Cultural Diversity

Bas Böttcher - "I write poems for the stage. I am a spoken word poet."

Bas Böttcher Photo/Copyright: Anika BüssemeierBas Böttcher was born in 1974, lives in Berlin, frequently tours around the world and is known as a travelling poet. His career as an artist began when he was a musician with the band Zentrifugal. Today he is one of the best known slam and rap poets and representative of spoken word poetry in the German speaking countries.

His novel Megaherz (i.e. "Megaheart") was published in 2004. In Voland & Quist, Böttcher has now found a publisher that is aware of the value of audiophone publications and has published his poetry in its spoken form (CD plus book). Bas Böttcher is a provocative, intriguing language artist whose art stubbornly resists being assigned to any one category. He builds “lyrics boxes”, has set up a “Text Box” for poets at the Frankfurt Book Fair and devises international “readings” for various institutions, including the Goethe-Institut, where he works with projected translations of the spoken texts and visualisations. He is currently touring schools in Germany to promote the current Humanities Year. This much is clear - Bas Böttcher favours the spoken word, the stage, the sensual qualities of language, and maintaining control over his artistic activities.

Mr Böttcher, in the early 1990s you became known as a musician and slam poet. Do you still identify with those roles?

Yes, slam poet is correct, but the term “slam“ is a bit of a one-way street. Basically, anyone can perform as a slam poet - it's a type of blank cheque. You need to find a certain definition for it.

How would you define it? How do you describe your form of art?

I write poems for the stage. I am a spoken word poet, a free speaker - that’s a term that is slowly coming into use. I write for the stage and communicate directly with the audience. But it’s not improvisation - my texts are precisely structured, each syllable has its place, even the way I breathe is part of the concept. My aim is to create an aesthetic, accessible structure made of sound, rhythm, and meaning.

You have been called a rap poet. Rap is popularly known as being exclusive to Afro-Americans, which they use to distinguish themselves from the white mainstream and assimilated traditions such as jazz music. How is free speaking different?

Bas Böttcher: 'Dies ist kein Konzert'. Copyright: Voland & Quist publishing house One aspect is literature, which is clearly marked by power structures. In a spoken word situation there is no editor, no head critic, no filter. My texts are constructed word clusters that aim to appear free and light. Culturally speaking, it is a chance meeting in space and time - Afro-American language art meets European poetry. And it’s a kind of return to the roots, for these lyrics used to be spoken and even expressed in dance. Sound plays a major role, as does the sensuality of the language overall.

Is it more about content, or is the emphasis on how it is performed?

The content can only be very roughly described. I am interested in new, poetic interpretations of familiar things.

Is multimedia in any way relevant to your art?

Technology is a means of communicating content, but on the whole I’d say it is secondary. It’s about poetry, and poetry is low-tech - in the best case all you need is a pen and paper, but it is still the highest form of artistic condensation. When I project my translated words onto a wall in a foreign country, that is just an extension to my toolbox. It's about translation. The aim of the Text Box at the Frankfurt Book Fair was to eliminate the sources of noise around it so that people could hear the performance. Sometimes you need to use technology for that, and then something new comes out of it.

You travel a lot abroad, also on behalf of the Goethe-Institut. Do you get the impression that the German language is becoming more attractive thanks to new ways of performing and using it? Does it have a young international audience?

Generally, I would say that is true. On my tour of Belarus 450 people came almost every night. Poetry attracts a lot of attention, and spoken poetry is very direct. I get very close to the audience, and that leaves a strong impression.

During Humanities Year you are an ambassador for the German language. How did that come about?

I was asked to be an Ambassador. The idea was that that I could communicate with people who normally have little to do with the humanities.

How do you fulfil your role as Language Ambassador?

I don’t really travel the world to advertise German as a language. But I was intrigued by the fact that this could help to eliminate clichés. I think that around the world, people still think of German as a “commanding”, very academic language. Maybe my poetry can help to show that it can be different.

Further reading:
Böttcher, Bas: Dies ist kein Konzert (i.e. "This is not a concert"). Audio CD with a 28-page booklet. Voland & Quist 2006. ISBN: 3-938424-11-7.
Martin Zähringer
works as a freelance journalist in Berlin.
Translation: Karin Gartshore

Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion

June 2007

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