Public Poetry: Encountering the Lyric in Urban Space
Claudia Benthien, Spring 2019 Distinguished Visiting Craig Professor
Wednesday, March 27, 2019, 04:30 PM – 06:00 PM
Academic Building, West Wing, room 4052
This talk will explore the presence of the poetic word in contemporary urban settings, appearing in many diverse forms: From ‘Poetry in Motion’ in the New York metro to enormous fluorescent light projections of poems on the exterior of buildings in Basel or Zurich by visual artist Jenny Holzer. From poems permanently written on walls – the much-discussed concrete poem “Avenida” by Eugen Gomringer at the facade of a Berlin college of education – to the technically enhanced spoken word, audible from far away at gigantic poetry slam events in Hamburg or declaimed on public squares through a megaphone in Delhi and by poet Ulrike Almut Sandig.
On the one hand, Claudia Benthien’s talk will propose that it is the unexpected literariness of poetic language in the public realm that lets the words appear as ‘lyric.’ Poetic language is perceived as such if it is ostentatious, creates deviations and an awareness of its materiality: an ‘aesthetic surplus’ that exceeds the communicative function which dominates the public sphere. On the other hand, her talk will inquire the ‘in-between-ness’ of poetry encountered in urban space: shifting between the oral and the written mode, between communicative message and aesthetic experience, but also between private and public. How does a subject or a collective experience the ‘sudden presence’ of the lyric in the city space and how are they related? Recent debates on the ‘politics’ of urban space will be taken into account here, for instance the effects of privatization, commercialization, video surveillance, and the growing presence of security services and police forces. This sociological critique goes along with approaches from performance studies, which focus on non-structured audiences and unexpected ‘ways of assembling’ that may enable new forms of collectivity and political participation.