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Peter Holvoet-Hanssen

Peter Holvoet-Hanssen

Peter Holvoet-Hanssen

(Belgium, 1960)
Peter Holvoet-Hanssen’s trilogy Houdini’s Straitjacket (1998), Strombolicchio (1999) and Santander (2001) blew a fresh wind across the Flemish poetic landscape. Emulating Houdini, Holvoet-Hanssen stretched boundaries and wriggled out of manacles, all while alluding to the accepted constraints of the poetic form.

The poet aptly calls himself an ambassador of the "active ingredient", never afraid to bring life’s extremes together in his adventurous work. He combines highbrow with lowbrow, the inaccessible with the accessible, humour with emotion, daily routine with insanity. The theatrical and the musical are characteristic of his work, and he is much in demand as a performer at literary events as a result. The diptych Spinalonga (2005) and Navagio (2008) completed his earlier journey into poetry.
Then, in The Trip to Inframundo (2011), Peter Holvoet-Hanssen presented a challenging selection of poems taken from the five previous collections, altering the original chronology and combining poems in new ways. Thus he constructed a completely fresh collection in which he followed emerging trails  before they could fade away. The book marked the starting point of a new journey.

Two volumes of a new trllogy have been already published. In these the poet goes on a quest inspired by Paul Van Ostaijen, who introduced modernism to poetry in Flanders at the beginning of the twentieth century, and who followed a line of poetic development that began with Guido Gezelle. Typically for Holvoet-Hanssen, he focuses on the musicality of Van Ostaijen's poems and now writes what he calls "music box poems", which contain a soothing musicality but also express the most haunting and terrifying themes, as in Jalalabad Blues.

Treblinka, Sobidor, Nagasaki – kamikaze-aviator: crystal-splinter-death-creator,
I staggered forth, bludgeoned blue as the frozen ghost of the Deep Dark Hole
in Johannesburg, in the fifth isolation cell, sjamboks
Ho Chi Minh, Phnom Penh, the river was red,
Sarajevo’s bleeding grit, remember the images on your TV screens
1999: grandma mutters in the wheelbarrow – from Pristina to Neprošteno,       
earthquakes carrying the suffering of war, confluence of rubble and blood
at your mouth Muzaffarabad Kashmir necropolis
not a jumper but blue like children freezing in sackcloth and ashes

♫        [Tr. Astrid Alben]

In addition, Holvoet-Hanssen has developed into a real ambassador of his own poetry on stage, and also a promotor of poetry as such. He served as the poet laureate of the city of Antwerp from 2010 till 2012 and wrote an essay on the importance of poetry on request of the Flemish Fund for Literature. In this essay he goes on a trip through world poetry as if it were a treasure hunt, which Brecht Evens, an internationally well-known illustrator and graphic novelist, drew as an imaginary map of world poetry. See: The World of Poetry Mapped: The Land of Music-Hall

To date, Peter Holvoet-Hanssen has also published two novels, The Flying Monk (2004) and Salt Scraper. Expeditions (2014). Together with Koen Broucke, Koen Peeters and Pascal Verbeken, he published Miavoye. A Pilgrimage to Paul Van Ostaijen with De Bezige Bij Antwerpen in 2014.

© Tom van de Voorde and Patrick Peeters
Selected bibliography
Dwangbuis van Houdini (Houdini’s Straitjacket), Prometheus, Amsterdam,1998
Strombolicchio, Bert Bakker, Amsterdam,1999
Santander, Bert Bakker, Amsterdam, 2001
Spinalonga, Bert Bakker, Amsterdam, 2005
Navagio, Prometheus, Amsterdam, 2008
De reis naar Inframundo (The Trip To Inframundo), Prometheus, Amsterdam, 2011

Antwerpen/Oostende, Prometheus, Amsterdam, 2012

Gedichten voor de kleine reus (Poems For The Little Giant), Polis, Antwerpen, 2016

Blauwboek. Gedichten voor de grote reuzin (Blue Book. Poems For The Big Giantess), Polis, Antwerpen, 2018

French Translations appeared in Le verre est un liquide lent, 33 poètes néerlandais (Farrago, Paris, 2003), Littérature en Flandre (Le Castor Astral, Paris, 2003), Ici on parle flamand & français, une fameuse collection de poèmes belges (Le Castor Astral, Paris, 2005) and in the magazine, Action Poètique (2006/1)
Selection of poems in German, in Keine triste Isolde, Gegenwartslyrik aus Flandern und den Niederlanden, Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen, 2007

Literary prizes
Flemish Debut Prize (1999)

Dirk Martens Prize (2001)

Flemish Culture Prize for Poetry (2008)

Paul Snoek Poetry Prize (2010)

The Ark Prize of the Free Word (2012)

Louis Paul Boon Prize (2019) 

The works of Peter Holvoet-Hanssen are published by Prometheus .
and by Polis
Peter Holvoet-Hanssen on Lyrikline
A documentary about Peter Holvoet-Hanssen as the city poet laureate of Antwerp


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