Poetry turns 50!

This year, the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam turns 50! The milestone makes it the oldest festival in the city, and one of the oldest in the country, with a wealth of history and highlights. Nobel Prize-winning poets once stood on Poetry’s stages as bright young talents, and the festival is both a shining example for, and founding parent of, poetry festivals worldwide. Poetry International celebrates its golden anniversary with an extra festive edition at de Doelen, which also hosted the debut festival back in 1970. 

Trailblazing poets will deliver transformative work thrumming with the now. Unique fusions of poetry by engaging artists from the worlds of music, cinema, and dance amplify the power, the beauty, and the personal impact of poetry, here in the form of an intimate reading or workshop, there as a multidisciplinary theatrical poetry spectacle. Right in the heart of the city, inviting, challenging, unmissable.

What Happened to the Future?

Since 1970, poetry luminaries from all over the world travel to Rotterdam for the annual Poetry International Festival. Thousands of poets have shared their work on the stages of De Doelen and the Schouwburg, but also in the city’s squares, parks, and trams. A landmark anniversary like this is an invitation to look back and celebrate the past, but at the same time, Poetry International will be looking ahead. Under the title What Happened to the Future?, the 50th Poetry International Festival unites its rich history with the world’s poems and poets of today and tomorrow.

Festival poets

Audience favorites from the festival’s past will share the stage with the talents of today and tomorrow. Diverse poets from all over the world will come to Rotterdam for the 50th Poetry International Festival. 

Incredible musicians and performances

Together with extraordinary poets and poetry this golden Poetry International Festival presents unexpected acts in the field of music and dance. The eighteen times Grammy-nominated Metropole Orkest will set the festival in motion with a loud kettledrum stroke and will engage in unique duets with some of the performing poets as well as with The Last Poets, the godfathers of hiphop and spoken word, during the 'What Happened to the Future?' opening event. 

The Last Poets [VS]

13 June, opening show

The Last Poets [USA]

As pioneers of the spoken-word genre and precursors of American hiphop, the Last Poets have been a major influence and source of inspiration for writers, rappers and musicians for half a century. The group was formed in 1968, arising out of the civil rights movement, and released their first album in 1970. Since then, the Last Poets – in changing constellations of band members – have continued to produce music and poetry that is always topical and politically provocative. Last year, twenty years after their last album, they – founding members Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan and drummer Baba Donn Babatunde – released Understand What Black Is, a strongly reggae-influenced record that ties into the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course these spoken-word giants had to feature on the Poetry International programme on the occasion of the festival’s 50-year anniversary.

Metropole Orkest [Nederland]

13 June, opening show

Metropole Orkest [the Netherlands]

Eighteen times Grammy-nominated Metropole Orkest (MO) has expanded the meaning of the word “orchestra” – if the term makes you think “classical music”, you’re on the wrong track as far as the Metropole Orkest is concerned. What they do play: pop, soul, funk, cabaret, musicals, movie scores, and world music, from the present day and further back. Over the past 74 years, the MO has collaborated with a host of big names from the music world, including Ella Fitzgerald, Brian Eno, Gregory Porter, Bono, and Snarky Puppy. Headed up by young British chief conductor Jules Buckley, the MO is the last complete hybrid orchestra in the world.



The poetry readings by poets from all over the world together with concerts by great musicians are at the heart of the festival. Specials events take you deeper into various aspects of poetry. 

“What Happened to the Future?”

Festive opening

“What Happened to the Future?”

Th. 13 June, 20:00-21:30 - Grote Zaal
Featuring all festival poets, the Metropole Orkest & The Last Poets

On 13 June, the Metropole Orchestra – nominated for 18 Grammy Awards – will open the 50th Poetry International Festival with a literal bang. In this theatrical kick-off, the orchestra will perform unique duets with poets, including the legendary Last Poets, godfathers of hip hop and spoken word. Inspired by the festival’s theme, “What Happened to the Future?”, poets from the festival’s rich past, such as Judith Herzberg, Antjie Krog, Rita Dove, Raúl Zurita, and Tom Lanoye, will perform side by side with poets of a more recent vintage, such as Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, Koleka Putuma, Patricia Lockwood, Lieke Marsman, Frank Báez, Sayaka Osaki, Ulrike Almut Sandig, and Galina Rymboe. Whether rooted in the past or inspired by the future, their readings will festively raise the curtains on this golden-anniversary edition.

Language no problem

Poetry on the Block

Flashback Friday

Poetry on the Block

Fr. 14 June, 13:30-16:00 
Featuring Charles Bernstein, Swendeline Ersilia and Ischa den Blanken 

From festival hub De Doelen, Poetry International will take you on a poetic walking tour through the heart of Rotterdam. Led by a guide from UrbanGuides, you will discover extraordinary art in public spaces and have surprising encounters with festival poets and spoken-word artists. Explore the city’s hidden stories together!

On Flashback Friday, Poetry on the Block will take you into Rotterdam’s eventful history and Poetry International’s diverse past. The poetic city tour is a journey through time, from the first traces of a small event to the accomplishments of an international poetry festival of global stature. 

Festival poet Charles Bernstein and spoken-word talents Swendeline Ersilia and Ischa den Blanken will provide their own perspectives on the past and connect it to the future.

English spoken tours available. Admission is free if you have a festival passe-partout or day pass for 14 June. De tour departs from De Doelen, Kruisplein 30, Rotterdam. 



De Doelen - Grote Zaal


Entree Jurriaanse zaal


Jurriaanse zaal

Louder than a Bomb - Scholieren Slamfinale
11:15 - 12:15

Jurriaanse foyer podium


Harmoniezaal / Studio

Entree Jurriaanse zaal

Jurriaanse zaal

Jurriaanse foyer podium

Open stage
15:00 - 16:00


Harmoniezaal / Studio


Entree Jurriaanse zaal

Jurriaanse foyer podium

Jurriaanse zaal

Buy Tickets

Pick your favorite festival day – or days – or purchase a passe-partout so you can visit the entire festival. 



