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New Dutch Poems

February 05, 2020
If a theme may be said to run through the work of these Dutch poets featured on Poetry International Archives, it may be self-consciousness – of the body, first of all, and gender and ethnicity. Poetry’s traditional role, a contemplative approach to life as it is lived, and lost, is also present.
1. There is almost no personal/social issue missing from Simone Atangana Bekono’s ‘I wrote a poem about myself’. It deals with the art of creating a persona in verse and finding instead the most loathsome of the world’s projections onto black women: “I am an apelike jazz musicians doll”; “I am a religious fanatic/ with yellow eyeballs and a hoarse-screamed mouth”. The situation is so dire that, Atangana Bekono writes, “I feel no bond with my given name” –

I lie on the floor drunk and see patterns on the ceiling
the boy on the floor next to me is a child I want to acquaint
with my darkest thoughts
to destroy him
to educate him   
[Translation: David Colmer]

2. Men too write of themselves in terms of disembodiment and alienation. “I will dismantle myself”, if a love-affair ends, says Roelof ten Napel in ‘Machine’. [Tr. Michele Hutchison] Ten Napel’s debut collection was nominated for the 2019 The Grand Poetry Prize, as well as the C. Buddingh’ Prize for best Dutch-language poetry debut.

3. Curacao-born and raised Radna Fabias is the winner of the 2019 Grand Poetry Prize and the 2018 C. Buddingh’ Prize for best Dutch-language poetry debut. She, unlike the poets cited above, seems optimistic in ‘Gieser Wildeman’, but then perhaps she’s just being ironic:

i am a woman and i am sufficient
there is no emptiness
in me   
[Translation: David Colmer]

4. Kira Wuck’s ‘The sea is hungry’ offers what is perhaps a soothing yet sad philosophical riff on a beach scene:
below us swim children without hunger
most of all we wish we could go back to the moment
before everything began to falter             
[Translation: Michele Hutchison]

5. Maarten van der Graaff (2014 C. Buddingh’ Prize) is a poet who “stands firmly situated in the current day and reports his findings without holding back’, according to fellow Dutch writer Thomas Möhlmann. Destruction is our diction” writes van der Graaff in his List of Rituals, serious, but laden with odd suggestions:
Wait for your psychologist to go on vacation.
Pitch a tent in her garden.
Go sit in the tent in a faded yellow robe .
Take a sheet of paper and write down the title
Civic songs.
Write civic songs at a three-day stretch.       
[Translation: Willem Groenewegen]

6. Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (2015 C. Buddingh Prize) works part time on a dairy farm. About her first book of poems, the jury of the C. Buddingh’ Prize noted: “She shows that there is no true separation between the inside and the outside world; through the screen of words we peer inside as if through a membrane.” In her ‘Until someone traces me’, she writes about a perhaps imagined/perhaps real reader:
I look again at the hunter in the
chair, gutlessly flipping through the pages of my first poetry collection
if it were slices of deli-meat hes testing for freshness, occasionally
quoting a phrase that I find fitting for many people but no longer
fits me    
[Translation: Sarah Timmer Harvey]

7. Frank Keizer, according to a Dutch critic, uses “a colloquial-sounding tone with political-philosophic jargon. Using these building blocks, he construes an oeuvre and determines a position antithetical to the late-capitalist present time.” In ‘For Herman Gorter’ – an ode to a twentieth-century Marxist poet – Keizer writes:
Dear Gorter I love you
I think youre so special
Id like to say it with all my heart
and I will say it with all my heart
and everyone thinks I’m making a joke
or being provocative      
[Transalation: Donald Gardner]

8. In Lieke Marsman’s ‘Identity politics are a fad, you say’, the speaker answers:

And I say, Fads are our political identity
Manifestations of our political choices
deeply rooted in who we are
fads and trends are the gateways
the last available lifeboats
in the artificial wave pool of our image-centred age 
[Translation: Sophie Collins]

The latest book by Marsman (C. Buddingh’ Prize and the Lucy B. and C.W. van der Hoogt Prize) ––The Following Scan Will Last Five Minutes – was written after she was diagnosed with cancer and deals with illness and healthcare as well as the state of contemporary Dutch politics.

9. Maartje Smits is an innovator who has used chat bots and AI to generate poetic texts. According to Poetry International Archives Netherlands editor Jan-Willem Anker, Smits “has a keen eye for human influence on Dutch landscape and for climate change, which has become an ominous reality in recent years […] ecofeminism has finally reached Dutch poetry.” Sometimes, Smits mixes languages in her work, as in ‘Meer legs’:
I would möchte be
a frauship's shallow schouwdek
a bitsy bitchy lust objection
with dikke thighs
dikes off all men deck
deilig thighs bulk carriers that
tar all, tenderly tegen affection
[Translation: Vivien D. Glass]

10. Finally, the much-loved Rotterdam poet Jules Deelder (1944-2019), a fount of humor and irony, “dished up in an uncut Rotterdam accent” and who performed to delighted audiences at the 50th Poetry International Festival Rotterdam in June, winds up this archive tour with his ‘Repetition poem’:
Some poems should be
rewritten every day
Just the same old poem
every day again.
Other poems shouldn’t.
Others however are best left
These are by far the majority.
But some poems
should be rewritten every day.
Just the same old poem
every day again.
Until it is woven
irreversibly with our being
and with reality is
fabricated into truth.    
[Translation: Scott Emblen-Jarrett]
And don’t miss his take on one of poetry’s everlasting subjects, ‘Death’.

Find out more about Dutch poetry at New Dutch Writing.

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© Lisa Katz & Jan van Hemert
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
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Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Gefinancierd door de Europese Unie
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Stichting Verzameling van Wijngaarden-Boot
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