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Brussels names Lisette Ma Neza as official city poet

10:19 19/01/2024

Lisette Ma Neza has been chosen as Brussels’ first ever city poet, a position which she will hold for two years beginning on 21 March.

The Brussels city poet is responsible for “celebrating the power of words, together with the various Brussels communities,” and “has full artistic freedom and will embrace the rich spectrum of Brussels' multilingualism,” the Brussels region said.

In concrete terms, the city poet will write 19 poems about Brussels during their tenure.

Almost 3,000 people voted for their favourite of five candidates in December. While those votes were to account for 50% of the selection process, the jury responsible for the other 50% ultimately agreed with the selection of Ma Neza.

“For me, the main mission is to connect the people of Brussels through poetry,” said Sven Gatz, the Brussels minister responsible for promoting multilingualism.

“We also want to capitalise on the linguistic richness of Brussels, a city where multilingualism is a must. I wish Lisette every success in the concrete implementation of her mission.”

Ma Neza describes herself as speaking Dutch, Kinyarwanda and English, adding: “I love Portuguese. I understand French and pretend to speak it.”

There were 32 candidates at the start of the selection process, with the jury whittling the number down to five for a final vote with help from the Brussels public.

“The 32 entries for the city poet brought us fresh and intelligent wind with words from the four corners of Brussels,” said jury co-chair Brigitte Dreyfuss.

“I am delighted that our choice fell on Lisette, whose mission will be to ensure that poetry is spoken in the city's various languages. Her intelligence and finesse will make her an exceptional first public poet.”

Ma Neza added: “I translate myself and others into poems. I write poems. I write poems that turn into songs, songs that turn into shared improvisations, music that turns into shows. I write poems that turn into films, poems for paper, stage and theatre. I also write poems that don't change.”

When it comes to the 19 poems she will write for Brussels during her tenure as the official city poet, Ma Neza told Bruzz that she already has all sorts of ideas.

“But I mainly want to listen and look closely at the city,” she said in an interview. “From what I see and experience, from what lives there and what others tell me, I want to respond with a project. So I see the 19 poems as 19 projects. This can also be done in collaboration with others.”

The first project will be published on 21 March, the day of her inauguration.

“For the first project, I’m thinking of something musical,” Ma Neza told Bruzz.

"I get a lot of room for experimentation. I really see it as a conversation: I want to go out, because Brussels remains a city you have to walk through to discover new things.

"Is it on a basketball court, in a club, a barber shop or snack bar? There are all sorts of places where you can make small, beautiful connections. That's how I let the inspiration come to me."

Photo: Aurélien Goubau/Brussels 2030 asbl

Written by Helen Lyons