Final day of the Poetry International Festival in the Trompenburg Gardens, Rotterdam

One could not have ordered a more idyllic setting for the final poetry readings of the 49th Poetry International festival, than the one we enjoyed in the Trompenburg Gardens yesterday. Under the branches of an oak, clear blue sky overhead,  soft green grass underfoot, a crowd of 30 or more gathered to listen to the voices of Marie de Quatrebarbes (France), Dolores Dorantes (Mexico), Joost Baars (the Netherlands) and Nachoem M. Wijnberg (the Netherlands) read selected poems.

‘I’d like to write sentences nested like Russian dolls’ – Marie de Quatrebarbes.

Presented by fellow Dutch poet, Tsead Bruinja, as ‘utterly idiosyncratic’, Marie’s prose poems are indeed eclectic potpourris – composed of fragments and snippets from dreams and fairy tales, internet conversations, nursery rhymes, folk stories and more. Humour, word play and childhood memories all feature in this young poet’s work but her experimental approach to form, especially her refusal to provide a consistent voice or clear subject matter, is reminiscent of modernist poets such as Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. However, her strong roots in the French literary scene are emphasised by her work in Paris’ literary underground. She started a journal dedicated to poetry in translation, La Tête et les cornes in 2014 together with Maёl Guesdon, working on another called,  série z and editing the collected poems of experimental 1970’s poet, Michel Couturier. All these, along with her  studies at a number of Paris art schools, perhaps explain the evident traces of Gilles Deleuze’s theory and Marcel Duchamp’s art in her work. Poems such as Childhood lived in the toilets are simultaneously comic and tragic while the juxtaposition of apparently quotidian events like ‘putting things away’ and the matter-of-fact recognition of ‘her dog’s face in Clint Eastwood’s, charms with its originality while perplexing with the absurd.

Dead dogs and rustling trees.

Joost Baars’s readings were notable first and foremost for the highly onomatopoeic quality of their delivery – the relish with which he rolled his tongue around the guttural ‘g’s’ and ‘r’s’ of his native language gave his poems a strong physical presence. One in particular, Het geritsel van bomen is (The Rustling of the Trees is) seemed especially appropriate given the beautiful setting under the trees.  But the apparent simplicity of this poem and others in his collection, Binneplaats,  belies a  strong transcendental current that flows through much of his work. It is perhaps not so surprising that Joost is a devoted disciple of British poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins some of whose work he has translated into Dutch. Similar to Hopkins, Joost draws on the apparently small, everyday realities of life such as a chair, his balcony at home or the pet dog of his childhood, in order to explore the deeper meanings that may lie beneath. In the act of naming, meaning is created. However, unlike Hopkins, the ‘You’ so frequently addressed in his poems varies in its identity – sometimes a lover, sometimes the speaker himself or a friend and sometimes a higher power. A bookseller for many years, it was only in 2017, that Joost’s debut volume, Binnenplaats earned him nominations for the C.Buddingh’ and VSB poetry prizes.

His success has not been easily or immediately achieved. Yet his story is not so different from many other poets whom I have had the pleasure of meeting in the past few days. Although they hail from all over the world, their love of the word as an art form and their perseverance, often in challenging personal circumstances, is a common thread that unites all of these dedicated artists. The Poetry International Festival plays an important role in bringing these many talented people together and providing the public with a wonderful opportunity to enjoy their work. Looking forward to next year, the Poetry International Festival will be celebrating half a century of doing just this. Speaking with one of the curators, Feline Streekstra, she told me that all sorts of additional activities and publications are already being prepared for next year’s 50th Poetry International Festival. Don’t miss out!      Souwie Buis    4th June 2018


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