relevant fields of the European Union as poetry and culture can and does affect both internal and external relationships.

  1. To realize world governance guidance from poetry should be sought. For poetry as part of the practical agenda of culture can guide the European Union and its diverse cultures towards world wide practices best performed by poetry festivals and poetic actions in schools and wider fields of public and open educational processes. At all times poetry is engaged in mutual exchanges of deep and substantial experiences while sensitivity towards language is continued through the work of poets and the ongoing process of translation. Cultural diversity depends upon different voices being heard, one example of that being what the Greek singer Savina Yannatou did with voices of poets in search of the 'human voice'. (see http://poieinkaiprattein.org/poetry/in-search-of-the-human-voice/ with audio piece to be heard at: http://www.heritageradio.net/cms2/arts-artists-single-view/article/voices-in-european-poetry-a-savina-yannatou/?encryptionKey=&cHash=2ba42631c5

  1. A practical agenda should be drawn up in due consideration as to what is being discussed amongst poets and within literary and cultural organizations. It should serve as a first basis to evaluate what the European Commission has done so far to promote poetry and organizations acting in support of poetry. This can prepare for further going cooperation with the World Poetry Movement. Since poetry addresses all issues, the poetic view as to what is happening in Europe and throughout the world is crucial for shaping such an agenda.

  1. Outstanding issues are in need to be identified more precisely. At the same time, the link between poetry, culture and democracy cannot be stressed enough. Especially at a time when cultural linkages between individuals and society are cut, limited or transferred to a seeming global level through the Internet, there is a need to focus on languages and to take care of poetic articulation as something different from politics and ideologies. For example, the current city poet of Antwerp, namely Bernard Dewulf entered a discussion about language in use with people who wished no longer to be identified as minorities and who no longer accept the term 'diversity', given all the uniformity imposed around and upon them.

  1. Two initial problematic issues can be identified at the outset: i) why culture has to prove that it can contribute towards the promotion of innovation and creativity needed by the economy and why is not being asked the other way around what can the economy do for culture to flourish? ii) how poetry and politics relate when it comes to ascertaining how best to promote culture by fostering unique cultural events like the poetry festival in Medellin, Colombia or poetry schools?

  1. On all accounts, policy issues but specifically cultural ones in need to be addressed come under review once real actors of civic society and poetic movements enter the debate. There exist quite other interests once validity of specific interests and claims has to be linked to an ethical vision based on poetic inspiration. Michael D. Higgins states this to be the most universal of all ethical claims.

  1. Bas Kwakman adds to this the need to overcome above all 'cynicism' in society best done by making poetry festivals work in the way they should, namely to draw an ever greater audience to poetry and appreciation thereof. At the same time, audience creation through poetry means to go through the individuals themselves as everyone has in his or her pocket a small scribbled note reflecting the aspiration of every poet, namely to be inspirational to others and the 'self'. In this sense, poetry comes the closest to fulfil the dream of Beuys that everyone is an artist.

  1. There is a development under way to perceive Europe no longer as a political project, but as one in which people live and work together not any more in their own country but outside, elsewhere, somewhere. Since poetry has something to do with 'immediacy' but also with an elongated vision based on observations of daily life, there are new tendencies to be noted. For instance, artists linked to the Flashback Manifesto in Denmark state that “for Europe to become creative, there has to be ensured a free conscience”. (see http://poieinkaiprattein.org/beyond-images/flash-back-manifesto/)

  1. There is a link between poetry and philosophy so as to finalize the strive for infinity while knowing every human being remains incomplete and life open ended, save that there is for every individual an end called death. The dialogue is not possible without this link between poetry and philosophy. It implies a love for knowledge in the true sense of the word. An example can be taken from a discussion about the German poet Hölderlin and his treatment of Empedocles by Hatto Fischer (see http://poieinkaiprattein.org/philosophy/hoelderlin-s-empedocles/ )

  1. Consequently poetry is an art which fosters 'practical wisdom' and can therefore influence policy in a genuine way. Even though philosophers claim 'practical judgment' (Kant, Adorno) cannot be taught, practical wisdom and judgement is needed by politics within institutional settings and by people acting under certain conditions (Hannah Arendt).

  2. Since Poetry comes the closest to express practical wisdom, it can help to overcome the gap between education and experience, social and human reality, local worlds and international orientated institutions. Poetry should be taught at school but as well outside, in the streets and at home, for it is the biggest key to culture while can be at the same time the biggest obstacle to life long learning on how to express oneself with words and performances relying above all on the human voice.

