IZfK Band 2, 2021 (1)

Contemporary Lyric Poetry in Transitions between Genres and Media
Editors: Ralph Müller, Henrieke Stahl


More than any other literary form, contemporary poetry is in transition: intermingling with narrative and dramatic genres, combining prose and verse, and even incorporating other media, such as visual art, music, film and digital technology, shifting the borders between public and private spheres, aesthetic and discursive approaches, and producer and recipient. On the basis of case studies, this issue addresses the challenges of poetry in transition and stimulates new approaches in lyric theory and methodology.
What is "World Lyric in Transition"?

The article deals with the question, what the expression „world lyric in transition“ should mean in literary scholarship by giving some explications for the expressions lyric, world lyric and transition.
The work of Japanese-German writer Yoko Tawada (Tawada Yōko) stands out as an example of ‘in-between’ writing. Instead of simply ‘translating’ Japanese into German and vice versa, Tawada blends both languages and cultures, often self-reflexively. As a result, poetic in-between spaces emerge, in which creative work, cultural translation, and social criticism can take place. The texts also construct in-between spaces on a formal level. For instance, the verse novels “Kasa no shitai to watashi no tsuma” (『傘の死体とわたしの妻』, 2006) and “Ein Balkonplatz für flüchtige Abende” (2016) feature both narrative progression and poetic devices (vivid imagery, association, and wordplay), defying categorization either as volumes of poetry or as novels. In addition, the in-between space of genres becomes visible in Tawada’s self-translations, which often amount to rewritings and lead to a change in genre – travel essay to novella, novel to drama, or poem to prose text. An example of this genre-transcending bilingualism as entryway to an in-between space are the texts „Die Orangerie“ (1997) and “Orenji-en nite” (「オレンジ園にて」, 1997/1998), which initially appear as a poem and its (apparently) prose translation. However, a number of textual peculiarities of both pieces point to the mutual influences between versions. Thus, I read all four examples as hybrid forms of poetry, which perform the mixing of genres, languages, and cultures that occurs in today’s world. In their cultural hybridity especially, the poems point to underlying social issues of homo- and xenophobia.
Poems between Lyric Poetry and Discursive Prose. The Example of Monika Rinck

