Why do we do this?

The Poetry Project | Foto © Rottkay
Kahel Kaschmiri | Photo © Rottkay

Hundreds of thousands of people have come to Germany from war zones in 2015/16. Faced with this new reality, a few friends in Berlin asked themselves how we would all live together moving forward. The aim was to overcome foreignness. Poetry as a cultural bridge seemed to be a good start.

What do we want?

The Poetry Project | Foto © Rottkay
Herbert Grönemeyer, Samiullah Rasouli | Photo © Rottkay

With their touching texts, these young authors convey unique, authentic experiences. These boys have indeed seen violence and injustice, but nevertheless, they represent the beauty of a proud culture, one that has been faltering in recent times. We want to ignite this cultural flame, to ensure that it doesn't burn out, and to spark curiosity in it.

How did we find the young poets?

The Poetry Project | Foto © Rottkay
Samiullah Rasouli | Photo: Rottkay

While travelling through Afghanistan, The Poetry Project Co-Founder and SPIEGEL Foreign Correspondent Susanne Koelbl was able to experience the meaning and the magic of poetry in Persian culture first hand. All youth from Persian-speaking countries were invited to participate in the Poetry Workshop, regardless of their educational background. Among them were Ali Ahmade (15), Ghani Ataei (16), Mahdi Hashemi (16), Shahzamir Hataki (16) Kahel Kaschmiri (15), Mohamad Mashghdost (18), Yasser Niksada (14) and Samiullah Rasouli (17).

How does The Poetry Project work?

The Poetry Project | Foto © Rottkay
Aarash D. Spanta | Photo © Rottkay

The poets and their mentors have been meeting regularly to write and workshop their poems since December 2015.

The participation of translator Aarash D. Spanta was a stroke of luck. A lawyer and son of a prominent Afghan politician, Aarash comes from an intellectual family from Herat, in western Afghanistan, and understands the deep symbolism of the Persian language.

Writing in their Mother Tongue, the poets explore themes suggested by themselves and by the mentors (for example why they have come, what they experienced on the journey here, what they are expecting from Germany and from their new lives, what they have actually found and what they miss). The poets write for 15-30 minutes. Each presents his own work, and then together we wrestle with the intended meanings of passages, phrases and words. These exercises are full of magical moments of mutual recognition.

The Poetry Project: What’s next?

The Poetry Project | Foto © Rottkay
Shahzamir Hataki | Photo © Rottkay

It began with an open poetry workshop for Persian-speaking youths from various temporary refugee accommodations throughout Berlin. They wrote stories about what they saw as they fled from their homes to Germany.

Nine months later, the boys published their touching texts in the Berlin Anthologie (The Poetry Project -- Allein nach Europa) and read them before a large audience at the 16th Berlin International Literature Festival. The enthusiastic response that they received from the public encouraged them to continue.

All of the award winning poets are currently in school. All except one have found a guardian. All are learning German, and continue, despite homesickness and low points, on their path to a new life. The Poetry Project has also become a facet of their lives in their new homeland, which we, The Poetry Project Team, are very happy about.

Teachers have asked us whether the young poets can read before students in their schools. They can, though not always personally because they are students themselves. We are in the midst of putting together a film of the first, and most authentic, reading, which we will soon show at schools around Germany. Our goal is to encourage the interaction of “Willkommensklassen,” the welcome classes for the new arrivals, and regular school classes. We are currently developing this concept, and will continue to post updates as the project progresses.