  3. Poetry means democratic practice. By fostering the ability to express oneself poetically while entering a poetic life, the prerequisite to participate in democratic practice is being created. This includes granting all others their own personal viewpoints and ways of expressing themselves. By listening the premise for a real dialogue is given. Hence poetry and a poetic life reflect the freedom every individual can attain, in order to come to terms with him- or herself and others while adapting to new needs in a rapidly changing world.

  4. Language of poetry relies on the senses and human sensitivity for the other so that official language used inside of the institutions can be substantiated by listening and including in practical discourse these alternate speeches and forms of expressions very often articulated in poetic hubs and during personal dialogues. For this reason, poets are also good translators. Their presence should be used to refine languages in use to make sure things are not left said only in a technocratic, indeed neutralized language.

  5. In reference to Liana Sakelliou-Schultz's speech at the Fifth Seminar, Cultural Actions for Europe, it can be stated in order to attain a free conscience through poetry, there has to be attained a further going 'dialectic of securalization'. By this meant, not only a separation of state and church, politics and religion, but likewise of state and culture. There is a need to emancipate culture from politics and state structures. The free conscience presupposes no individual can be forced to adopt to but one culture. Europe will base its future on independence and a free human spirit. As this has as well implications for the education of children, they must be able to grow up free from any indoctrination. (for speech of Liana Sakelliou-Schultz see http://poieinkaiprattein.org/conferences-symposiums-workshops/cultural-actions-for-europe/second-plenary-session/the-effect-of-increasing-internationalisation/ )

  6. Becoming free in Europe goes hand in hand with what Simon Mundy formulated as a treatise about 'Coming home'. It can be extended to 'coming home in Europe', and given the World Poetry Movement, can be extended to 'coming home in the world'. Poetry is about discovering the world immediately on the pavement, in what exists in front of oneself. It is something Thomas Mann missed after he returned from exile in the United States to where he had fled during the period 1933-45. Thomas Mann reports that when he entered the streets of Hamburg in Germany, he did not feel the presence of the world but a reduction and confinement to a kind of local patriotism. As immediacy has to do with the senses and sense perception so often disputed by philosophy as being a source of truth, poets like William Carlos Williams can show how to stay in touch with the world while remaining at one location. It says poetry may be the best medium for such open communication in order to know what is going on around the globe.

  7. Currently the sad state of affairs with regards to culture and poetry in particular is that the platforms created to facilitate the dialogue between the European Commission and the civic sector do not include poetry. At the same time, the experts of the arts and of cultural organizations linked to these platforms need to present arguments which prove the value of culture to the economy.

  8. All cultural failures reflect themselves in an absence of a poetic life. As this has many short comings, in particular with regards to small organizations or even single persons doing a lot for culture and the arts, it should be recalled that the European dimension consists out of the constant interplay between the small and the large. This applies as well to cities and the life within them. If everything is merely a matter of huge scale then Europe will miss out on the human dimension and be unable to observe the law of proportions. Thoughts should be given, therefore, on how in future European programs can promote small actors and organizations, so that Europe will benefit from a EU cultural program designed to sustain the interplay between small and big.

  9. Cultural policy has to be based on an ethical vision pertaining to the arts and culture. It should be reminded that the ERDF Article 10 program stated explicitly a paradoxical situation, namely besides being interested in culture as it can create jobs, there is the risk that over commercialization threatens cultural identities.

  10. Since Melina Mercouri had expressed her ideas about a European Capital of Culture, culture stands for the art of bringing together people. This means culture has to ensure a free flow of ideas connected with the free flow of people. It can bring about changes in meanings, expressions and understanding and therefore requires epistemology to comprehend these changes. That differs greatly from traffic and money flows.

  11. European structures should make things possible by becoming more 'poetic'. This is best done by an 'economy of rules' allowing for clear measures to govern by. It would mean an economy and political administration which is not indifferent to the needs for culture and for poetry in particular. It would mean such a governance prevails which heeds practical wisdom when it comes to guide investments in culture and people. By neglecting both culture and people the future of the European project is at stake.

