'Fest der Poesie': 'übersingen', not 'übersetzen'

by Mihkel Kaevats

    Waltermaria Stojan, the director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Warsaw, wanted to make poetry sing multinationally, yet in mother-tongue. Before meaning, before understanding the meaning, he just wanted to let the rhythm and the melody in poetry sing. So he did: the Austrian Cultural Forum invited a small group of poets from five nations to Poland. In the manor house of the Polish hamlet Obrzycko, Aleš Ŝteger from Slovenia, Andrzej Kopacki and Iwona Gozdzikowska from Poland, Mindaugas Valiukas and Rimantas Kmita from Lithuania, Matthias Steiger from Germany and I, Mihkel Kaevats from Estonia, met.

    Poetry and discussions had room to breathe in the countryside surroundings of Obrzycko and, maybe more importantly, the relaxed and intimate program of readings. During three days the poets read their poems, in the original and in translation. The basic idea of the event was to hear poetry in different languages, actually without translations, and see what kind of emotions the melody and the rhythms created. Waltermaria Stojan got this idea from the Croatian language, where, explained in German, poetry is not ‘übersetzt’ (‘translated’, but literally ‘oversaid’), but ‘übergesingt’ (literally ‘oversung’ – in Croatian ‘prepjevati’). So we tried to find the basic function of poetry, maybe done a million times before, yet productive this particular time.

    The Babel of languages caused everyone to express themselves. What do you do when the emotions of the poems reach the spectators only by expression, the art of acting, inter-acting? Do you joke? surprise? sing like an Orthodox priest? or mix interpretatons of the same poems, so that nobody will understand what you mean? Do you read your poetry, giving body to words and hoping that there is something internationally comprehensible in the emotions depicted? We had all of that. And in some way it was clear what was good poetry and what was mediocre. Without understanding the words. But don’t ask me what it is. Every time it’s different.

    I’m not going to provide reviews in this short piece. Maybe more important would be to express the importance of the contacts created. We had an insider’s view on the literary activities of all five countries, learning from different experiences. Also, we learnt from the different language constructions (e.g. the literal translation for ‘umbrella’ in Estonian is ‘rain-shadow’) and gained inspiration. With this piece, I have tried to avoid the impression of an international youth camp: ‘lovely, interesting and educational’, but unsuccessful. The effects of such events become visible after a longer time. My point is to mark the beginning of (hopefully) a nice new tradition, which would bring together poets from many different localities to inter-act.