The Berlin Poetry Festival 2021 has decided to engage the European poetic tradition in its many faces, in a time when that very notion, “European”, seems less categorical and certain than it might have seemed a few years ago. From political turmoil that led to Brexit, and the European Union losing one of the stars on its flag, to healthy winds of change within certain countries, where minorities have begun to claim their rightful place within the multicultural society the European Union has claimed to be, contemporary poets in this young century have acted within the political context of a tightrope – of certainties and uncertainties. But the winds of change have not all been healthy. Many societies within Europe have also experienced the regression to a time when the civil rights of minorities were truly uncertain.
Few groups face such challenges so often as those we might here tentatively call ‘queer’. That concept itself walks a tight rope, as it seeks to be the demand for more fluidity and freedom within the rigid dual concepts of our society, bringing however with itself the many dangers of any umbrella-term. But the challenge ‘queerness’ faces is that of many concepts within a democracy on the Globe: how can we find common ground and still respect the differences that make our societies thrive? A community of differences for a different type of community.
And here we are in Berlin, a city that has played a central role in many of these transformations. Walk around town and you will often see a tourist carrying Christopher Isherwood’s novel “Goodbye to Berlin”. Retracing the steps of homosexual writers such as Isherwood himself or his companions W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender, the city has become a safe haven for queers from around the globe. Here we are. The conversation, and sometimes the struggle, has had many agents, and names like Magnus Hirschfeld come to mind, and his founding in Berlin of the Institute for the Science of Sexuality. This is not a gratuitous invocation.