  12. If the European Commission is to enter a dialogue with civic society and more so with artists like the poets, then there is a need for a practical agenda for culture. The proper term for this would be staying in touch with reality through poetic inspired philosophical dialogues. As working method it will have to attain consistency over time, work through contradictions and perceive as well as give recognition to the value of particular and general artistic steps leading on to works of art, performances, reflections and manifestations. Much more focus is, therefore, needed on anticipation of things to come, in order to build audiences receptive to the developments in the arts and thereby contribute themselves to the overall cultural development. This would mean a gain in literacy and freedom to deliberate together with the European Commission the cultural agenda of Europe.

Towards a poetic shaping of a practical agenda

Since the EU has not a strong legal base with regards to culture as in every government of almost all states culture finds itself to be in a weak position, and while also the EU Vision for 2020 does not make any explicit reference to culture at all, all the more reason in a period of crisis that alone poetry with its visionary power can strengthen both the individual and the collective search for truth.


"Culture will have to be brought into the heart of public administration, if it to become more than what it is now – a partial and spasmodically effective instrument of policy.”

Freedom of expression is a crucial principle and cultural policies should establish a general framework within which individuals and institutions can work together rather than intervene merely in what they can say and do with regards to policy formulations.

Europe’s most valuable resource is its human capital. In many ways, this is not being exploited to its full – a failure which can be as damaging to economic prosperity as it is to the life of the imagination and the pursuit of happiness.

A more holistic approach to education is needed by transforming schools into culture-centred environments and enable them to become focal points of cultural life in their local communities.

It is time to restore the natural links between the arts and sciences, which were broken in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Centres of technological and cultural innovations would help to heal the long-standing schism in the industrial world between so-called “two cultures”.

However, there is always a danger that a dominate class will emerge, one which is not only well equipped but well versed in terms of rhetoric and at ease with the new forms of rationalizations (manipulations), while consigning all those restricted by poverty and lack of training to the role of passive consumers, rather than being regarded and recognized as full and active members of the communication society.

This can only be avoided by a substantial complementation of technological investments by cultural ones in formal education and by giving cultural support throughout adult life with regards to retraining and further qualification opportunities with the aim to uphold social literacy.

Cultural policy should foster unity while, at the same time, welcome diversity.

For good or ill, culture is powerful promoter of identity but a neglect thereof will revive Nationalism and Patriotism at the expense of enriching the European dimension.

By emphasising one set of values against another, national cultures can be divisive and contribute to conflict rather than social cohesion and mutual appreciation.

It is essential that the development of arts and the conservation and exploitation of the heritage not only assert the commonality of European values, but also reflect the multicultural varieties which is characteristic both of Europe as a whole and of individual nation states.

The role of the heritage in identity building for Europe, nation states, area-based and minority cultures needs to be acknowledged and a new ethical approach is called for which recognises the destruction of one community’s heritage is a loss to Europe as a whole.

Culture has an important role to play, for it creates the social and civic bond.

An appropriate balance needs to be struck between the power of the state and, increasingly, multinational corporations and the freedom of the individual.

Governments should not be solely growth orientated, in celebration of the “local2, which is a natural response to globalisation and is often driven by the apparent cultural renaissance of image-conscious cities.

The nurturing of creativity is essential if this is to be sustained – cities do not regenerate themselves spontaneously or at the behest of politicians.

The danger of Europe and more particularly the European Union closing in on itself should be avoided and in this culture can play a crucial role in keeping open Europe to the world.

National governments need to review their international cultural policies to reflect more adequately contemporary cultural practice and the changed political environment in Europe.” - Michael D. Higgins at the ECCM Symposium, 'Productivity of Culture' held in Athens 2007 and organized by Spyros Mercouris and Hatto Fischer (For full text of his speech about the need for 'cultural spaces', see http://poieinkaiprattein.org/culture/position-papers/the-cultural-space-by-michael-d-higgins/)

Consequently there is a need for a new European agenda for culture. This is to ensure that culture is included in the overall European agenda and that the mistake of the EU vision 2020 shall be corrected. Since Michael D. Higgins, both a former Minister of Culture and now President of Ireland, has often articulated a practical agenda, it is worthwhile to repeat here his recommendation that cultural actions shall be undertaken at EU level in support of Civil Society, Market Institutions and Political Institutions. The aim is to achieve an ethical vision of Europe altogether by having these three strong pillars: Civil Society:

Market Institutions:

Political Institutions:

Source: Speech by Michael D. Higgin held in Athens, May 2002: http://poieinkaiprattein.org/culture/position-papers/one-response-or-a-multitude-of-stories-by-michael-d-higgins/

Since this was said in 2000, such a practical agenda needs to be updated. However, Michael D. Higgins believes that even today the report 'In from the Margins' is still relevant. There is a need for implementation of these demands.



The World Poetry Movement is willing to work together with the European Commission to give a poetic shape to such a practical agenda for culture. This is being proposed in the knowledge that poetry is capable of reaching people of all walks of life around the globe. By way of shaping such a practical agenda by poetic means, this cooperation can be entered over time.

It can be best done by leading over to concrete proposals by referring to what has already been experienced by the World Poetry Movement. During the discussion between the Commissioner Vassiliou and the delegation of World Poetry Movement, there were already some practical suggestions in need of a follow-up as to both their validity and their integration possibilities into the new Cultural Program set forth by the European Commission for the period 2013-2020.

Proposal 1: alter the current cultural program to include the role of curator as another way to initiate cultural projects which include poetry or take poetic actions into further consideration.

When independent experts evaluated for the European Commission project proposals for the cultural cooperation program, they saw only few really outstanding proposals with a high artistic quality. They wondered how could be brought about artistic and cultural projects of high quality? As a solution they proposed that some resources of the cultural program should be given to projects after having made it through the application process, but instead to a curator who could then initiate artistic projects or cultural actions of guaranteed high artistic and cultural value.

The question from the side of the Commission was then how shall the quality of the project be ensured? As a first answer this would entail specific guidelines for the selection of curators, but awards to be made under the condition that the curator has then on all the freedom to take the initiative. A second one would be that all directors of poetry festivals have to be free to do their own selection of poets who shall contribute to the festival, and therefore they must be free to take their own initiatives.

Hence in the field of poetry, there can be found many examples of good practices. All of them lead on to a combination of artistic and managerial qualities. It is done in such a way that festivals are sustained over many years, reach their respective audiences and configure over time crucial thematic links. The latter aim to show what is happening in the world and how responsive the poets in particular and the artistic world in general are to these developments.

For instance, Bas Kwakman, director of the Rotterdam International Poetry Festival, brought on stage a woman poet who had fled Baghdad because she could no longer take the bombing and war once the invasion had started in March 2003 and went to the United States where she started to write about the war in Iraq. At the same time, he brought as well on stage a former USA sniper in the war in Iraq and who ended up staying in Baghdad where he turned to poetry to reflect upon his experiences. Such juxtaposition is itself a declaration of two different points of views both having to do with the war in Iraq, but in the end from a reversed angle compared to where both poets came from originally. Alone that continues the story but under changed premises about poets for peace.

Proposal 2: Learn through poetry to handle complexity in a different way in order to attain sustainable development

Of great importance would be if the European Commission could acknowledge that poetry and poetic actions can lead in a more substantial way towards handling 'complexity' affecting the behavior of individuals, groups, networks and even entire global systems like the European Union itself.

How to handle complexity as key component of governance and of development reflects itself fore mostly in how the question of sustainability is being understood and mediated through the different levels of interactions. Since single actions can stand beside highly cooperative and competitive ones, poetry is able to distill this question at both subjective and socio-economic and political levels. A clear reason is that through poetry human contact can be made possible, and this in all domains of life.

Proposal 3: Learn through poetry how to handle doubt, while giving public spaces to human voices and a poetic life in cities as well as in still existing rural areas, whereas most spaces are in reality caught in between city and nowhere to go but along still more roads and other infrastructure related landscapes.

Poetry can be an open field which makes possible experiences as life unfolds. It is done best by discovering the hidden pain. For behind every good poem, there is human pain. A notion of pain needs not to be nurtured since people experience daily losses of loved ones. Arthur Koestler in his book about 'Creativity' said it already a long time that nothing can be brought about by staying alone on the trivial plane; there is a need to dip down into the tragic plane and work from there up to the open fields. It is like coming up for a breath of fresh air.

One way to close off to doubt is not to relate to the open questions of life. Another way of saying this stems from Michel Foucault who stated 'that we must discover the places of silence before lyrical protest covers them up'. There is this distinction between poetry not trying to be political, but being political as all good poetry is, and a lyrical protest which is an effort in vain to be political where things are said better after these places of silence have been discovered.

