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Maria Barnas

Maria Barnas

Maria Barnas

(The Netherlands, 1973)
Maria Barnas (1973) is a poet, writer, critic, and visual artist. She studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Her poetry debut, Twee zonnen (Two Suns, 2003), won the C. Buddingh’ Prize, and in 2009 she received the J.C. Bloem Prize for Er staat een stad op (A City Rises, 2007). Her collection Ja, ja, de oerknal (Yeah-yeah the Big Bang), was nominated for the 2014 VSB Poetry Prize.
Both her work as a visual artist and her poetry often deal with the depiction of reality in mediums that distort that reality. Language, words, and the variety and materiality of language are also key issues in Nachtboot (Night Ferry), nominated for De Grote Poëzieprijs. In the poem “Woordbij” (word bee), which was inspired by a letter from Anne Sexton to Sylvia Plath, Barnas writes:

Ze schreef me een bij.
Ik hoor de kwade vleugels’
Een woord is niet een bij.
Het ligt al dagen stil
in de vensterbank
zo licht van dood
dat ik het uit
wil spreken.

Perhaps exactly because of the treacherous nature of language when it comes to retaining meaning, Barnas’ language is clear. Enjambments are not used to disrupt meaning and understanding, but to facilitate them. Her poetic form in Nachtboot is consistent, with relatively short lines and mostly two- or three-line stanzas. This ensures that the collection forms a cohesive whole.

Barnas pairs the abstract issue of language with a personal approach in her more intimate poems about desire, relationships, and physicality, and about death and the fear of an uncertain future. Captivating observations during a walk through Kreuzberg in Berlin result in the strong series entitled “Gute Nacht Einsamkeit” (Goodnight Einsamkeit): “Het is de stad waar ik wel wil leven / maar ik blijf steken bij Klavierradikalismus.” Here, too, it is language that is the obstacle.
© Feline Streekstra (Translated by Florian Duijsens ), Poetry International

A year after it was published, Twee zonnen received the C. Buddingh’ Prize, one of Holland’s most important debut prizes. The jury of that prize considered her work, “contemplative, musical poetry, desperate and humorous, powerful and brittle, with a transparency that gets more complex on re-reading”. Although similar words could be used to generally describe her second collection, Er staat een stad op (A City Rises, 2007), the poet’s style has clearly evolved: Barnas loosens her grip on syntax and widens her focus. Meanwhile, sharp observations seem to overrule contemplation, and a light, slightly frightening sense of violence enters her poems now and again. Her craftsmanship, which critics praised in Twee zonnen, is still there, but it’s put to use in a more nonchalant manner.

Barnas still combines her various artistic trades, and added writing poetry reviews, a libretto and plays for theatre and radio to the list, but writing poetry is at the centre of her activities. As she once told a reporter of the Dutch daily Trouw, she always needs to find a solution for something in a poem first, before she can start thinking about it in any other form.

Jaja de oerknal (Yeah-yeah the Big Bang) was nominated for the VSB Poetry Prize 2014, and her most recent collection Nachtboot (2018) was nominated for the De Grote Poëzieprijs 2019.

(Thomas Möhlmann, 2008)



Twee zonnen (Two Suns), De Arbeiderspers, Amserdam 2004
Er staat een stad op (A City Rises), De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam 2007
Jaja de oerknal, De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam 2013
Nachtboot, Van Oorschot, Amsterdam 2018.

Engelen van ijs (novel), De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam 1997
De baadster (novel), De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam 2000

Published translations
In: Vamos a Ibiza (Spanish, catalogue), translated by Diego Puls, Groninger Museum, 2007
In: By heart - Uit het hoofd (English, anthology), translated by Sarah Corbett, Antony Dunn, Daljit Nagra, Five Leaves, Nottingham 2006
In: Dias Abertos (Portuguese, anthology), translated by Fernando Venâncio, Culturgest, Lisboa 2006
Dutch edition of Carapace Magazine (English, South Africa), translated by Willem Groenewegen and John Irons, in: Carapace, no. 53, 2005
Mlada nizozemska poezija (Slovenian, anthology), translated by Katjusa Ruciga, in: Mentor, XXVII, nr.1-2, 2006
Uit Nederland (German, anthology), translated by Ulrike Draesner, Norbert Hummelt, Marlene Müller-Haas, Marinus Pütz and Jan Wagner, in: Drehpunkt: Die Schweizer Literaturzeitschrift, nr.122, 2005


In Dutch

Barnas at VPRO, including Audio.
Barnas and Rembrandt: a poem
De Arbeiderspers, Barnas' publisher

Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Lira fonds
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère