Holland, they say …

The soil was marshy. We sang about the lush green grass. What did we know? One island further on as proof of this the Biesbosch lay. Mudflats and silt were closer still. I never went there. I sat in the class, sung of a land that lay almost beneath the waves. At ebb my brother…

An Extract from ‘Choke Valley’

I love stories, be they true, plausible or pure fantasy. As a writer, I occasionally plant a new story in the forest of existing tales. The idea for this book came to me in 2009, the Year of Darwin, when Teylers Museum in Haarlem invited me to participate in an exhibition about two legendary ships:…

It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

On the Work of Frank Westerman It’s not uncommon that a band’s first album is its most exciting. The debut has a raw power. The first light of all the stars that will twinkle in this musical universe can be discerned. Later work may gain in technical control, compositional sophistication and musical depth, but it…

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Sinologist and Essayist Simon Leys (1935-2014) Simon Leys died on 11 August 2014 in Sydney, Australia, where he lived for the final years of his life. All the major French magazines published articles or dug out old interviews. The New York Review of Books reposted online ‘The Man Who Got it Right’, a review of Leys’ last English publication, The Hall…

Two Poems

Four Ways of Waiting for Someone 1 Sitting. Thinking of lying. Hands smoothing the tablecloth around a dish that’s difficult and much too much for two and not like the picture, but smells fantastic, out through the windows, doing its best not to collapse, like a sucked-in tummy trying not to bulge – inversion too…

Oddball Amazement and Restless Waywardness

The Polymorphous Work of Joke Van Leeuwen Joke van Leeuwen’s airy, apparently casual manner of bending language to her will is quite unparalleled. Time and again she comes up with new free forms, cast in a mildly absurd style, cleverly starting the reader or spectator off on the wrong foot and creating wilful characters who watch the…

‘There Is Infinite Enrichment in Perishing’

Leo Vroman was the sort of poet who seemed to have been around forever and promised to go on for just as long. When I learned to read as a child, a volume of his collected poems entitled Gedichten 1946-1984 (Poems 1946-1984) had recently been published to mark his seventieth birthday. When I first became…

Sea

What you imagine is my voice, that rustling and complaint that’s how you gainsay me, you who long for my silence. I saw, luxuriating, a sacred landscape, blessed even without your words, turned into myself. Your hunting adds nothing to me, you are nothing but your questions. No, it is quite different, even without you…

Deeper and Deeper into the Forest

On the Work of Oek de Jong Before the publication of Pier en oceaan (Pier and Ocean, 2012), I asked myself once or twice whether it would be more accurate to refer to the work of Oek de Jong’s ‘pens’ rather than the work of his ‘pen’. After all, each new book bearing his name…

Westward

High through late light the white birds heading west flew over that had not a thing to gain from knowledge of twigs or building a nest. I was still young, but won’t forget again the spirit, the whoosh of the wings, the cries of the exalted ones; no joy or pain holds souls together, obsessed…

Crab

The border of sand and water is vague with no clear lines. By a clump of seaweed a white gull nabs a green crab. Impatiently it pecks, pecks, pecks the belly open and gorges on the soft and flaky innards. Flat-footed it knocks on the rest of the crab, which has long since stopped moving:…

With a View of the Landscape

The Poetic World of Miriam Van hee The Flemish poet Miriam Van hee, born in Ghent in 1952, read Slavonic studies at university and has translated poetry by Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam and Joseph Brodsky into Dutch. She debuted in 1978 with Het karige maal (‘The scanty meal’) and has since published ten collections, including…

At Sea

I looked at you you looked at nothing you’d something special with the sea its hissing roar stole you away from me your eyes I said they are so blue you closed them then I asked myself what you were thinking you lay so quiet I couldn’t hear you breathe I said I’d write a…

Three letters

W. Bilderdijk to K.W. Schweickhardt Brunswick, 19 February 1800 My only dearest! I have only time to tell you I am somewhat better, and convey my-self this letter to the post: yes I sufferd these three days unspeakeably with heathache attended with some delirium. I am impatient of your intelligence. As for the present I…

Two Poems

Tobacco-Smoking (1828) He did with Godforsaken hand Break his old father’s neck indeed Who first that fatal stinking weed Imported to the Fatherland. He gave the loathsome worm-like brood Of weak and filthy languor food With this brain-drugging magic dust: He smothered muscle-power and zeal, Robbed poor mankind of life’s appeal, For this drunken and…

A Poor, Inspired and Melancholy Poet

Willem Bilderdijk, a Calvinist Celebrity On December 18, 1831, the Dutch poet Willem Bilderdijk (1756-1831) drew his last breath. This brought to an end the life of one of the most colourful, influential and versatile figures of the early nineteenth century in the Netherlands. Bilderdijk didn’t just write poetry, he was also a jurist, linguist…

The Great Flood

two days on the roof, she said lately, but yes, they left the hospital much later still I was eight, just, my brother four – I don’t know as many fairy stories now as then: Mother Hulda was a godsend on the roof was there much water in her well? he loved questions like that,…