Miriam Van hee (1952-) made her debut with the collection The Frugal Meal (Het karige maal, 1978). This title, with those of her subsequent collections, marked out the boundaries of her poetic world: Inner Rooms and other Poems (Binnenkamers en andere gedichten, 1980), Snowed In (Ingesneeuwd, 1984), Winterhard (1988) and Travelling Money (Reisgeld, 1992). Time and again she is concerned with the contrast between immobility and isolation on the one hand and the desire for activity and movement on the other. And with the dream of making the two of them coincide. The dream, therefore, of security without petrification and adventure without loss of self. All other motifs in her work derive from this Utopian longing: loneliness, melancholy, doubt, farewells, waiting, memory, travel, looking and wandering.
The only attainable compromise, the special places where the First Person of this poetry resides, are waiting rooms and tram shelters: protected spaces, but without warmth; promises of journeys, but with no end to the waiting for them. Or the same thing in reverse: the image of the traveller, looking from behind the window of the moving train at the ever-changing environment, everywhere at home but never for long.
In the collection Travelling Money this nostalgia for the impossible mainly concerns love, the relationship with mother and children. Here too, the dream of perfect happiness is not proof against reality. And Miriam Van hee’s use of language is as reserved and nuanced as the sensory universe of her poetry: sober and direct, but at the same time blurring and suggestive.
By Hugo Brems
Translated by Greta Kilburn
First published in The Low Countries, 1993