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Poesien des LebensIllustration: Tobias Schrank © Goethe-Institut

Time to Listen
Poetries of Life

How can we express the momentariness, the inconsistency, the vagueness or the monstrosity of an experience? Authors from all over the world try to do so in these clips: finding their own poetic way.

Portrait of Gaye Boralıoğlu © Gaye Boralıoğlu

Gaye Boralıoğlu, Istanbul
The chocolate tree

Gaye Boralıoğlu loved chocolate when she was a kid. In order to always have an inexhaustible supply of chocolate and gold, she came up with an unusual idea - but she did not expect her mother's ingenuity.

Portrait of Véronique Tadjo © Véronique Tadjo

Véronique Tadjo, London
Faced with the power of death, poetry can provide solace

Véronique Tadjo reads a chapter from her novel The Whispering Tree, about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014. A young man, whose fiancée has been infected with the Ebola virus, remembers their shared love for poetry as the only way to express his love for her.

Portraitbild von Jacek Dehnel © Jacek Dehnel

Jacek Dehnel, Warsaw
Claudius Rex Daniae

Claudius remembers his brother, Hamlet’s father, and his splendid appearance, which earned him the sympathy of his subjects, especially the women. He also remembers the wars through which the Danish king gained immense power. And finally he remembers Hamlet, the “arrogant dandy.” What actually prevented him, Claudius, from killing Hamlet?

Portrait by Itamar Vieira Junior © Itamar Vieira Junior

Itamar Vieira Junior, Salvador da Bahia
Alma’s way

Little is known about Alma who founded a community in the 18th century that is home to 900 families today. Alma was a former slave who walked 400 kilometers on foot from the capital. Itamar Vieira Junior imagines what experiences she had on her way, what thoughts occupied her, what drove her.

Igiaba Scego © Igiaba Scego

Igiaba Scego, Rome
A short-lived utopia

Impressions from a street in Rome, completely different from the others. People that aren’t chasing after material things, that are following their stories in their thoughts and perceiving a color that keeps coming back...

Portrait of Sofi Oksanen © Sofi Oksanen

Sofi Oksanen, Helsinki
Where a better future was designed

Sofi Oksanen tells of a place where in the days of the Soviet Union – unobserved by the state – a free exchange of ideas could thrive. A place where dreams and hopes were preserved for decades and a unique art has been cultivated for generations...

Portrait of Shamin Chibba © Shamin Chibba

Shamin Chibba, Johannesburg

Shamin Chibba narrates the story of his grandmother. In telling the story, present and past flow into each other: memories of a hard life, political events in India, twists of fate and everyday experiences...

Jeaninne Masika Harrysson © Jeaninne Masika Harrysson

Jeaninne Masika Harrysson, Gothenburg
Take my story!

The words in this poetic text push back against the fear and the feeling of loneliness that creep up on us in these times, concluding with the line, “...this is how love is born.”

Portrait of Bae Suah © Bae Suah

Bae Suah, Seoul/ Rabat
Like panthers on empty streets

Bae Suah is on a writing residency in Morocco when her stay takes on a surprising new form, leading to fresh impressions, such as the sight of cats roaming empty streets like panthers, looking like prophets in disguise.

Picture of Pavlina Marvin in the forest © Pavlina Marvin

Pavlina Marvin, Athens
A coat with all its flowers

Pavlina Marvin tells of her friend Irini, who gave her a floral coat during their studies. She wears the coat to this day, as it hasn’t lost any of its flowers. When both of them wanted to meet in Athens recently, Irini didn’t show up. She was looking after an Indian man who had lost his job due to the pandemic and was in great distress.

Image of Steinunn Sigurðadottir in front of a painting © Steinunn Sigurðadottir

Steinunn Sigurðadottir, Reykjavík
A gift from my father

The story of Steinunn Sigurðadottir begins at the foot of Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, where a maid was impregnated in 1910 – by a landlord. She had to leave the farm because of this, which was unfortunately common in those days. She travelled to Reykjavík on foot, which took seven days at that time.

Thus begins a journey through the decades, at the end of which the story of Steinunn’s life begins. And a gesture of generosity and kindheartedness is revealed.

Portrait of Aris Fioretos © Aris Fioretos

Aris Fioretos, Stockholm
A flying carpet

Whose voice do authors use? What do the words mean? What does it mean to have a “voice of your own” as a writer? Aris Fioretos, raised in Sweden by an Austrian mother and a Greek father, tells how he found his voice – while separating his voice from his image.

Portrait of Lapdiang A. Syiem © Lapdiang A. Syiem

Lapdiang A. Syiem, Shillong
Dear Mei!

From her apartment, the narrator looks out over a river, a cemetery – and a street between the two; in a sense, between life and death. She tells of her mother, remembers her goddess-like abilities, her quirks. And then she turns to her “Dear Mei!” – her “Dear Mother” – to send her a message between life and death. 

Portrait of Gamel Apalayine © Gamel Apalayine

Gamel Apalayine, Accra
Climb every mountain

When David was seven years old, he saw a scene from the Hollywood classic The Sound of Music on television: a nun sings the song “Climb Every Mountain,” which accompanies David from then on and gives him the strength to make a difficult decision at an important point in his life.

Image of Michal Hvorecký in front of a book shelf © Michal Hvorecký

Michal Hvorecký, Bratislava
Do you have my grandfather’s books?

The writer and translator Michal Hvorecký works in a library in Bratislava, where one day a gentleman came in and introduced himself as the grandson of a world-famous writer. This encounter would have consequences.

Portraitbild von Ilija Trojanow © Ilija Trojanow

Ilija Trojanow, Stuttgart
Then who will buy the smaller package?

Following in the footsteps of the “world collector,” Richard Burton, Ilija Trojanow came across a market in what we now call “Tanzania” where an old woman gave him a precious thought.

Portraitbild von Sachiko Hara © Sachiko Hara

Sachiko Hara, Zurich
I come from Hiroshima

In 1968, a survivor of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima visits the German city of Hanover with a delegation. At a bus stop, a conversation takes place with a man who withdraws his outstretched hand when he finds out where the visitor is from – out of fear of radioactive radiation. When the mayor of Hanover hears this, he takes action.