This contribution examines the question of how contemporary lyric poetry expands upon established generic concepts by considering the work of Monika Rinck, one of the most striking voices among a generation of exceedingly talented poets who made their debut in the 2000s. In her poetry, we find numerous examples of how the expectations of lyric are deliberately undermined: among them, formal features reminiscent of prose, such as her tendency to use extremely long lines and prose-typical abbreviations, as well as her explicit interest in the discursive exploration of ‘concepts.’ As her essays suggest, this interest manifests itself most readily in Rinck’s efforts to avoid the totalizing economization of society (as well as art and language) and has, as a result, motivated the development of her own style within experimental language poetry. However, while Rinck has played a leading role in expanding the contemporary concept of poetry, the poetic principles to which she refers in her theoretical writings and poems are by no means new. In this article, her poem „Augenfühlerfisch“ (“eye-tentacle fish”) serves not only to illustrate her tendency to expand poetry into discursive prose but demonstrates how it is rooted in a long-standing philosophical tradition. The terminology used in the poem can be traced back to early modern epistemology and particularly to the foundation of scientific aesthetics by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten. In referring to Baumgarten’s definition of poetry as “fully sensuous speech [vollkommen sinnliche Rede]” (as well as the specific deployment of this definition by Johann Adolf Schlegel), it becomes clear that Rinck reactivates an epistemological potential in lyric that had been hidden by the paradigm of Erlebnislyrik [experiential lyric]. Moreover, Rinck is able to relax the Erlebnislyrik’s pretense to sincerity in part thanks to the same prose features, such as the multiplication of voices, already mentioned above.
A new genre has emerged in contemporary literature: the “novel in poems.” This genre hybridizes features of the narrative novel with those of lyrical poetry to construct a plot with characters on the grounds of relatively autonomous poems. The “novel in poems” appears in different subtypes, which can be categorized by the following principles: (1) one speaker versus several speakers, (2) a speaker as lyrical protagonist and/or narrator, and (3) the distinct modes of representation of the lyrical, narrative, and dramatic, and their various forms of combination. Specific characteristics of the “novel in poems” are 1) variation of the poetic forms with different degrees of autonomy and brevity, 2) hyper-structuring through symmetries, holism, and equivalences, 3) a tendency to differentiate text instances, 4) reduction or elimination of a narrator or narrative principles and the use of an omnipresent textual subject, 5) poetry and creativity as topics and metapoetic reflections, 6) emphasis on voice, person, and subjectivity, 7) episodic plot construction through montage techniques and a tendency toward chronological order, 8) predominance of present speech and action, 9) contradictions between the speaker as subject and addresser or lyrical fiction of performativity and narration, 10) a necessity for the reader to reconstruct plot and characters. The essay establishes three subtypes of the proposed genre: a lyrical “novel in poems” with one speaker (Irina Ermakova), a narrative polyphonic “novel in poems” with a combination of a third-person narrator and several speakers (Lana Hechtman Ayers), and finally a dramatic “novel in poems” with changing speakers (Glyn Maxwell).
This contribution analyses two complex examples of the generic extension of lyric poetry in recent British literature. Tony Harrison’s film poem The Shadow of Hiroshima (1995) expands the lyric text into the visual dimension; Glyn Maxwell’s collection The Sugar Mile (2005) arranges a large number of individual lyric poems into a dramatic scenario. In both cases the generic transition is coupled with a further generic extension – the elaboration of a distinctly narrative sequentiality. In two important aspects the generic extension of these examples affects the rendering of a particular experience, namely the perception of and reaction to massive violence and destruction. One aspect concerns the organization of speech situation and perspective, especially the relation between a superordinate authorial voice and possible subordinate voices, the other aspect pertains to the status of the represented experience in the ambiguity between factuality and fictionality, characteristic of the stance of the lyric utterance in various periods throughout the history of poetry. In both respects the generic expansion in Harrison’s The Shadow of Hiroshima and in Maxwell‘s The Sugar Mile can be shown to utilize the representational potentials of lyric poetry in distinctly alternative directions.
Starting from the imperative to not just read, but to speak lyric poems out loud, this paper considers ways in which poems change depending on who utters them. Beyond the familiar distinction between the poem's author and the lyrical “I”—the voice in which the poet chooses to utter the poem—any performer who speaks a poem also impersonates the text. Reading is the first act of interpretation; others follow. Sound is an indispensable constitutive aspect of the lyric poem, too often neglected. Each reading of a poem can turn into a momentary ec-stasis.
(No) Ordinary Tension: Text and Performance as Two Aggregate States of the Poem

The following contribution seeks to understand poetry as a genre situated between written text and performance. First, it presents instances of the systematic differences between performed and written poems, defining ‘performed poetry’ in a decidedly broad sense. The metaphor of ‘aggregate states’ is tested and critically discussed in order to describe poetry as a genre that not only is received in a state of exception but that in its very essence plays between substantially different media and forms. Due to the dearth of critical work addressing poetry as a performative art, a set of terms and tools for the analysis of performed poetry is proposed. After these brief theoretical remarks, two poems are examined, both of which are accessible as performance and as a written text. Their differences are considered in order to show the potential value of separating and comparing performative and written elements for individual analysis as well as for further conceptual discussion.
Nora Gomringer’s „Dichtertreffen“ is presented by the author in the style of a classical reading (‚Wasserglaslesung‘), in which the artist, however, utilizes a full repertoire of performative channels and codes. As a result, the semantics of this performed variant differ significantly from those of the written text. The use of the body, objects, space, and voice alter the meaning of the poem even in a reading that, at first glance, does not conspicuously refer to performative art forms at all.
Martina Hefter’s poem about the physical condition of lying („liegen“) focuses on the dance-like handling of body and space in its performed version, which has little in common with a classical reading.
The discussion of two poems, written and performed, reveals the importance of considering both ‘aggregate states’ of the poem when working with texts and engaging in the recent debates of lyricology.
Dedicated to the memory of Elizaveta Arkadievna Mnatsakanova.

