The Magic of Poetry

For our first online reading (see the presentation of the whole reading series here), our guest was poet Arne Rautenberg, whom you can get to know better through his webpage. For him – and for all the other guests, too – it was the first time he experienced the online version of readings from his work. Still, the elegance with which he mastered the exercise showed blatantly how familiar he is with the performativity required by such a session. He mastered timing and effects, surrounded the readings themselves with introductory and conclusive comments that helped the audience smoothly bridge from the reading impressions to the questions.

But even before the show even started, in the awkward 15 to 20 minutes before the reading actually starts and where everyone progressively logs in, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the background in which we were authorized to dive. The shelves behind our guest were full of books and other items, creating a wealth of impressions in and of themselves. At some point during the lecture, I had raised my hand to ask a question about contract work and ended up asking about an item on the shelf. While I didn’t know it at the time since it was the very first of the readings, it turns out that visual background as well as sound quality have a great deal of influence on the reception of these readings, and the visual wealth and excellent sound quality certainly contributed to generating an atmosphere of living performance in Arne Rautenbergs’s case.

And then the show began!

Screenshot with Arne Rautenberg, taken Nov. 12th, 2020

The reading were structured in three thematic blocks that each included a series of poems. The first block was dedicated to poems for children, the second one to poems for adults, and the third one to visual poetry. The variety of medial variations was a key element both to the entertaining value and to the ability of the author to generate a closeness and empathy that made us feel as if we had actually entered his home office.

Lyrik für Kinder / poems for children

Three poems were read in this block: das krokodil von kiel fraß viel fraß viel, Emma, and a poem without a title. 

Commenting on these poems and their reading, the students wrote the following:

Zuerst hat er der Gedicht „Das Krokodil von Kiel fraß viel fraß viel“ gelesen. Kiel ist die Heimatstadt des Autors. In diesem Gedicht gibt es ein Krokodil, das alles frisst, was es findet. Die verschiedenen einsilbigen Städtenamen, die genannt werden, liegen immer weiter von Kiel. Kiel wird immer großer und schließlich erscheint die Stadt wie der Mittelpunkt des Universums. Am Ende haben wir die Idee, dass die Krokodil den Urknall verursacht hat.

Since one of our student moderator was called Emma, the poem Emma was a particularly good choice, even if it was not originally conceived for this Emma:

Arne Rautenberg hat dies Gedicht für die Nachbarstochter geschrieben. Als er es geschrieben hatte, konnte er keinen guten Reim auf Emma finden. Er hat sich schlieblich für den Kehrreim „immer Emma“ entschieden.

The third, untitled poem goes as follows:

frühling

frühmer

frühbst

frühter

somling

sommer

sombst

somter

herling

hermer

herbst

herter

winling

winmer

winbst

winter

One students sums up the concept behind the poem in the following terms:

Als er es geschrieben hat, hat Arne Rautenberg gedacht, dass wenn es 16 Jahreszeiten gäbe, sie so heißen sollten. Dies Gedicht wirft die Frage nach der Wortfreiheit auf.

Lyrik für Erwachsene/Poems for adults

Two poems made the core of this block: unter uns, and Ginkgoblattmärchen.

One student wrote about unter uns:

Dies Gedicht wurde innerhalb ein paar Minuten geschrieben. Da spricht der Lyriker von der Einsamkeit, die er fühlen konnte, als er ein Kind war, da er als Einzelkind aufwuchs.

And another student wrote about Ginkgoblattmärchen:

Er hat das Gedicht „Ginkgoblattmärchen“ wie ein Märchen geschrieben.  Arne Rautenberg hat die typischen Formulierungen wie „es war einmal“, „glücklich zusammen“, „bis an ihr ende“ dafür benutzt.

Visuelle Poesie / Visual Poetry

This block was composed of one poem that mostly plays with assonances and is hence particularly funny when read aloud, especially in the north German accent in which in was composed (though variants in other German accents might be pretty enjoyable too!), called die didi die; a second poem based on the alphabet and called ABCDEF-poem, and a 4 meter wide poem presented on the windy corner of the technical university in Kiel which you can find presented here.

Summarizing reading and discussion on die didi die, one student writes:

In diesem Gedicht geht es nicht um Sinn, sondern um wie es klingt. Arne Rautenberg hat die Idee bekommen, wenn er die klanglichen Ähnlichkeiten zwischen zwei historische Persönlichkeiten bemerkt hat: Diderot und Dieter Roth. Drei Sprachen wurden gemischt: französisch, deutsch, englisch. Man spricht von Sprechtext.

The ABCDEF poem actually lists the alphabet up to the letters N and O, which are rendered in red while the others are in black. One students renders the author’s digressions on this poem as follows:

Die Frage war: „was will mir das Alphabet sagen“. Inmitten im Alphabet steht ein “No”, so gibt es wie ein Ende in der Mitte des Alphabets. Man kann es sich als ein alternatives Ende des Alphabets vorstellen.

And the big questions 

While the reading of the poems provided emotional highlights ranking from having simply fun with language to more reflexive aspects on individuality in the world, very personal questions, mainly about the destiny of a life as a poet, arose soon after the reading of the first poem, and set the tone – well, for the complete series of readings. In fact, we got a chance to discuss the question of what makes you write what you write in such a complex way that I can only hope that we will at some point discuss what makes your read what you read with the same enthusiasm. 

When did you decide to become a poet? What does the every day life of a poet look like? How does inspiration work? Have you ever written prose? Does it bother you that people interpret your poems? Which of your poems do you like most? What would you recommend a young writer? Do you do contract work? – all the questions I have been trying to present – granted, in a theoretical and historical frame – in my literature classes as being inherent to understanding literature seemed completely natural to the student. This was definitely the most magical part of the reading for me as a teacher. For the students, the identification factor was clearly a major incentive to ask these questions.

One student gave her best to synthetize the complex matter of the openness of interpretation as it was discussed:

Hinsichtlich die Interpretation seiner Werke findet er interessant, dass jeder kann seine eigene Interpretation haben kann. Für den Autor ist ein ausinterpretiertes Kunstwerk ein totes Kunstwerk. Ein Gedicht sei wie ein Spiel, in dem man nicht weiß, was der Autor meinte als er das Gedicht geschrieben hat. Es ist lustig für den Autor, dass die Leute seine Kunstwerke ganz anders interpretieren. Er findet nicht interessant seine Interpretation zu geben, selbst wenn er viele E-Mail-Anfragen dazu bekommt und in Schulen oft Fragen über die Interpretation seiner Werke gestellt werden. Er kämpft für die Freiheit der Interpretation als Mittelpunkt seiner Kunst.

The other student closes her minutes on the reading with the following:

Es macht ihn Spaß zu sehen, wie Studenten und Schüler seine Gedichte interpretieren. Tatsächlich gibt es keine einzige Interpretation. Das Lesen wird kreativ, weil man versucht zu entdecken, was der Autor gemeint hat, wenn er den Text geschrieben hat. Man ist frei, ein Text wie man will zu interpretieren.

Zum Schluss gibt Arne Rautenberg ein Rat an alle: Schreiben Sie Gedichte!

Inspirierende Aussagen:

POESIE BEFREIT DAS DENKEN

DIE SPRACHE DARF ANARCHISCH SEIN

LYRIK IST ZAUBERLICH

While Arne Rautenberg is still skeptical about online media (especially social media), and it would certainly have been a different experience to have him over in Le Mans (where he has given readings in the past already), this format has proven to be incredibly inspirational and an excellent start to the whole reading series. Poetry rocks!


Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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