It should be taken further into consideration that nothing can be organized in the cultural fields without being open to doubt, while the freedom to do something under such circumstances depends upon the ability to set some clear constraints. This was the case when Eric Antonis took on the task of director when Antwerp was European Capital of Culture, and who has ever since continued to build up the cultural resources of that city. He defined culture as being open to doubt and thus made possible the creation of 20 new operas within that specific year of 1993, 19 of which were performed for the first time during that year. Doubt means things are not predefined and nothing can be added within the public sphere to add to the already existing meanings some new nuances. Yet artistic innovation begins already when old stories are told anew and the human voice telling them brings these stories into the present to make them come alive in front of the eyes of children and their parents. Such a magic moments when the audiences can wander out onto the open fields with their imaginations.

Proposal 4: Learn to work with poetry as cultural indicator

The absence of poetry and a poetic life indicate worse in both a material and spiritual sense that this area is worse off than merely suffering under poverty. For these areas are filled with violence and even war, as is the case in Colombia where an undeclared war has cost by now more than one million lives. If Habermas could say 'where there is no theory, there is violence', all the more this applies to the absence of poetry. While poetry is a non violent action and can sustain peace by persons finding a personal language in order to be in touch with the world, the very absence would spell trouble for all concerned.

It is a consensus amongst serious poets that poetry has also to do with law. One good example is the constitution of Europe written by poets linked to Passa Porta in Brussels. But more important is that poets have been keen over time to take a measure as to what is happening, and this in terms of what task it takes to bring about a just society.

It goes without saying, as Fernando Rendon from Medellin, Colombia would stress, that poetry and human solidarity need each other. For poets and poetry are most vulnerable and therefore the closest to human pain and human weakness. They can become at the same time the strongest elements bringing people together. By opening people up to each other and this in mutual appreciation as to what poetry can give like none other, life is expressed in forms respecting human dignity and the need for human solidarity.

Poetry is as diverse as are the human languages. Poetry reflects best the various forms of expressions people use and create, in order to articulate themselves. Most interesting is also the difference between intimate language often linked to the mother tongue and other languages used when living not in Denmark but in France. The writer Josef Conrad was known to use three languages: Polish as language of origin, French as language of desire and English as the language of social norms. Other poets can demonstrate even within one poem the use of three languages adapted to the need to show practical wisdom, emotional roots and experiences of the other.

Out of this follow some practical recommendations:

The monitoring and evaluation tools used at the moment by the EU and its experts for appraising cultural actions can be substantiated by reference to poetry as another type of indicator. The aim should be to facilitate an outreach to others. Once people live and express diversity without feeling to be discriminated against by being called 'minority', they can develop a greater tolerance and appreciation of cultural differences while expressing themselves fully.

European integration should mean to become free from the need to speak just one official language, in order to gain access to decision making at European level and to belong at the same time to a specific local, regional or national society. Rather entry into diverse language fields should reflect themselves in societal efforts to live these experiences. There is the need to be attentive to different meanings (the English language has just one word for 'experience', while the German one has both 'Erlebnisse' and 'Erfahrung' for experience) hidden in nuances of various understanding. As this should constitute the Right to oppose the social norm of just one language, the use of European languages should be facilitated by public spaces allowing for a search of public truth in the use of these different languages.

These indicators should be taken

- as a qualitative measure

- as an idea of making urban and rural areas come alive

- as to what poetic actions can achieve when it comes to diminish violence to further peace and conflict resolutions

- as facilitating open mikes and therefore communicative networks

- as links to various kinds of performances from theater to web based ones

- as ways to substantiate official discourse inside the established institutions by upholding the importance of street and self created small discursive practices.

These indicators related to poetry should be taken into consideration when scanning the cultural fields for other kinds of publications than what has traditionally defined the role of publishers and of key institutions. All this matters when it comes to giving recognition to authors and poets, great novels and small works like Haiku poetry.

Cultural actions initiated by poetry – some practical examples:

Culture is about working on materials – human expressions, experiences, dreams, visions etc. - at a level where consistency can be attained and communicated further by retaining memories thereof.

Thus allocation of resources must go hand in hand with furthering this consistency. At all times, arbitrariness needs to be avoided as well as a tendency to reduce complexity to suit mere managerial convenience. If there is made the claim that culture and the arts contribute towards innovation and therefore to economic development, this innovative capacity must be given a chance to unfold by itself and within the demands of the very specific form of artistic expression. To illustrate what is meant by putting emphasis on the freedom of expressions and cultural actions designed to further this freedom, several examples are briefly mentioned on the basis of which still further things can be reflected upon.

