From Berlin, Europe’s (not-so) secret capital of underground culture, two poets are coming to this years Microfestival: And Birgit Kreipe and Steffen Popp not only know each other, but actually live together…
„But we are quite different in our writing”, explain both at once, Popp finishing Kreipe’s sentence. „As authors, we ultimately work in the same field,” admits
Popp—referring to the lyrical scene of the German capital—but their interests and biographical backgrounds are different. While Steffen Popp, born in 1978 in Greifswald, a small city in the north of the socialist GDR, studied German philology and philosophy, Birgit Kreipe comes from the other side of the wall and studied German philology and psychology.
“But I didn’t even finish the German philology studies,” she clarifies, “because I finished psychology and started to work.” She studied both simultaneously. “I just couldn’t decide,” she explains. The study of psychology probably influences her poems more strongly, mainly as a starting point for topics. One of her recent books, Soma, deals with difficult memories and experiences. One source of her inspirations was a psychological technique which tries to create a distance from one’s own experience through imagining them as a film which can be fast-forwarded and rewound. She emphasizes that this does not mean that her
poetry is therapeutic in any way—it is rather a form of processing; finding a particular language which expresses a certain psycho-social situation. As she explains, “and that’s something I can ́t do just by narrating it. I want it to function through the sound and the images.” Her poetry uses psychological means
as a stylistic concept or associational frame. „It’s not: writing and I feel better,” she says. “In my opinion, writing is totally inappropriate for that,” she explains, pointing to the rather difficult life of many lyricists.
The poets she has in mind are probably the important confessional poets Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, who, Kreipe says, were „for sure“ a considerable influence in her writing. „For me, a feminist position is most important“, she explains. This female perspective is of course not bound to a sex, but is an approach everyone can take. „Our time is characterized by a lot of freedom and few binding norms, but also high risk. One could see in this a big freedom, but also a big cold.“ This results in a discrepancy between „people’s expectations, or in general their feelings, and what they experience“. What poetry might be able to change, in this context, is „the way experiences are reflected and talked about. That they are thought about and talked about at all.“
Accepting Kreipe’s poetic approach as female seems to claim, a bit immoderately, that Popp’s texts are male: „Above all, I am interested in technics and natural sciences, so besides literature, I also read a lot in this area,” he says, “And what one reads of course enters into one’s writing.” An almost monumental example of this approach is Popp’s work 118, a collection of 106 decastichs (poems of 10 lines). The number of 118 refers to the 118 chemical elements that are currently known. Just as the periodic table tries to give an overview of the fundamental chemical elements, Popp defines 106 “poetical elements,” so to say, from wood to thankfulness, from media to snowfall, from elephants to demons.
Popp knows that such a focus on science is an exception in poetry. But ignoring the reality of science, he says, would be a huge oversight: „I think our whole world is pervaded with the technical,” he says, and starts to describe the complex technology involved in producing the glass before him. “It would be strange to pass over that, if for example a glass appears in the text“. This technical dimension always rubs against the grain of classical poetic language, which is rather aesthetical – just one of the contradictions one finds in Popp’s poems: “I like it when incompatible things clash; also high and low poetic tones.”
In one of his higher poetic tones, he speaks of Ben Lerner and Elke Erb, the two contemporary poets that come first to his mind when asked which books he would take alone on an island – although he adds that it actually would have to be a whole crate of books. This selection is not casual: Popp also works as translator, and as such, he brought some works of the US-American poet Ben Lerner to the German
language. And Elke Erb is, though 80 years old already, one of the inspiring figures of the East-German lyrical scene. However, „it’s funny, because authors in this regard have a blind spot, for actually they would take their own books with them.” Kreipe agrees that of course one’s own texts are very close, though she qualifies: „differently close, differently loved.” Popp adds that they almost have a diary’s
function: „Kafka, I think, in his letters, suggests that diaries are mainly important because on a bad day, one can page back,” and see one’s past; what has changed and what has remained since. „And for this purpose, one’s own books are almost better.“
Apropos, Prague is the city of Kafka. So of course, the obligatory question: do you like Kafka? “Is it possible to like Kafka?“ Popp laughs. „His works are in their way a challenge– which is better than being just great.“