The Lyrik Kabinett at 25
Showcase for poetry
Poetry need not always be enjoyed in solitude. The Lyrik Kabinett, which began life 25 years ago, is a place where poetry-lovers can come together to share their enthusiasm for verse – in the second largest library in Europe devoted solely to lyric poetry.
Paving stones bearing the inscription ‘Poesie’ lead the way into the inner courtyard of the house at Amalienstrasse 83. Here in a quiet corner of Munich’s busy University Quarter, lyric poetry found a perfect domicile 25 years ago – in the modern library building that houses the Lyrik Kabinett. Its front windows rise from ground level: The first thing one sees inside is a piano. It supplies the music that punctuates the 50 or so readings given here every year, featuring poets from Germany and beyond. Seating is provided, contemporary artworks are on display, and of course bookcases line the walls. Poets and readers, book designers, critics and literary scholars regularly meet here for readings, to explore lyric texts and discuss their responses to the works of favorite and less familiar authors. “With a collection that comprises some 50,000 volumes, the Lyrik Kabinett is the second largest specialist library of poetry in Europe, ranking immediately behind the London Poetry Library,” says Dr. Holger Pils, its Director. “The Lyrik Kabinett owes its existence to the tireless efforts of our founder and patron Ursula Haeusgen.” The Foundation that supports the Library and its activities was set up on her initiative. “And everything we do serves a single objective: To spark and nurture a love of poetry.”
Beginnings – in a bookstore
The Lyrik Kabinett has been a fixture on the German – and international – scene for a quarter of a century now. But its story begins not on Amalienstrasse, but in another part of the city. In 1989 Ursula Haeusgen opened a bookshop that specialized in lyric poetry. “Other bookstores stocked very few volumes of poetry, and these were always hidden away in the farthest corners,” she would later recall. “With my own shop dedicated entirely to poetry I hoped to set an example.” She went on to organize poetry readings in the shop, and over time these attracted a devoted public. But the venture was less successful in economic terms, and survived for only a few years.
The books and poetry collections that made up her stock in trade then became the basis for a poetry library. In 1994 Haeusgen formed a non-profit association, a reading club which now has 300 members and sustains the Lyrik Kabinett. Three years later, the library’s collection was transferred, on long-term loan, to LMU’s Institute of Comparative Literature. In 2003, a Foundation was set up under Haeusgen’s leadership. In the following year, the Lyrik Kabinett moved into its present home, on a site leased from LMU in the courtyard of House No. 83 on Amalienstrasse. The newly constructed modern building incorporates an older workshop, and the open space was transformed into a small forum by a landscape architect.
Readings by Robert Gernhardt and Hilde Domin
Today, the Library on Amalienstrasse is enriched by artworks in diverse modern styles by artists such as Horst Antes and Georg Baselitz, and the Munich photographer Isolde Ohlbaum. Poetry readings are held in the midst of this array of books and visual art. “Durs Grünbein gave a reading for the Lyrik Kabinett just before he was awarded the Büchner Prize,” Dr. Holger Pils remembers, “and Seamus Heaney read for us before he won the Nobel Prize.” Other names that immediately spring to his mind are those of Robert Gernhardt, John Ashbery, Philippe Jaccottet, Sarah Kirsch, Hilde Domin, Bei Dao, Ilse Aichinger, Andrea Zanzotto ... In addition to these well-established poets, young stars of the international Spoken Word-Scene are featured each month in the Lyrik Kabinett’s Poetry in Motion series. “But we also organize readings of poetry drawn from other epochs,” says Dr. Pils – from Gilgamesh to Sappho, Pindar and Hafiz to more modern authors such as Walt Whitman, Stefan George and Karl Wolfskehl. With its many bilingual readings of and by international poets, the Lyrik Kabinett also gives its audiences diverse opportunities to become acquainted with other cultures and their literatures. “And three times a year we invite literary critics, as members of a ‘Lyric Quartet’, to review and discuss recently published collections.” – Although this does not mean that the Lyrik Kabinett caters only for connoisseurs: With the support of the city of Munich, the State Government and other sponsors, it has for the past several years been engaged in a model project called “Lust auf Lyrik”, which is designed to stimulate interest in poetry in schools in Bavaria. In workshops lasting for several weeks, adolescents are introduced to the finer points of poetical texts – and to the joys and unlimited possibilities of experimenting with language.
At night the way to the Lyrik Kabinett is indicated by a ribbon of blue light, as glass panels set in the pavement begin to glow – providing a festive setting for a showcase for poetry. ajb
The Library of the Lyrik Kabinett, which is organized according to modern bibliographical principles, encompasses lyric poetry drawn from the whole of world literature, and includes collectors’ editions, rare books, first editions, artists’ books and all important literary magazines. Access to the collection’s catalog is available via the University Library’s OPAC system. While the Library is privately financed, as a public reference library it is open for 24 hours a week. The Lyrik Kabinett also publishes its own books. In all, 14 volumes have appeared so far. An anthology of Hungarian poetry and a volume commemorating the 100th anniversary of the death of Georg Trakl are in preparation. In addition, selections from the work of 28 international poets have so far been published by Hanser in the “Edition Lyrik Kabinett”.