This paper is focused on a relatively new phenomenon: joint performances by poets and avant-garde (primarily electronic) musicians in contemporary Russia. In part, these performances are reminiscent of performances by American and Western European poets with jazz ensembles in the 1960s and 70s. At that time in the Soviet Union, this practice was almost unheard of: when intermedial experiments did take place, poets – particularly the so-called “official” poets – turned not to music but to theatre. The most important elements of these performances were their emphases on virtuosic improvisation, the theatrical immediacy of what was taking place, and creating a community around the performer. In contrast, contemporary collaborations between poets and musicians largely demonstrate the non-self-sufficiency of their respective media and, in doing so, deconstruct the very premise of the poetic (lyric) subject. My contention is that intermediality as such – in this case, the interaction between music and poetry – could thus be the most important tool available for creating a “poetry without a subject.” Moreover, in practice, it has acquired a salient social and political meaning in modern Russia: depicting culture as a space of individualized dialogues and polylogues.
The article offers a preliminary investigation of the phenomenon of female-authored “poetry theater” (shige juchang) in the People’s Republic of China. It discusses cross-genre explorations by a group of female poets, theater directors and artists who are all associated with the movement of “women’s poetry” (nüxing shige) that emerged in the1980s in China.

The discussion focuses on two performances based on female-authored poems, “Riding a Roller Coaster Flying Toward the Future” (2011) and “Roaming the Fuchun Mountains with Huang Gongwang” (2016), which resulted from the joint efforts of four women: the poet Zhai Yongming, the poet-scholar Zhou Zan, and the theater directors Cao Kefei and Chen Si’an. Their avant-garde experiments with poetical theater document the different ways in which poetry is being translated into images, sounds, or bodily movements on stage. The paper argues that poetic exploration of writing and reciting practices has gained new momentum from emerging intermedial, visual-verbal experiments. Furthermore, it claims that interest in “poetry theater” is also driven by the search for new forms of cross-genre stage performances that could be different from the previously politicized or commercialized ones.
In the article, I will discuss the relationship between “book poetry” and “digital poetry.” I examine the differences, as well as the similarities, between poetry as presented in these two media. Research on the transition from book poetry to digital poetry has mainly focussed on the significant changes in genre and work concepts as well as in the author and reader roles. However, several trends within the tradition of poetry have intensified and have further developed since the emergence of the digital media. The focus in this lecture will thus be on four key features, which were founded in book poetry as far back as early Modernism and the avant-garde movements, but, to a great extent, those features have unfolded in digital poetry. The four features are multimodality, the montage form, the network structure, and the serial form. The artistic opportunities offered by digital poetry are not only due to technological opportunities in the new media. Such opportunities are just as much due to the innovations in multimodality, montages, network structures, and seriality realized by avant-garde and symbolist poets like Mallarmé, Apollinaire, Schwitters, Eliot, and Pound in early Modernism. My article concludes with an example of how the four features form the basis for a work of digital poetry, namely Johannes Heldén's „The Primary Directive“ (2008).
This essay identifies a shared response to news media in poetry written over the past three decades by writers working in Chinese, Russian, and English. These poets often directly incorporate texts and images from news media into their work. Some scholars have argued that this tendency towards the collaging of texts derived from news and social media reflects a shift in poetic subjectivity. However, when seen from a comparative perspective, these and other cut-ups of news and social media are better understood as, on the one hand, an extension of a much longer tradition of literary and artistic responses to the news and, on the other, a renewal of that tradition in response to the intensification of the intertwined pressures of new media and globalization since the end of the Cold War and the rise of the Internet.

The article identifies this shared response to media and globalization among a variety of examples in Chinese, Russian, and English, including Kirill Medvedev’s «Текст, посвященный трагическим событиям 11 сентября в Нью-Йорке» (“Text Devoted to the Tragic Events of September 11 in New York”); Stanislav Lvovsky’s «Чужими сдовами» (“In Other Words”); Dmitri Prigov’s «По материалам прессы» (“Based on Material from the Press”) and “ru.sofob (50 x 50)”; Lin Yaode’s 林燿德 “Er er ba” 《二二八》(February 28), Hsia Yü 夏宇 and her collaborators’ group project “Huadiao huadiao huadiao” 劃掉劃掉劃掉 (“Cross It Out, Cross It Out, Cross It Out”), Yan Jun’s 顏峻 2003 multi-media video performance “Fan dui yiqie you zuzhi de qipian” 反对一切有组织的欺骗 (“Against All Organized Deception”); online video poetry produced in response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake; and Brian Kim Stefans’s mashup of “New York Times” articles with texts from the Situationist International. On the one hand, these texts operate between various media and art forms: between poetry and contemporary art, music, journalism, and social media, between the print newspaper and digital file, between the webpage and live performance, and between image and text. But on the other hand, and inextricably, they also operate within global information networks. They are better understood as addressing not the transformation of the poetic subject but the undoing of the boundaries of poetry and of the concept of a nationally defined literature.
Internet Poetry Clips: Challenging Lyric Theory with Multimodal and Multimedial Hybrid Forms of Poetry

