“If a poem wants to qualify as an urban poem, it must connect. Ruth Lasters’ poem did not do that. It was more of a political manifesto. If she wants to get involved in politics, then she should get into politics.” Antwerp Alderman for Culture Nabilla Ait Daoud (N-VA) defends her decision to refuse Lasters’ poem as a city poem.
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The opposition parties Groen, CD&V and PVDA react sharply to the decision of the aldermen to refuse the poem as a city poem. Coalition partners Vooruit and Open Vld are also bored with it. Antwerp Open Vld alderman Erica Caluwaerts even calls the decision a mistake.
Ships Ait Daoud is surprised by this reaction. She emphasizes that the freedom of every poet is absolute, also for Lasters. According to her, there is therefore no question of censorship, because the poem was already published in May.
“To accuse me of censorship is nonsense,” says Ait Daoud. “I have no literary aspirations, so I’m not going to hold the pen of the poets. However, not every poet’s pen is a city poem. When the five Antwerp city poets took office, clear rules were laid down. They know this. The final decision as to whether a poem is a city poem and whether it will be given a place in the public space rests with the city council. Moreover, a city poem is always commissioned. Poetry must play a connecting role in urban society.”
The poem did not meet those conditions, so the aldermen decided to reject Lasters’ poem about education as a city poem.
“A city poem is supposed to bring people closer together, but this poem does the opposite,” says Ait Daoud. “A city poem should not be a megaphone for indictments or politics. With this poem we had the impression that Lasters wanted to express a political opinion. The style doesn’t connect, it just widens the gap. The poem reads like a political manifesto. If she wants to get into politics, then she should get into politics. Only a city poem is not for that.”
Lasters’ poem is written together with students from the Spectrum School in Deurne. It denounces the education system. Because the poem is now rejected as a city poem, Lasters stops as a city poet.
“If the city even refuses a poem that addresses the discrimination of thousands of young people, it is crystal clear to me that the city poems only serve as a promotion for the city and not as an expression of culture or literature,” says Lasters.