In welcome speeches for the opening of international poetry festivals, literature is gladly granted a role of crossing borders and of bringing people together. But what does this look like realistically? Which borders are transgressed in literature, and exactly what is brought together here?
At the Luzhou “Festival of Poetry and Liquor“ (in April 2019), the Welsh poet Ifor ap Glyn read a poem in Welsh. I didn’t understand a word; though I recognized the rhyme and rhythm – at least! What may the Chinese audience have understood when I read my poem “Empty Glass”, if they were not talking on their phones or texting WeChat messages? No rhymes are in it; and the rhythm is much more difficult to sense for a poem written in free verse than for one of the classic poetry genres. “Empty Glass” describes a man who is obviously in a Bavarian pub as the last solitary drinker of the evening. Around him the chairs are already arranged on the tables for pub closing time, but still he doesn’t move from his seat. Does he not want to go because at home he is even lonelier than here?
The translation of this situation into English already poses problems […]