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Flock of Stories, House of Words

By Evva Fenja Parsons | Published: December 1, 2021

This is the second in a series of blogposts from Evva Fenja Parsons, the current Dietrich Fellow. So far on her travels, she has visited her former host family in Germany and worked on an organic farm in Italy. Read about her earlier adventures here.

Fenja on a cobbled street next to a building covered in wisteria
Early fall in Italy

I’ve thought about words a lot in the past two months. Especially written ones, though not exclusively. I moved to Berlin for an internship at the Haus für Poesie (House for Poetry) at the end of October. Arriving in Frankfurt from Rome, I could suddenly understand the words around me on the street and at the train station again. The intimate experience of language in Italy, where I had to focus for each word and often only understood the barest outlines of the overlapping stories told at the lunches I was invited to on neighboring farms, primed me for an internship in the cultural sector focused on stories and verse.

I love books and words and often rely on them to accompany me through my thoughts and experiences. My relationship to a text is personal and often private, yet there are readers and listeners around the world who are creating their own experiences with the same words. I have wondered about these people, and wondered about the global communities and industries built up around these experiences with texts. This fellowship offers me an opportunity to explore those wonderings, both at the Frankfurter Book Fair I attended at the end of October, and through this internship that takes me through the end of January.

Fenja on a walking trail through a forest, surrounded by autumn leaves
Late fall in Germany

The Haus für Poesie is composed of a brilliant team with which I can learn. The organization has supported and promoted literature, especially poetry, for the past thirty years both in written form and using other mediums. I am interning in the Poetic Education department where I help with workshops, collaborations, the annual poetry film festival and ongoing education by and for poets. My boss, Karla Montasser, seeks out novel collaborations that both add to the city’s understanding of verse and prose, and nurture writers at any stage of their writing careers, whether they are students in the second grade or many decades removed from elementary school and teach poetic writing themselves.

The bug workshop in action.

One workshop in November brought together a museum pedagogue and actress from an object theater house (Schaubude), a fourth-grade class and many old bike helmets. Over two days, the students transformed old and useless technology into inventive new bug forms based on syntheses of their favorite bugs and superpowers they developed from the etymology of their own names. I researched names, sketched my dragonflies and operated the hot glue gun to encourage the students in their creative pursuits. The collaboration was silly and thoughtful, prompting both laughter and reflection on our relationship to the world around us through words. (Read my article about the workshop here.)

A sign in Bologna referring to a student at the University of Bologna who is detained in Egypt
A sign in Bologna referring to a student
at the University of Bologna who is
detained in Egypt.

The ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival has dominated the end of my November. Over a thousand filmmakers submitted their films based around poems for the international competition and the amount of logistical preparation rivaled that of moving Concordia Language Villages’ teaching online for the summer of 2020. "Them people," which won the Goethe Prize at the festival, told a subtle story of images and words that opens questions of us and them. The film blithely and piercingly portrays how, as the director Nausheen Javed puts it, “We all revolve around our nail in the ground. Everyone does.” The sparing words, the soundscape of cleaning and the child’s perspective that guides viewers through the film weave a critique of the force-fed inheritances of intolerance.

Fenja sitting on a street with a pizza in a delivery box.
Multitasking with storytelling and
pizza eating.

Stories like clamorous seagulls have flown past me as I’ve traveled on this journey as a Dietrich Fellow, some casting shadows and some prompting me to crane my neck. One pooped on my shirt (a seagull). Some stories are told classically, verbosely recalled over food with gesticulation and pauses set for effect. Some stories are told bit by bit, the shreds of a life that amalgamate into complexities over weeks spent working side-by-side. Some are told incompletely, like the unlabeled monuments watching over parks in unfamiliar cities or the stickers and political posters that dot lampposts and subway passages. The stories intrigue me and tie me to places and to people. They allow me to immerse myself in the brief periods I spend in various places during this fellowship, and keep me company as the rhythms and landscapes change around me.

About the Author

Evva Fenja Parsons graduated from Colorado College in 2020 with majors in political science and German and spent the following year living in an intentional community on a Camphill farm with folks with disabilities. Fenja spent her first timid week at Waldsee when she was nine and has returned each year since. Concordia Language Villages' values encouraged her to study abroad before and during college and the Concordia Language Villages community continues to mentor and accompany her during this fellowship. 

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