Antwerp was the first Flemish city to have a poet in the city. Since 2003, the College of Mayors and Local Councilors has appointed a city poet who has written at least a dozen poems about the city. In all, in Antwerp there were ten poets who were allowed to take on this literary position: Tom Lannoy, Ramsey Nasr, Bart Moyart, Joke van Leeuwen, Peter Holvet Hansen, Bernard Duolf, who died unexpectedly last week, Steen Franken, Martin Ingels and Maud. Vanhauert and Seco.
Some of their poems are still visible in public to this day. Think of the poem on the underside of London Bridge, against the scaffolding of the cathedral tower, on the outside wall of the HetPaleis theater house or near Droogdokkenpark. When such hair threatens to disappear, it always stirs up emotions. Remember Tom Lannoy’s poem on the Boerentoren or Peter Holvet Hansen’s poem on the sidewalk wall. But these city poets often also unexpectedly created poetry that has since persisted for so long: a poem planted in a garden and springing up in the spring, the word ‘Macht’ that appeared in large, inflatable letters on Conscienceplein and continued to grow. He was released again.
City Poetry 2.0.2 Update
This tradition no longer exists now. Or at least in its current form. “We are going for City Poetry 2.0,” explains local council member Nabila Ait Daoud. Starting in 2022, the city will collaborate with a group of poets who will write commissioned city poems. Antwerp Boekenstad receives many questions every year from the city, regions, organizations and residents to write poems for specific occasions. There are also regular requests to incorporate poetry into the public space.” “In order to give more poets a chance to participate in this and to be able to focus more on new and diverse talent, we are now selecting a group of a maximum of five poets that the city can poll.”
Poets can apply by e-mail. The deadline for that is Poetry Day on January 27th. This pool will be renewed every two years.
loss of freedom
Culture Council member and former council member Caroline Bastian regrets the city’s decision and wonders if future poets will be given the same amount of freedom. City poets created a special dynamic in our city. For two years, they have been given the time and space to shape urban noodles, feel what Antwerp residents need and feel what is going on. That was the power of a city bard, it just added something.”
“Naturally, all city poets commissioned, and also wrote poems in response to, for example, the restoration of the cathedral,” says Bastian. “There is nothing wrong with expensive work, as long as there is freedom to give substance to the poetry of the city. I fear that the new poets will lose some of that freedom. They will write about the things that the city brings. That way you lose the unexpected, the dangerous. And this is an essential part of the freedom inherent in the art “.
The former city poet Martin Engels also hoped that future poets would retain a certain degree of autonomy. “Looking back at my time as a poet in the city, it was a great opportunity to develop my artistic practice within the city limits. Of course you have assignments. For example, I wrote a poem on the occasion of the reopening of the Museum of Plantin Moretus. But I started a lot myself on topics that I found exciting. Interesting. I wanted to break into people’s daily lives with my hair.”
Engels did this, for example, by printing a poem on cloth handkerchiefs. “Then I put those handkerchiefs in a number of coat pockets during a stage show, in the coat room,” he recalls.
Ten Antwerp residents each had a line from his poem tattooed. These lines together form one poem. “I hope that this autonomy will be preserved, and that the state of the new city will remain equally surprising and not be seen as a means City Marketing to do. But I also understand that concepts have to change. I have no say in choosing a wider group.”
Ait Daoud asserts that new poets will also be free to write whatever they want. We will not hold their pen. Budgets also remain the same. We will indeed work with assignments, but when a great idea appears within that group and the poet in question knocks on Antwerp’s door for the book, he will still be given the opportunity to realize that urban poem.”