1: Discovering the human voice through poetry

Departing from the philosophical notion that the 'human voice' as yet to be heard, with Bach's Fugue being an example in which the human voice tries to come to the surface but never succeeds fully to do so, Hatto Fischer undertook the task when organizing for the Flemish Government the Fifth Seminar 'Cultural Actions for Europe' in Athens 1994, to include poets in three ways:


Fifth Seminar, 'Cultural Actions for Europe', see http://poieinkaiprattein.org/conferences-symposiums-workshops/cultural-actions-for-europe/

For Savina Yannatou's composition of voices in poetry, see http://poieinkaiprattein.org/poetry/in-search-of-the-human-voice/

and for the recording


2. 'Myth of the City' – 15 poets and 15 city planners, architects, philosophers etc. discuss living conditions in cities during a one week conference which took place in Crete 1995 and was organized by Hatto Fischer. One example for the need of poets to be present in current debates is that they can identify and formulate much better than anyone else what is the current situation. Brendan Kennelly said about land no longer belonging to the rural landscape, but is also not integrated into the urban land, as being a kind of in-between or a 'rur-urb' land to which neither regulations or previous cultural metaphors apply. People need to understand the situation they live in anew. Another example was given by the Irish poetess Paula Meehan who argued for cities to keep untamed or wild places intact, since civilization and culture evolves out of this constant dialogue between the wild and the tamed. Many more discussions evolved out of this one week to be seen at following website:


3. 'Imperishable water' and the open question of development

This was a cultural action which took place on Rhodes, May 28 – June 4, 2011 with Charoula Hadijnicolaou curator on behalf of Poiein kai Prattein

The action undertaken by Poiein kai Prattein on Rhodes in May/June 2011 was linked to a poem by Katerina Anghelaki Rooke, in order to deal with water /wetland related issues by using her metaphor of 'imperishable waters' as key to understanding sustainability. The aim of the action was to learn on how to answer the open question of development. Curated by Charoula Hadjinicolaou, a group of 15 came together for one week on the island of Rhodes. They came from various backgrounds (land artists, biologists, environmentalists, philosophers, journalists, urban planner etc.) and it involved local communities, schools and their children and political authorities at various levels. One definite outcome was a gain in competence when it comes to relate to complicated issues like water management. By involving local people eager to find alternative development paths so as to preserve the land and this in cooperation with WWF, a notion of a cultural memorandum of understanding was translated into a practical agenda on the basis of which the EU Water directive 2000 can be re-written to suit more specifically the Greek landscape. This link between art, environment, planning and philosophy can articulate another 'law of the land' in reference to the flow of water:  http://poieinkaiprattein.org/culture/cultural-actions-and-ecology/)

4. The importance of actions and memory: what to pass on to future generations

Methodologically speaking, culture is memory work of a special kind. When Vincent Van Gogh saw his father coming out of a mine and walking across a snow field in his black robe since a priest, he recalled that Rembrandt could paint that scene best. Cultural adaptation is bringing forward what is known to culture and making it be applicable again in a novel or innovative way.

When it comes to passing on memories of the past, of how differently life was imagined then, and takes this as part of an intangible cultural heritage in need to be passed on to future generations, then very much should be heeded what Bart Verschaffel said at our Gent conference in Feb. 2011 when referring to the Kids' Guernica movement

( www.kids-guernica.org and www.poieinkaiprattein.org/kids-guernica as letting children and youth enter a collaborative learning process to paint together a peace mural on a canvas having the same size as Picasso's Guernica (7,8 x 3,5 m):

"Kids Guernica. Why is a symposium on such a specific project at its place within the University walls? I believe Kids Guernica is a good example, and a very interesting ‘case’, of what one could call ‘field work in memory studies’.

As we all know, modern people, modern societies, are not simply free from their past – as they might have hoped – on the contrary. The waning of tradition, the loss of continuity, does not make things more easy, and life more light, on the contrary – the past, that exists and survives in many forms, comes back as a ‘problem’ – ‘a problema’ in the Greek sense of the word, referring to the dark answer the gods give to those who come to ask for advice, the dangerous riddle the gods throw at the feet of the humans, as an obstacle they have to make sense of.

