Theatre

Poems have the power to change perceptions and people: Rike Scheffler

The German poet and artiste, who was at the Bengaluru Poetry Festival, often uses her voice, a loop station and synthesisers in her performances

As a child of six growing up in Berlin, poet, performer and artiste Rike Scheffler would play with the sounds and syllables of simple German words. She repeated words because she liked how they sounded. And with two brothers and two sisters in the house, she naturally roped them in to act as a live loop station for her poems of sounds.

The audience at the Bengaluru Poetry Festival, held over the weekend at the Taj West End, got a feel of this as she urged them to make sounds like a reed in the wind as part of her performance during the session Sound and the Word.

Rike, whose work has often been described as being at the intersection of language and music, sat down for a chat after the session.

“Poetry is music,” she says. “I enjoy listening to the sound of it. But, of course, the meaning is also important. At a reading, you lean back and listen to the sound. It is special if you have the poet recite his or her work because meaning can be forwarded on a physical level, through the body and voice. Reciting a poem is powerful and magical. When I perform in a country where no one or very few speak my language, I put the essence of the poem in my voice so that people can still understand its energy and meaning.”

Rike’s work varies from writing poetry and poetical essays to readings, concerts and performances. She has received various scholarships and her poetry collection der rest ist resonanz won the Orphil Debut Prize for political and avant-garde writing. When performing live, she uses her voice, a loop station, effect pedals and synthesisers. Some of her well-known poems include ‘Honey, I’m Home’ and ‘A Glass of Water’, which she performed at the festival.

Elaborating on how the latter originated, Rike says, “I was at a reading in Austria and there were all these water glasses that no one was drinking from. I felt that they were such a waste. So, I was trying to write poems from the perspective of water. Then, I realised that water was actually bigger than me. There are different kinds of water and water can mean life, death... I started reading about post-humanism and eco-feminism and approaches such as those by professor Donna Haraway Considering all of us as one community of the living is important for peace. This understanding created its own movement within my poem. The ‘I’ in the poem took a step back and made space for water. Slowly, I become water.”

Playing the guitar made Rike realise that she could incorporate effect pedals into her poetry. “I thought, ‘What if I create a soundscape with just my voice?’ Different parts of the poem can start interacting with each other and I can relate to individual lines within the poem. That opened up a whole new horizon for me to play… it was a lot of fun. I have been doing this for seven or eight years now. I take poems that I wrote earlier and add sounds, music and voice to them.”

Interestingly, Rike says that even when she uses a loop station, the particular line changes in meaning each time it is said, thus playing with the notion of time and space. “I want to show the format in itself. The loop station helps in repeating; it goes in cycles. I think, often life goes in cycles and sometimes these cycles can also be painful. So, in my ‘loop poems’, I play with the format of poetry and the loop itself and therefore, with time. I think of it as a spatial installation.”

Rike feels that as time goes on, so do her lines. “Since I change the surrounding of that one line (with a vocal melody, for instance), somehow, its meaning changes. I give you one line, then another, whose two meanings connect and result in a whole new story. That is a dynamic I love to play with.”

Can the layperson understand that poetry can, in fact, move between different worlds? Rike says, “That is the great thing about working with language — poems have the power to change perceptions and people and therefore, change reality. If a poem makes you think and feel a certain way that is new to you, you change as a person. As a poet, even everyday conversations are interesting because it [language] creates a system and rules... I’m not only talking about grammar, I’m talking about ingrained reality that you can perceive through language.”

She feels that once one is aware of that, one can also change things. “Talking about capitalism or patriarchy is ingrained in our language. For example, coming from Germany, the German language is associated with a violent history,” she says.

Rike adds, “At least in Germany I’m always trying to open up the understanding of what poetry is. Poetry can be everything and anything and everywhere.”

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Printable version | Feb 29, 2020 7:34:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/poems-have-the-power-to-change-perceptions-and-people-rike-scheffler/article28688457.ece

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