Internet poetry clips are a multimedial hybrid form that comingles features of different literary genres, such as lyric, epic, and drama; different modal categories, such as spoken language, writing, gestures, and facial expressions; and medial modes, such as text, performance, video clip, and documentary. This paper deals with the central features of three selected internet poetry clips: “A Brown Girl’s Guide to Gender” by Aranya Johar, “Water” by Koleka Putuma, and „Ohne mich“ by Sandra Da Vina. The focus is on the media-specific forms of personal union between author and performer in each of these works.
In this article, I analyze the most recent Russian video poetry as an amplification and semantic enrichment of the classic literature paradigm. My thesis is that new visual poetry produces a subtle, polysemous – but at the same time striking – political message within a synthetic artistic framework. I show how recent Russian social (also to be called political) poetry is developing what I call the aesthetics of environmental non-division. I focus on the art collective “The Group of Esfir’ Shub,” which was founded in 2017 by the artist and designer Polina Zaslavskaia. The group’s synthetic method of working with poems generates a “tropic connection between the text and the video,” which correlates or even confronts direct and figurative sign meanings of different media with each other. “Esfir’ Shub” emphasizes one of the essential features of new social poetry ‒ the problematization of corporeality as a phenomenon belonging to organic, living material, which affects the very character of subjectivity. The project “Esfir’ Shub” is situated on the border between visual eco-art and social poetry. What is more important, it represents new trends in Russian engaged aesthetics, which I call biopoetics ‒ a notion which has been intensely discussed in the last two decades.
This essay applies a Cultural Studies-approach to the complex relationship between poetry and advertisement as it emerged in the first half of the 20th century in the United States and as it became visible on billboards by the roadside. Somewhat paradoxically, public poetry in advertising appeared all across the United States (predominantly along highways in rural areas) around the time that much of modernist American poetry was being declared a highly elitist and urban centric affair in the orbit of new criticism-scholarship at universities. My first case study addresses the iconic Burma-Shave Billboard Poetry Campaign (1929-1963) and its long-lasting influence on American (popular) culture – in literature, music, visual art. Prior to this campaign as well as on the heels of it, billboards and billboard poetry were taken up to a minor extent in poetry circles and literary criticism (where they continued to be mostly viewed with disdain) and to a larger extent by conceptual artists who used billboard aesthetics, slogans, and short (poetic) texts in installations mimicking and critiquing consumer culture. One of the most aesthetically innovative recent ‘returns’ of billboard poetry, however, is the one employed intra-diegetically in the Hollywood film Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (2017), my second case study. Here, the writing on the billboard-walls make those aspects explicit that have been submerged in the earlier rhymes by the roadside: While the playful, optimistic lines of advertisement imply, time and again, a happy white middle-class American family with a sober and well-shaved patriarch behind the wheel and thus gloss over the disavowed underside of mobility, the film makes the latent manifest and points to systemic / structural violence, such as a pervasive American rape ‘culture’ which is linked to the car and the mobility it offers. The film uses the billboard and its inscription as foil and as catalyst to address this and other forms of violence and thus presents an activist intervention in order to ask for more than merely poetic justice.
This paper explores the presence of the poetic word in contemporary urban settings: from “Poetry in Motion”, displayed in the New York City subway at the very place where one usually finds ads, to fluid xenon light projections of huge verse on the exterior of buildings in Basel or Zurich by visual artist Jenny Holzer, who presents poems of the Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska together with her own short Truisms. Or from single poems permanently written on walls – e.g. a much-discussed concrete poem by Eugen Gomringer at the facade of a Berlin college of education – to the technically enhanced spoken word, audible from far away as a side effect of gigantic poetry slam events in stadiums, e.g. the Trabrennbahn (racecourse) in Hamburg and even performative events such as Ulrike Almut Sandig’s augenpost in which poems are ‘published’ on posters, flyers and free postcards in the urban space of Leipzig or declaimed on public squares in Indian metropolises through a megaphone. Such presentations of poetry in urban space are still uncommon, thus creating an aesthetic experience that differs strongly from reception in private settings or even in readings or public poetry festivals, as the poem relates to its urban surroundings.