Fate Decided Otherwise

In October 2005 I interviewed the Dutch writer Henk van Woerden for the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad. There in the Amsterdam art gallery Espace, where his novel Ultramarine (Ultramarijn) was being launched and there was an exhibition of his drawings and photos, he told me that he was ‘dog-tired’. He attributed his fatigue to jetlag.…

Kees the Traveller

Kees buys a passport, stuffs his purse, and wants to see the world; hurtles through space and shrinks, by train, a hundred hours to – ten. Kees looks around, with reeling head, and wipes his spectacles; the whole world seems to lurch and spin to plague him as he drowses. Kees gives a moan and…

Night Train

This then, all told. An alien and threadbare gaze in misted window-pane. That severed head, that Hitler minus the moustache: that’s me? Can ever a fond mother have believed in that conceited stuck-up grouch? My god, where is the pillager who slept with Valkyries, the poet who rode his birds and violins? I am so…

From Africa to Africa

The Return of a Dead Traveller An Extract from Frank Westerman’s El Negro and Me December 1983. In a Spanish museum of natural history, nineteen-year-old Frank Westerman finds himself standing face to face with a stuffed African — El Negro. Who is this man? Who stuffed his body? Twenty years later, the author follows El…

The Train

One day when I was travelling Out of town, and sitting in the train, And there in silent resignation Patiently waited till the time – By the slow progress of the clock – Should come for my train to depart, It happened that a train was switched Into the platform next to mine And passed…

Four Poems

The Mill Deep in the evening slowly turns the mill Against a sky with melancholy pale; It turns and turns, its muddy-coloured sail Is infinitely heavy, tired, and ill. Its arms, complaining arms, in the dawn’s pink Rose, rose and fell; and in this o’ercast eve, And deadend nature’s silence, still they heave Themselves aloft,…

A Beacon for Europe

Emile Verhaeren 1855-1916 Tolerant but indifferent to so many of her distinguished visitors, England made no exception in the case of Emile Verhaeren, the ‘fair-haired young Belgian poet’, wrote Beatrice Worthing. (1) Though the poet came to Britain almost annually from the 1880s onwards, appreciation of his work did not extend beyond a small band of enthusiastic…

Such is our proud, though oft-diluted, Dutch heritage

An Extract from John Updike’s A Letter to My Grandsons The Updikes came to this continent in two installments. The first and more distinguished, the Wesel Updikes, arrived in New Amsterdam, in the person of Gysbert op den Dyck, before 1638. Gysbert — like Peter Minuit, the first governor of New Netherland — came from…

Notice to Travellers

They open and close you then they talk like they know you they don’t know you Joni Mitchell Within me there’s a sea and that is me. It’s ten years now since I last saw myself. Each time I journey to me, half-way there I turn around and come back empty-handed. Somebody says it really…

Two Extracts

Hands over my ears ‘Can I have another vodka and orange?’ asked Carla. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m off home then.’ ‘Fine.’ ‘Are you coming?’ ‘Maybe. I haven’t finished my whisky and coke.’ ‘OK, I’ll wait.’ She waited while I took my time. ‘I thumped someone tonight,’ I said as I drank, ‘for no reason, just…

‘Nothing worthwhile ever happens, except maybe some acts of consolation’

Literature according to Herman Brusselmans Herman Brusselmans, the self-proclaimed Handsome Young Jupiter of Flemish literature, is nothing if not prolific. Since his debut in 1982 he has published two books a year with clockwork regularity and his total production now exceeds thirty titles. His first effort, a collection of stories, was not an immediate hit, but in the novels…

The Traveller 

The traveller travels to and fro From Amsterdam to Hengelo And sometimes too to Krommenie, To Beetserzwaag and Middellie. He reads his paper on the train And always takes his case with him He has a high white collar on Speaks not a word to anyone Sits there in silence by the window The traveller…

Travel Letter

dear friend how splendid things are here the cows in calf call forth a tear the railway track winds through the dale a woman runs the waterfall a meadow rings each house or farm that all beguile with postcard charm folk shuffle past at measured pace and not a step do they retrace it’s said…

Steaming

Steaming, steaming, steaming! Clear across the world! I’ve got myself a seat on The longest line there is. Just seven days I’m taking For a quick trip to Japan, In that wooden wagon, Driver! How’s your steam? Steaming, steaming, steaming! Flying down the track! Who wants to just sit dreaming Can go by horse and…

‘Cast off the names that others had applied’

On the Poet Gerrit Achterberg The ‘repulsive oeuvre of a dangerous psychopath’ or ‘the Netherlands’ greatest poet’: Gerrit Achterberg (1905-1962) is undoubtedly the most controversial figure in twentieth-century poetry. A hundred years after his birth he is still either acclaimed or reviled, as was apparent once again in the responses to the new edition of…

Two Poems

Charlady She knows the underneath of wardrobe and of bed, rough wooden floorboards and forgotten nooks, and crawling forward on all fours she looks less like a human than a quadruped. Her life to lower surfaces is wed; she toils away to beautify their looks for feet of grocers, preachers, men of books, since rank…