Join the golden anniversary’s kick off celebrations!



Access to all readings and events on Friday 14 June (with the exception of workshops)



Access to all readings and events on Friday 14 June (with the exception of workshops)



Access to all readings and events on Friday 14 June (with the exception of workshops)


13, 14, 15 AND 16 JUNE

Access to all festival events (with the exception of workshops)

On now!

Mona Kareem – Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver 2019

Van duisternis ben ik
mijn vaderland is een oude vlinder
mijn gebeden, de woestijn.

Met ondersteuning van het Ludo Pieters Gastschrijversfonds biedt Poetry International jaarlijks een dichter de kans om voor langere tijd in Rotterdam te verblijven en te schrijven. Dit jaar is Mona Kareem onze gast. Van 2 mei tot en met 30 juni 2019 biedt Poetry International Kareem een werkplek in Rotterdam en betrekt haar en haar poëzie bij verschillende initiatieven in de stad - en daarbuiten. Ook is Kareem een van de dichters van het 50e Poetry International Festival.

Mona Kareem werd geboren in Koeweit en woont tegenwoordig in de VS waar zij een PhD in Comparative Literature behaalde. Ze is dichter, maar ook vertaler en journalist. In haar poëzie klinkt een sterke vrouwelijke stem die politieke en maatschappelijke, maar ook persoonlijke problematiek overtuigend verwoordt, waarbij ook plaats is voor humor en lyriek.

Naar aanleiding van haar gastschrijverschap brengt Publication Studio Rotterdam een uitgave met nieuw werk van Kareem uit. Haar werk wordt hiervoor, en voor het festival, naar het Nederlands vertaald door Nisrine Mbarki

Op weg naar het Poetry International Festival is Kareem op de volgende plekken te zien: 

Vrijdag 17 mei
Operadagen, Rotterdam - Opening / Voordracht

Donderdag 23 mei
Buren, Zuiderpershuis Antwerpen - ‘Omega Minor’    

Zaterdag 25 mei
Bosch & De Jong, Rotterdam - Bookstore Day
Kunsthal, Rotterdam - Poetry 50! Proloog III 

Vrijdag 31 mei
Perdu, Amsterdam -
Mona Kareem x Momtaza Mehri: On Lineage and Lingua

Maandag 3 juni
Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam
Masterclass & Voordracht

Zondag 9 juni
Tolhuistuin, Amsterdam
Woorden Worden Zinnen

Proloog 3: Poëzie en beeldende kunst
What Happened to the Future? in Kunsthal Rotterdam
Kunsthal Rotterdam, zaterdag 25 mei, 16:00-17:00u. 

Bij de derde proloog op het 50th Poetry International Festival Rotterdam ligt in Kunsthal Rotterdam de focus op poëzie en beeldende kunst. Kunstenaars Vera van de Seyp en Yara Veloso doken in het rijke Poetry-archief en lieten moderne algoritmen los op de mooiste gedichten die ze daar vonden. Het resultaat is de installatie ‘What Happened to the Future?’ die deze middag voor het eerst te zien zal zijn.

Als kunstenaars zoekt dit duo de grenzen van nieuwe media op. Inmiddels worden we 24/7 blootgesteld aan visuele prikkels. Internet, met name social media, maken beeld steeds belangrijker, maar wat zijn daarvan de gevolgen voor de literatuur? En hoe kunnen beeld en literatuur elkaar versterken? Op experimentele wijze gaan Van de Seyp en Veloso op zoek naar antwoorden, waarbij ze gebruik maken van de laatste technologieën.

Tijdens het openingsprogramma bij deze expositie gaat Jasper Henderson in gesprek met de kunstenaars. Ook hoort u gedichten van festivaldichter en poet-in residence Mona Kareem (Koeweit) en van 010 spoken word artiesten. Met de derde editie van de POETRY 50! QUIZZZ maak je kans op festivalkaarten.

Aansluitend opent om 17:30 uur de tentoonstelling 'De duizelingwekkende verbeelding van Piranesi'

Practical festival information

Following the Opening Night on 13 June the 50th Poetry International Festival will presents three days packed with readings, concerts, workshops, specials, poetic city walks, interviews, award ceremonies and book presentations. Check the changing starting times beforehand! Almost all programs take place or depart from De Doelen, in the heart of the city within a 5-minute walk of Rotterdam Central Station.

Bilderberg Parkhotel

Bilderberg Parkhotel

Name Poetry International when you make your reservation at this beautiful hotel and receive a 10% discount on accomodations and breakfast. You can make reservations using this link: parkhotel.reservation@bilderberg.nl  

Hotel info
The James

The James

The James is nestled comfortably in the heart of the city. Use the discount code 'PoetryInternationalJames' while making a reservation and get 12% off your stay. 

Hotel info
Sparks Hostel

Sparks Hostel

Just a few steps away from festival hub De Doelen, the Sparks Hostel is an affordable stay. Use the discount code 'POETRY50!' and get 10% off if you're booking a stay for two days or more. 

Hostel Info


The 50th Poetry International Festival will kick-off on 13 June in the Main Auditorium of de Doelen. On 14, 15 and 16 June most events will take place in or around the Jurriaanse zaal. De Doelen is situated within walking distance of Rotterdam Central Station

Entrance Main Auditorium – Schouwburgplein 50, Rotterdam
Entrance Jurriaanse zaal – Kruisplein 30, Rotterdam


Nederlands Letterenfonds
Gemeente Rotterdam
Droom en Daad
Lira Fonds
Stichting Dioraphte
Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds