1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Word music

October 28, 2009

A poem is a collection of letters whose sum is more than words - but also a kind of music. A German-based poetry Web site offers 5,500 poems in dozens of languages available to read and hear.

Alphabet soup
Poetry is more than the written wordImage: AP

For a decade now, the Lyrikline Web site has demonstrated that poetry is not just words but also sound.

"It's not enough to read a poem," said Christiane Lange from the Berlin Literature Workshop. "A poem has a rhythm, it breathes. When you hear it - especially when it's read by the poet - it takes on a kind of physical presence."

That's precisely why the Lange and the Berlin Literature Workshop founded the Lyrikline Web site, where users can not only read over 5,500 poems, but also listen to recordings of them being read.

"We started with 16 poets, and the project grew and grew," she said. "Now we have partners in 41 countries."

The Berlin Literature Workshop decides together with its partners which poems are added to the site - and quality is more important to them than quantity, organizers have said. They want the poets whose works are chosen to see their inclusion in the project as an honor.

Pairing up for translation

Nico Bleutge, for example, was invited to participate six years ago after winning the Leonce and Lena Competition, one of the most important German-language lyric contests. Since then, Bleutge has recorded 10 of his works for Lyrikline and all of them have been translated into languages like English, Spanish and Russian, as well as Danish and Farsi.

Some poets, like Bleutge, are personally asked to record their poems. Others send submissions to Lyrikline themselves, said Lange. A third possibility, however, is through translation - and that's the idea behind finding partners in other countries.

"The network of partners is also a translation network," said Lange. "Everyone commits to translate works by other poets into their own language and vice versa."

A screenshot of the Lyrikline blog
"Decyphering a poem before the invention of Lyrikline"Image: Screenshot Lyrikline

Bleutge has taken part in two translation workshops, where he was paired up with Spanish poet Vicente Luis Mora. Each translated the other's work into his native language.

"You have the possibility to ask the poet personally about the tiniest details or about the rhythm, and you learn a lot about your own texts," said Bleutge. "You get lots of questions from the other poets, which force you to look critically and what you wrote."

The close cooperation between poet and translator ensures that quality remains high. On the Lyrikline Web site, the original poem can be viewed next to the translation in two separate windows, allowing for easy comparison.

A closer connection

There's also a search function and biographical information about the poets. The idea is to find a large audience for poems that typically would only be read by a few people.

"It's a really good feeling to get responses," said Bleutge," sometimes in person, sometimes by email. Most people don't just read the poem, they also listen to it, so there's a greater sense of closeness between us authors and the readers."

Lange said she often listens to poems read in languages that she cannot understand.

"It's like a concert," she said. "I can only recommend taking a break from the daily grind and letting this kind of word music have an effect on you."

Author: Oliver Kranz (kjb)

Editor: Sean Sinico