“There are more fishes than stars.
More wishes than stars.” – Ben Okri
These haunting lines are taken from Okri‘s poem “More Fishes Than Stars,” a poem that is still reverberating in my head almost two years after I heard Okri, the renowned Nigerian writer, perform at the Poetry On The Road festival in Bremen. During a performance that appeared to manipulate time, Okri’s voice opened up over the utterly still audience in the Theater am Goetheplatz like a sky full of celestial bodies, or at least that is what I imagined as I listened to his opening line, “Everyone seems so certain.” At that moment, every single person in the audience must have held their breath, because nothing but his voice and a faint crackle from a distant speaker could be heard.
That balmy night in late May inside the theater, the performances by Ben Okri and eight other poets successfully grabbed my attention to the point that I returned for more readings the day after and the day after that. What can I say, I am drawn to a good line or poem and tend to forget everything else that is going on around me. For what it’s worth, poetry is capable of releasing an avalanche of thoughts, not the depressing and suffocating kind, but the type of thoughts that make you feel as if you just ran a 10k. In a sense, poetry festivals are marathons of the mind. Afterwards you feel exhausted from being surprised and awed for several hours, but at the same time you are euphoric with new ideas.
Poetry on the Road, the yearly festival held at the end of May over the span of five days with readings at many different venues in the heart of Bremen, is perhaps the most successful in inspiring awe in its audience, especially when it comes to the multitude of countries being represented at the readings. In 2014, Ben Okri was one of 26 poets of 19 different nationalities who performed their work not only in theaters across the city but also in unique settings such as the old dome or the Schulschiff Deutschland (the last fully rigged German ship). From the overnight sensation Julia Engelmann and up-and-coming Jamaican poet Ishion Hutchinson to the acclaimed Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Nobel Prize Winner Herta Müller, the festival offered a handful of lines for all tastes and ages.
Poetry On The Road is now in its 17th year, and thanks to the festival organizers Regina Dyck with The Bremen University of Applied Sciences and Michael Augustin with Radio Bremen, it has become a significant institution in Bremen’s cultural landscape. From May 26th to May 30th, the city will once again be transformed into a poetry haven, and this year’s line up of readers promises to be just as compelling. With Adam Zagajewski, the award-winning Polish poet, and Nora Bossong, a brilliant German novelist and poet who won the Peter Huchel Prize for her book of poems, as well as the prolific Tao Lin from the US, and many more, Poetry On The Road should not be missed. Recalling Okri’s lines, one thing is perhaps certain: poetry has the ability to gather people of different nationalities and languages in one place and spark a conversation that might be remembered years afterwards.