Modern, western society has developed a neutral ‘scientific’ way to deal with its past: historical research, history writing. The narrative presuppositions and representation strategies, used in academic history writing, have been criticized in many ways during the last decades. This has resulted in trying out alternative ways – less cold, less neutral, less scientific – ways to investigate the past, by linking it to remembrance, by linking the desire to understand what has happened with some kind of involvement, with commitment. The commitment of the witness in certain cases, the commitment of what I would call ‘active listening to the past’ in other cases. That is how I understand what Kids' Guernica is about: what the youngsters and the children do while working on the paintings is becoming involved in a past they have not lived themselves, through active listening…

Memory studies have now become a new, fashionable trend in academic research. There is a danger, though, of academic recuperation – of academics distancing themselves from the task of ‘objective’ historical research and truth-finding, flirting with a warmer dealing with the past, without however being involved themselves. There is nothing wrong with academic conferences. But it is, as a counterbalance, equally smart to invite, within the university walls, field workers in memory work, personally engaged in specific projects."

Bart Verschaffel, University of Gent, Feb. 18, 2011

Source: http://poieinkaiprattein.org/kids-guernica/kids-guernica-and-european-capitals-of-culture/


5. Youth and new experiences in terms of 'Nation and Identity'

Poetry links especially to the youth as they forge ahead to map their future.

In reference to the discussion about ERASMUS for All proposal by the European Commission

at http://www.zeus.aegee.org/magazine/2012/04/16/do-you-ever-wonder-what-the-future-eu-youth-programmes-will-look-like/

poetic understanding of other worlds needs to focus much more on the unwritten pages written right now by an indignant youth not willing to integrate itself anymore into the social and professional world as laid out by various institutions, networks and organizational forms. The revolt is against corruption but also out of fear to loose identity in the process, a defensive reaction when in fact investments in the future need to be made first of all by reducing the youth unemployment.

Poetry has a long standing in knowing and in acknowledging the pain of young persons e.g. Goethe's 'Suffrage of the Young Werther' or James Joyce's 'Portrait of a young man as artist'.

Crucial is to bring poetry to bear upon this sensitive and still open identification process while ensuring a European dimension is touched upon by the youth when seeking identity in nations now member states of the European Union.

As example for this process see EU Youth Project 'Nation and Identity' at following website: http://poieinkaiprattein.org/youth/eu-youth-project-nation-and-identity/


A case for poetry and world governance – a contribution by the World Poetry Movement

                                        WPM Web: http://www.wpm2011.org

As things stand, the European Union is being challenged from two sides: internally speaking from within the 27 member states and from the outside due to global forces emerging out of various developments in China, India, Russia, Middle East, Africa, Latin America and North America. At the same time, issues like climate change make it mandatory that a world agreement is reached about the indicators for sustainable development.

It is equally unthinkable that peace could prevail in the world, if human rights and human dignity are not respected but violated constantly, and this especially by undemocratic practices and by abuse of power.

Since democracy and poetry are intricately linked, both fall silent once power cannot be challenged by the people.

The distance between making poetic life possible and fostering world governance (Habermas) is not that great but at political level, there is a definite need to bridge the gap between citizens and institutions.

This holds all the more at global level with institutions like the United Nations and UNESCO upholding basic human law even if more often violated by an inability to keep peace under clear, not coercive reasons.

One such a case is the undeclared war in Colombia or where in other areas of the world due to a lack of a poetic life, poverty and violence reigns in what poets would describe as a free fall of all.

Once desperation writes lines into faces starring in disbelief at what others would describe the contradictions in the world, then much remains unresolved due to wrong compromises out of a lack of a social contract which could ensure an open development for all.

Open development would have to mean all conjoin in a democratic world to ensure that the Rights of every human being are respected and human dignity upheld. Especially the value premise of human dignity in need to be respected  no stands all by itself and does not need any further justification while everyone is agreement at least with that (Jürgen Habermas).

Discussions amongst the poets has shown there is a need for clarification as to what is meant by 'politics'. As Bas Kwakman would put it: “all political poetry is bad poetry, while no poetry can be apolitical.”

Poetry does touch upon all issues. Insofar a poem is at one and the same time simple and complex, it can and does guide towards a way to handle complexity.

