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'City poet' scheme planned in Brussels to enhance cultural offering

20:27 22/03/2023

The Brussels region is planning to appoint a "city poet" - or several - to enhance the capital's cultural offering.

“A city poet collective could play a nice role in a vibrant cultural city,” said Green MP Lotte Stoops.

The first steps towards forming one have already been taken based on the positive reply Stoops received from Brussels minister Sven Gatz (Open VLD), who is responsible for the promotion of multilingualism and the image of Brussels, among other things.

“City poetry has its origins in the 14th century with the rise of autonomous urban culture,” the minister said.

“From then on, there was an awareness among city councils that the poetry of certain city dwellers could be of special value to their own community and could benefit the city.”

Exploratory talks were held with civil society organisations in recent months, including the Brussels 2030 committee.

The city aims to become European Capital of Culture in 2030. With the input of experts within the cultural sector, the government wants to determine what path will be followed towards that end.

Following the dismissal of Antwerp's city poets, Stoops stressed the importance of respecting artistic freedom and the need to embrace Brussels multilingualism.

“There have already been similar initiatives in Brussels as in Antwerp,” Gatz pointed out.

There was an initiative by Passa Porta in 2004 in collaboration with David Van Reybrouck and poet Peter Vermeersch to give poetry a more prominent place in the capital. Back in 2020, Brussels poet Lisette Ma Neza called for a Brussels city poet.

“I am very fond of the idea of city poetship as it offers the opportunity to share poetry with a wider audience,” Gatz said.

“The main task of the city poet is to bring poetry that reflects the city's identity and connects its inhabitants – this can be done through poems inspired by history, culture, nature, architecture or current urban events. The city poet can also perform at event openings, commemorations or other special occasions.”

An official city poet wouldn’t only write poetry, however. “The city poet can also give workshops and lectures to students and residents to promote poetry and inspire people to write poems themselves,” Gatz explained.

The Brussels government will examine what methodology and procedure is needed to appoint city poet(s) and how the mission could be fulfilled before the end of the legislature.

“It seems obvious to me that the region's rich linguistic diversity should be taken into account and that the poet(s) should be given a certain artistic freedom,” the minister said.

Written by Helen Lyons