Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Quotidian Poetry

No matter how long I live here, there are still things that strike me as odd about life in Berlin. One of them is the role of poetry in everyday life.

I don't mean subsidised campaigns like Poetry on the Underground, although these do exist. What I mean is poems that crop up in everyday life. The first recent example was my daughter's school Christmas do. Instead of all that tear-jerking/vomit-inducing* nativity stuff, most of the classes recited poems. Either all together in a big shouty chant, or one line per kid. It certainly had the advantage of being mercifully short. Traditionally, in fact, children are encouraged to recite poems here in exchange for presents. For several years, a friend had a job as Santa, biking round to people's houses on Christmas Eve in a red suit and listening to breathless poetry recitals from terrified minors.

Not much after the Christmas concert, a sign was hung up in our corridor. The company that cleans the stairs once a week cordially wished all us residents a peaceful Christmas, accompanied by a poem. I forget what it was now. And that called to mind the little ceremony, which I sadly missed, when a new roof was put on our building. The boss of the roofers apparently hoisted a heathen-like garland onto the roof and recited a poem, which tradition demanded he wrote himself especially for the occasion. I don't know whether he actually did, or just dipped into a handy compendium of Poetry for Roofers. The poem itself has been lost.

*Delete as appropriate.


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