Conversation with Versopolis poet Judith Nika Pfeifer

If you could write poetry in another language, what would it be and why?

I like the idea of writing a poem in a new language one that everyone immediately understands, that does not need to be deciphered. Wordless, maybe. Like music, but different. A ‘poetic act’, just the way H.C. Artmann would have liked it. In his ‘Eight Point Proclamation of the Poetic Act’ from 1953 he identifies the ‘poet’ as someone who ‘desires to act poetically’ saying that it is possible to be a poet without ever having written or otherwise uttered a word.

If you could borrow one word from another language to use in your poetry what would it be?

It would either be an invented word or from sign language or a word from a fictive intergalactic language, Klingon or from an animal language, maybe a bird language, maybe I would use a parrot speaking English. 😉 I also really like the reduplication of words when a stem of a word (or part of it) or even the whole word is repeated exactly or with a slight change. For example in the Maori language “mer mer” means ‘friend’, “pakipaki” ‘to applaud’ or “kimo” ‘blink’ becomes kikimo ‘close eyes firmly’. Or the Pingelapese, a Micronesian language spoken on the Pingelap atoll knows triplication “mejr” means ‘to sleep’ “mejmejr”  ‘sleeping’ “mejmejmejr”  ‘still sleeping’, this is almost a dadaist poem in itself. And I love the double vowels in the Finnish, where “tuuli” means ‘wind’. There are loads of beautiful words in the English “aquiver”, “phosphenes”, which means ‘the light and colours produced by rubbing your eyes’ or “effervescence” ‘bubbles in a liquid’. In Spanish “resol”, the reflection of the sun off of a surface..

How does poetry allow you to be free? 

Poetry allows me to be free or rather allows us to be free and we allow it to be free. Or we allowed it to free us. In return we allow it to be free. Or the other way around, so we can literally do everything with language. We can have elephants build an airplane and that’s only one of the things that are so magical about it. Not how poetry is, is so mystical about it, but that it is, that is exists as a dialogical principle. As communitas. Will of being. Happening. Storage unit. Plural word. Metaphysic. Diversion. Pastimes. Rites de passage. Self-constituent. A subversive flicker. A play with symbols and signs. Language cultivator. Interdisciplinary material. A human activity that transforms something in a way that some of us find of value.

Do you think that poetry offers a medium to protest? (Poetry as Protest is a theme running through the Festival due to our partnership with English PEN)

Yes! Like any other medium poetry is dependant on who is involved. Language is a very invasive, direct medium that connects people and it disconnects too. Set in a wider perspective, poetry as part of the arts and literature fulfils a specific function in society. It is paradox: Life is all about change and at the same time about the reproduction of the conditions of production. Poetry and the arts in general is used to stimulate fantasy, experiment with different ways of being human, test out boundaries, convey and portray emotions or simply entertain and free us from the burden of practical action, yet it in itself is an action. We all see things differently: You can say everything is political, you can also say everything is poetical and both. And by being alive, we all have to act. “It is the way our sympathy flows and recoils that really determines our lives.” This is the opening sentence from Stuart Hall’s review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and belongs to D.H. Lawrence. The words we choose to think and use direct the flow and determine our lives. If you want change think, argue, write, debate, do something – or stop doing something – as to best way forward.

What is the value of the Versopolis project for you?

Versopolis is a marvellous thing, project, platform, network, enabler, mediator, translator, eye opener, festival circuit, bringing people together, crossing borders, facilitating exchange, celebrating poetry. It‘s priceless: Discovering new poets from all over Europe. Listening to them reading in their own language in a concert-like atmosphere. It‘s like traveling to different places on so many levels. The mind being a place of its own. I am very happy and honoured to be part of it. And looking forward to this year‘s Ledbury poetry festival.

Judith Nika Pfeifer is appearing as part of Versopolis: Celebrating Emerging European Poets on Saturday 2 July and on Sunday 3 July in a 20 minute slot to read and discuss her poetry in more detail.

Judith Nika Pfeifer VERSOPOLIS_logo+slogan