News

/ 6 July 2019

Week of the Festival: Hausacher Leselenz, Hausach, Germany

Humans and (their) Literary Nature

“Heuer die Vogelperspektive”

If one were to scratch the surface of what the German language deems PoesieDichtungLyrik [poetry], there’s no telling what one might uncover beneath. With traditions stretching back millennia, and a linguistic materiality as complex as it is diverse, writing in or about the German language is inevitably a negotiation process. Its history encompassing empire, colonialism, bureaucracy, industrialization, mass murder, war, German is also a language of the Enlightenment, of Humanism, the Reformation, Romanticism. A language of remembrance, reconciliation, and renewal as much as it is one of political- and identitarian divisions. A complex of dialects and regional identities. Of (re)unification and transnationalism, of conflicting and complimentary visions for both Europe and itself. Lying as it does at the center of the continent, the heart of the German-speaking world has always been a crossroads of ideas and beliefs, a landscape of peripheries and permeability. And that is perhaps the beauty behind a contemporary poetic tradition in which everyone seems to interpret their own meaning, defining their own fraught relationship to past, present, and future.

And this is, perhaps, the beauty of the Hausacher LeseLenz, as well. For nowhere else can one—in so short a span of time or so small a distance on foot—come into contact with so great and so diverse a collection of German-language writers, critics, organizers, enthusiasts, aficionados, detractors, and dissenters all at once. Perhaps that lies partly in the location and the layout of the place: The Black Forest town of Hausach is nestled between the firs along the steep river valley of the Kinzigtal. With a mere 6,000 inhabitants, the influx each summer of poets, authors, artists, and their like from throughout the German-speaking world, Europe, and far beyond, manifests a profoundly different effect here than does a meeting of the literary minds in Frankfurt, Leipzig, Munich, or Berlin. In the anonymity of the metropolis, even the most penetrating revelations are quickly subsumed and diluted in the crowd, and those artistic collaborators and creators, too, vanish from sight after they depart the reading hall.

Things are a bit different in Hausach. Celebrating its 22nd anniversary this year with the theme “Literatur & die Natur (des Menschen)” [Literature & (Human) Nature], the Hausacher LeseLenz continues its particular tradition of bringing together an eclectic mix of diverse voices, where creation and interpretation combine during the festival weeks in the cobbled streets and deep green meadows of this small Black Forest town. It is this proximity, the collaborative effort of the town’s inhabitants, guests, visitors, and of course the festival’s indefatigable resident poet, host, and curator, José F. A. Oliver (along with his handpicked and dedicated support team), which combine with such impetus at LeseLenz. Participants find themselves inadvertently melding into the larger project of the festival, as personability and community take center stage

My selections as festival guest editor draw their inspiration not only from the exciting program of this year’s Hausacher LeseLenz, but also from this spirit of collaborative plurality. In a playful inversion of the festival’s theme—“Menschen & (deren) literarische Natur” [Humans & (their) Literary Nature]—I asked each of the selected writers to provide a short reflection on their own projects and current trajectories. The interview with Lütfiye Güzel investigates the poet’s unconventional approach to publishing, revealing poetic reflections on her creative processes. Anja Kampmann’s short essay provides a creative response to questions of the relationship between poetry and its performance (and transformation) on stage. With a more than forty-year career as literary critic, Michael Braun affords a sideways glance at his most recent publication, the poetry anthology Aus Mangel an Beweisen [For Lack of Evidence], coedited with Hans Thill—elucidating their anthologizing of 180 authors from amongst the vast archive of German-language poetry. The final essay, by Max Czollek, contributes the poet’s personal positions vis-à-vis that most contentious of themes for contemporary German-language authors: the relationship between literature and politics. 

Providing a comprehensive overview of contemporary German literature is an all but impossible task, whether one has room to highlight two hundred authors, or just three or four. The Hausacher LeseLenz nevertheless presents a worthy cross-section of the current state of Germany’s literary scene: its changing landscapes as well as its continuities, its affinities to the literary developments of the wider German-speaking world. Those who would delve further than my snapshot need only review the program of this year’s festivities, or those of the 21 past LeseLenz festivals. 

It has been a tremendous pleasure to collaborate with and translate for these writers, and I am honored to present these works for the first time to an English-language readership.

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Jon Cho-Polizzi is this year’s Versopolis Guest Editor for the Hausacher LeseLenz. He is a freelance literary translator and doctoral candidate in UC Berkeley’s Department of German and Program in Medieval Studies. He studied Translation at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg and Literature and European History at UC Santa Cruz. He lives between Northern California and Berlin.