Lyrik Kabinett at 30
“I would prefer to be a poem”
Having organized 1200 events since 1989, while catering annually for the needs of 2000 users of its library, which comprises 63,000 media – Munich’s Lyrik Kabinett is Europe’s largest public collection devoted to international poetry.
Once a month, the Lyrik Kabinett becomes part of Munich’s lively club scene, complete with lighting effects and DJ. The real protagonists are stand-up poets, but not for nothing does the program bear the title “Poetry in Motion”. Last month’s guest, Deborah Emmanuel from Singapore, appears before the microphone with hands extended, before joining them in a gesture of lyrical prayer, as she first sings lines from Moby’s song “Natural Blues”, which is based on an African American folksong. “We are all reaching for largeness,” she declaims – and that assertion can be taken as programmatic for this house of poets and poetry.
An unusual history
The origins of the Lyrik Kabinett go back to 1989. It began as a specialist bookshop devoted to lyric poetry, which was located in a basement on Maximilianstrasse. In 1994, a non-profit organization was set up to secure its continued existence. Then in 2003, Ursula Haeusgen established the Lyrik Kabinett Foundation, whose purpose is to foster a wider appreciation of poetry and its role in society.
The Lyrik Kabinett is a storehouse of poetry books, which are displayed in striking ensembles together with examples of visual art. (Photo: Dieter Lukas, panobilder.de)
And that has remained its foremost task on its present site, Amalienstraße 83a, which has been its home since 2005. The transformation of what was once a bookshop into a public library, and the conversion of a commercial entity into a registered association, were crucial steps in its evolution. “Frau Haeusgen’s arrangements were very judicious, and we are all beneficiaries of her astuteness,” says Dr. Holger Pils, the current Director of the Foundation. In this case, the word “all” can be taken to refer not only to the members of the Foundation’s Board and its staff of seven, but also to the patrons of the Lyrik Kabinett – poets and performers, students of all sorts, literary scholars and non-professional researchers, publicists, critics and lovers of poetry of all ages.
The pleasures of poetry
“We aspire to appeal not just to practiced readers of poetry, but also to people who have dipped into the subject, but haven't gone into it in any depth,” says Holger Pils. For example, in a cooperative project with the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, a series of events on the theme of “Science and Poetry” confronted two modes of perceiving the world with one another. In a second long-running venture, “The Pleasures of Poetry”, which began in 2005, the Foundation holds workshops for teachers and classes from schools in Munich in the Lyrik Kabinett. Approximately 500 school students benefit from these sessions each year. “The demand has become so great that we can no longer meet it,” says Dr. Pia-Elisabeth Leuschner.
Deborah Emmanuel recites from her work during “Poetry in Motion” on November 11, 2019.
Three Decades of Poetry: Anthology and Online Archive
In addition to hosting readings and performances, and serving as a library of poetry, the Lyrik Kabinett is also involved in the preparation of German and bilingual editions of the work of international poets, as well as occasional volumes. The anthology that marks the Foundation’s 30th anniversary, entitled Im Grunde wäre ich lieber Gedicht (“I Would Prefer to Be a Poem”) is published by Carl Hanser Verlag and offers a selection of some 250 poems chosen from those featured in the 1200 readings given in the Lyrik Kabinett since its inception – works by old masters and new poets, well known and less well known, German and international authors. Half of the poems appear in bilingual form, and 60 are published for the first time. The volume includes a list of all readings held in the Lyrik Kabinett since 1989.
In future some readings will also be made available online, on the Internet portal dichterlesen.net. The first recordings from the archive were uploaded to mark the institution’s 30th anniversary.