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Memories of Kito Lorenc by Peter Barker

Saturday 24 March 2018 at 5:49 pm.

The following is a short piece that Dr. Peter Barker wrote about the Sorbian poet, Kito Lorenc after his death last year. The fact that he was born in Schleife came back to him while he was translating Wendische Volkstum (Wendish Folklore) by Willibald von Schulenburg for the Wendish Research Exchange of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society. A Sorbian version of this piece was published in the December 2017 edition of Rozhlad.

Memories of Kito Lorenc

I first met Kito Lorenc in March/April 1990 when on a research visit to the University of Leipzig. It was an exciting time politically and I was delighted when Kito accepted an invitation to come to the UK and give some readings at a number of universities, which he did in 1991. He enjoyed in particular a visit to Gregynog, a conference centre in the countryside of North Wales, where he presented his recently written essay, “Die Insel schluckt das Meer”, to a group of Germanistik students and staff from the various colleges of the University of Wales, which finished with a lively discussion about bi- and interculturality. For several summers after that he came with his family to the Welsh coast where he rented a cottage in a bilingual area and also visited us in our Welsh cottage. He was fascinated to experience directly an area, where the minority language had been able to grow significantly, over the whole of Wales to over half a million mother-tongue speakers in the census of 2001, about 20% of the population, with only the border area with England, the Welsh Marches, and parts of South Wales remaining for the large part monolingual.

From that time onwards I visited Kito and his family in his rural paradise of Wuischke and watched with great interest his advocacy of minority cultures and writers exploiting the productive possibilities of bilingualism in its relationship with the majority language. His play Die wendische Schiffahrt, which was premiered in Bautzen in 1994, is suffused with water images, which emphasize the possibilities of fluidity, whereby both cultures can reach the “Neuwasser” of mutual cross-enrichment. Implicit here is a critique of forms of nationalism, which seek to create barriers between cultures, a view, which was not uncontroversial in the Sorbian context. But he argued that linguistic exclusiveness was no longer possible, and the bilingual writer has here a great advantage, able to exploit the frontiers between the two languages.

I shall miss Kito’s somewhat wicked humour and his intense interest in language and the relationship between different cultures and languages. I was very pleased that I was able to witness the conferring of an Honorary PhD degree at the University of Dresden in 2008, which represented well-deserved recognition of his great achievements as a bilingual poet and his immense contribution to the study of language, in particular in relation to Sorbian.

Peter Barker


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