On March 24, I had the pleasure of attending a reading at Literaturwerkstatt Berlin featuring Ugly Duckling Presse authors RobertFitterman and Eugene Ostashevsky.
More than 50 people packed the space at Literaturwerkstatt Berlin in Berlin’s Kulturbrauerei – a former brewery that is now a cultural center. The event was conducted primarily in the German language, with German translations of each poem read following the English version. Headsets with simultaneous translations into English were provided for attendees who did not speak German.
Fitterman read from his book-length poem No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself, which “curates” phrases and text collected from social media posts and blogs, including lines such as:
now I’m lonely like a flute
loneliness is a God-shaped void
Ostashevsky read selections from his collection The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza, followed by selections from his chapbook The Pirate Who Does Not Know the Value of PI, Part I. Ostashevsky is in Berlin as a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program, and is working on a full-length collection of poems based on the Pirate and his parrot.
Following the readings by Fitterman and Ostashevsky, Berlin author Daniela Seel moderated a lively Q&A session with the poets, focusing on the idea of “conceptual” or “avant-garde” poetry. Posed the question as to which term they identified with, Fitterman embraced the term “avant-garde” for himself, while Ostashevsky noted he prefers to think of himself “as a poet who likes to play with language and who likes puns.”
Addressing the subject of plagiarism, Ostashevsky noted “Plagiarism wasn’t a big issue with the old avant-garde. Now, we have a lot of copyright issues.” Fitterman said “I try very hard to get arrested, but no one cares about poetry,” adding “the open source culture is free…that interests me.” In speaking about his book-length poem as more than just a collection of other people’s writing, Fitterman says “Everything I know as a poet…informs my choices. For me, [the poem] happens in the composing.” Ostashevsky said of Fitterman’s book “Your work contains all the lyrical poetry elements, it just deals with them in a different way.”
Seel then asked the authors about their experiences with Ugly Duckling Presse and Ostashevsky responded that “Ugly Duckling and other small presses like them are a gesture of economic selflessness.” Ostashevsky said that he appreciated the ability to work with the press to make the book look the way he wanted it to look, that he had a say in the production of it, as opposed to some of the more academic presses where the books have an identical look to them.
Speaking as someone who knows other Ugly Duckling Presse authors (Maureen Thorson and John Surowiecki), I was very pleased to see how active UDP is in Berlin. They exhibited their books at the Miss Read art book fair held in September 2013, and the press’s books are sold at St. George’sEnglish Bookshop in the city’s Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood.