The constraints of language

‘Poets aren’t mad, but are accused of being so in order to bring certain highly important discoveries they are on the track of into disrepute.’ So wrote the French poet/theatrical innovator Antonin Artaud, who according to his own pronouncement was completely insane. And, as in many of those who are mad, there dwelt in him the ‘uncomprehended genius, with in his head a brilliant idea that inspires fear, a genius that can only escape from the stranglehold of life into madness.’

For very many centuries, worldwide, poetry, madness and melancholy have been seen as going through life hand in hand. Many a poet gambles everything while in the stranglehold of madness, this ‘excess of thought’, so as thereby to collect the material for truly innovative poetry. Not infrequently, this has resulted in magnificent, moving, shocking and confusing poetry, produced by such movements as Surrealism, Dadaism and Art Brut, all of which embraced madness, but also madness as it manifested itself in back rooms, trenches, clinics and padded cells.

Dominique de Villepin – mainly known, apart from being a poet, as the architect of French policy concerning the Iraq crisis and, as Prime Minister, as the opponent of many desperate young people in the Paris suburbs – would seem to be surrounded by madness. He describes the relation as follows: ‘Poets are the madness who, in the depths of despair, have sought for the light that opens the way, the passion that goes beyond the constraints of language.’

The 38th Poetry International Festival offers you this passion. Via an extremely varied programme that includes readings, lectures, international programmes, discussions, films and special programmes you will be shown something of the relation between poetry, madness and melancholy. All of this flanked by an opening evening focusing on favourite words and a final evening full of melancholy.

But there is yet more. In its never-flagging search for good poetry, Poetry International has arrived at the Caucasus, the Mountains of Poetry between the Black and the Caspian Sea. The thrice-cursed Caucasus, wrote the Russian poet Lermontov, the altars of nature where purple clouds swirl past like smoke. The long isolation of this melting-pot of cultures has led to highly varied and unique poetry which via poets from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbeidzhan, it will be possible to hear for the first time in Rotterdam.

The success of a Poetry International Festival stands and falls by the quality of the translations as well as the poetry. This year, too, much attention is being paid to the translation of poetry. In collaboration with the Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature (NLPVF), the Brockway Prize is being awarded, a biennial award for translators of poetry from Dutch. There are translation workshops on the work of the Dutch poet K. Michel and the Georgian poet Maya Sarasjvili, and a poem by Rogi Wieg will be passed on via ‘Chinese whispers’ to produce an astonishing final result. Not only the poets but also the twenty or so translators linked to this 38th Poetry International Festival will demonstrate during the festival the passion to go beyond the constraints of language.

I wish all of you a memorable festival.

Bas Kwakman

38e Poetry International Festival