Since poetry is most democratic in the eyes of Eleni who organizes the open mike slam poetry sessions in Antwerp, that kind of life in appreciation as to what the other can give and express faces two major obstacles in need to be overcome:

Hence the two general questions posed at the outset, along with the observations made about poetry and poetic life as indicator, this should be linked with a first evaluation of the role of culture in a global world.

It is assumed that culture has a different role to play than from the past, so how to open up to the future without an absolute break with the past?

Continuity of cultural identities needs to be guaranteed through structures which can give to cultural work and actions a sense of consistency. The aim should be to avoid arbitrary actions and to promote at the same time understanding of others or other cultures within the overall concept of 'intercultural dialogue', but which is in need of further refinement. Here poetry can contribute to substantiate intercultural dialogue and at the same time clarify translations as poets work very precisely with language.

Since civil and cultural forces do not identify necessarily with one particular nation state, the theme of nation and identity needs to be taken up by poetry as well. It has several interesting ramifications when thinking about the role of mythology as perceived by Virgil compared with the free spirit of Homer. This means poetry has to emancipate itself from the nationalistic perspective and egocentricity hampering too often an understanding of the others. It means in terms of EU cultural policy the need to re-define as well the subsidiarity principle.

Habermas would argue that with the EU being a supranational entity, the role of culture does change. By extension culture deals with the mediation between fiction and reality. Hence Europe can be perceived as a fiction, but as a necessary one (Bart Verschaffel) and therefore best presented by a real narrative.

As to the subsidarity principle, the question is if it has strengthened or rather weakened the role of culture in Europe, and this in both directions with the local suffering due to global tendencies and the global one not concrete enough to take roots within Europe. All too long this cultural predicament (James Clifford) has prevented from perceiving culture as mediator between local, regional, European and global levels.

In order to understand what role culture can play in future, the KEA study (2007) gave the EU Commission a first estimate as to the value of culture for the economy. A discussion about the relationship between culture and economy was started at the ECCM Symposium 'Productivity of Culture' held in Athens 2007 - see, in particular, the session 'culture and economy':


A reading thereof would mean how to how take the discussion about culture out of the Conservative context serving merely an elitist attitude within a federal Europe and to place it in the role of vision and anticipation of what is to come in future.

The question would then become what will be new cultural models in future, if cultural cohesion and integration no longer work and therefore many politicians declare that multiculturalism to be a dead model? As it stands in contradiction to the EU claim to be favoring a cultural policy promoting cultural diversity and participation, a new validation of EU cultural policies based on a new set of priorities has to be undertaken.

Still another focus should be on poetry itself since such a good example of being a key promoter of culture (language, sensitivity to individuals, translation etc.) while having apparently no value to the economy. This puts the promotion of poetry into a most difficult position from a perspective of any EU Cultural Policy. However, one advantage would be when it comes to dealing with poetry, that this can be most helpful in getting to know how from one locality everything happening world wide can be known. Examples for this is William Carlos Williams or Norb Blei in the United States, likewise the poetess Wislawa Szymborska never really left Poland, but was in tune with the rest of the world.

Here an exchange of experience between members of the Cultural Committee and poets / organizers like Ferando Rendon from Medellin, Colombia would be helpful, in order to know how it would be possible to support ideas within the strategic plan of World Poetry Movement. As this could provide a point of entry into future forms of collaboration e.g. how to support poetry festivals or slam poetry competitions at international level, it would also mean strengthening the cultural dimension of EU foreign policy.

To all of this can be added the critical observation made by Spyros Mercouris, namely that in Europe culture has been ostracized, and this for very specific reasons. For culture retains memories of still other realities often not perceived by the neoliberal form of equating life with mere market forces determining how to live. The poetic films by Angelopoulos are a good example of showing quite another Greece, if remembered in such a way.



After this very open and fruitful meeting with the Commissioner Vassiliou during which many aspects pertaining to poetry were discussed, including the question of the Commissioner whether or not poetry can be taught and Bas Kwakman answering on behalf of the delegation with a definite 'yes', it meant opening up the cultural dimension of poetry as well to the educational side.

Consequently an advise would be to take up the dialogue with poetry as it links to philosophy, and from there it will become possible to formulate a new EU cultural policy for the future based on a practical agenda as suggested by Michael D. Higgins and refined together with the World Poetry Movement to map a path into the future.


Hatto Fischer

Athens 18.4.2012

(updated: 30.7.2013)


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