A Return to Poetry
For the first time in fourteen years I am in what can be called a ‘proper’ job. No longer do I only take students at the Arnhem Creative Writing School under my wing but I also supervise beginning writers on the one to one course I run for Holland Park Press. I work with the publisher on building the company and scout for Dutch authors with work that has an affinity with the English language market. However, after a busy six months start-up period, things are progressing nicely and I have time again to work on my own writing. All of a sudden poetry appears centre stage.
Not that poetry is ever far from my mind, so however busy I’ve been, I have continued writing poems when something of importance happened, this could be about unrequited love or to celebrate a special occasion. Now that I have collected them all, I am surprised about how many poems I actually did write. Now it has to grow into a collection.
My first novel De koning van Tuzla (King of Tuzla) has its companion poetry collection, Soldatenlaarzen, now re-published under the title of Joegoslavisch requiem (and Yugoslav Requiem in English). Likewise my second novel Engel (Angel) should be accompanied by a set of poems and this collection is in progress.
This week, Philip Larkin’s poems worked their way into my column Voorbij de x-factor (Beyond the X Factor). I love the seemingly simplicity of his poems, the non-religious spirituality of a poem such as High Windows and the artistry which makes his personal observations acquire universal appeal. Larkin gives every day things an inimitable quality.
I now remember that it was such a long time ago when I read my first Larkin poems. For inspiration, I am re-reading his biography: Philip Larkin, A Writer’s Life by Andrew Motion. Larkin too, took his time writing poetry. The first few lines could form themselves quickly, for example on page 373 it says: "On the same evening that he wrote ‘Annus Mirabilis’, Larkin began ‘This Be The Verse’ (which he eventually finished four years later in the spring of 1971)." The first stanza of the latter poem made it into my column. You don’t have to agree with Larkin’s view of the world but it does make you think. This effect gives his poems their universal appeal.
Looking at the date I inscribed at the start of the biography: 11 April 1993, I realised that I was still in the army when I bought this book. Back then it made me think: so this is how you can write. The idea on which the poem is based and the form are important, of course, but so too it is how you view what is happening around you and the fact that this gets recognised by the readers. On the whole, poets lead quite ordinary lives, they just have their own unique way of observing reality.
It will take a while before my new collection is ready for publication. One or two years? That could well be what it takes, especially as one should avoid submitting work for publication too early. I think that, at least in the case of Dutch poetry, this happens far too often. Poets can get work published too soon, but also they simply write too much. Your work has to mature and you need to give it time to come together by fine-tuning it. This turns it into a well-rounded collection and all of a sudden a theme emerges.
I will keep you informed.