(The Netherlands, 1923 - 2014)
© Pieter Vandermeer
BiographyGerrit Kouwenaar was first published in clandestine publications during World War II. After the war he earned a living as a translator (a.o. Sartre, Dürrenmatt and Brecht) and journalist. Together with a.o. Lucebert and Hugo Claus he was a leading member of the 50s Movement and edited the influential anthology Vijf 5tigers. His volumes een geur van verbrande veren (a smell of burnt feathers, 1991) and de tijd staat open (time is wide open, 1996) have won him universal critical acclaim as well as the important VSB Poetry Prize.
Writing poetry is thus an extremely paradoxical activity for Kouwenaar: it is “murder” (bringing things to a halt) in order to escape from death (total standstill); it is a settling of accounts with one’s own transience in order to attain an eternity in which one escapes from one’s own mortality. It is, as Kouwenaar himself described it, “the osmosis of eternity and impermanence”, “something that holds its ground on the edge of loss”. The result is poetry which deals above all with the possibilities and impossibilities of poetry itself. Poetry in which an attempt is made “to put silence to music/ but keep the name silent”.
In Kouwenaar’s early poetry death is a poetic concept but in the volumes that have appeared since the collected poems in 1982 – het blindst van de vlek (the blindest of the spot, 1982), het ogenblik: terwijl (the moment: while, 1987), een geur van verbrande veren (a smell of burnt feathers, 1991), de tijd staat open (time is wide open, 1996) – a gradual change is apparent. For the poet the killed, eternal reality of the poem seems to display more and more similarities with his own biological death. “The word is dead, it must be writ,” writes Kouwenaar now, in the realisation that writing as action, as deed, is the only thing that can offer solace in the face of the suddenly menacing standstill and eternity of the word that has been written and is fixed forever in his letters.
Despite the heaviness of this theme, the tone of Kouwenaar’s poetry is still generally cheerful and militant. Delicious meals are enjoyed and glasses are raised. He might have finished the roast game of the main course, but he is still enjoying the ripe word melon, and he still concludes these poems by pouring himself a glass of the water of life and observing: “here in my dusk the old full life still shoots sparks/ and postponed flesh bickers with the mind”.
© Erik MenkveldBibliography
Achter een woord, U.M. Holland, Amsterdam, 1953
Hand o.a, U.M. Holland, Amsterdam, 1956
De Ondoordringbare Landkaart, A.A.M. Stols, Den Haag, 1957
Het Gebruik van Woorden, J. Heijnis, Zaandijk, 1958
De stem op de 3e etage, Querido, Amsterdam, 1960
Zonder Namen, Querido, Amsterdam, 1962
Landschappen en andere gebeurtenissen, Querido, Amsterdam, 1974
Volledig volmaakte oneetbare perzik, Querido, Amsterdam, 1978
Gedichten 1948 - 1978, Querido, Amsterdam, 1982
Het blindst van de vlek, Querido, Amsterdam, 1982
Het ogenblik: terwijl, Querido, Amsterdam, 1987
Een eter in het najaar, Querido, Amsterdam, 1989
Er is geen elders waar het anders is, Querido, Amsterdam, 1993
De tijd staat open, Querido, Amsterdam, 1996
Helder maar grijzer. Gedichten 1978 - 1996, Querido, Amsterdam, 1998
Totaal witte kamer, Querido, Amsterdam, 2002
Het bezit van een ruïne, Querido, Amsterdam, 2005
Ik heb nooit, Eikeldoorpers, Apeldoorn, 2005
De ochtend, Uitgeverij 69, Hilversum, 2006
Vallende stilte (selected poems), Querido, Amsterdam, 2008
Uren en sigaretten (novellas) 1946
Negentien-nu (novel) 1950
Ik was geen soldaat (novel) 1951
Val, bom (novella) 1956
Collections of translations of Gerrit Kouwenaar's poetry have appeared with Kleinheinrich (Germany, 1996), Limes (Germany, 1972), Artistow (Poland, 1986), Ellerströms (Sweden, 2001) and in numerous anthologies and magazines.
Poems of Gerrit Kouwenaar
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère