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Holland Park Press

Tears, Wrinkles and Soft Fruit

5 January 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

You may have played party games by the Christmas tree with aunt Mathilda, but I spent the festive season with 902 family members! Well, it seemed as if I was spending my time in 902 living rooms; a fascinating spectacle.

This was because I’m on the jury of the Anglo-Dutch Angels & Devils Poetry Competition. Its theme was family relations and we received poems from around the globe. We made a start before the deadline and now we’re down to reading the last few poems.

You could look upon these 902 poems from 902 unique entrants as a worldwide snapshot of thoughts about families. There has been sociological research into the feel-good factor, and the Netherlands and England show high levels of happiness, until you organise a poetry competition about family relationships.

I often sighed: ‘There is much misery on earth’, or ‘Dear God, help us!’ and ‘For this particular father’s sake, this had better not be the winning poem.’

The competition is about finding the best poems, but I would like to discuss the content.

One thing is immediately clear: in-laws don’t get a look in. In other words, in-laws don’t inspire poems.

This reminds me of Mr Deperink, my old German teacher. The lines we had to write down and translate often referred to his ‘Schwiegermutter’ (mother-in-law): ‘Ich warte vor dem Bahnhof auf meine Schwiegermutter.’ Just like back then, I hope this is correct German; it wasn’t my strong point.

Mr Deperink raised his voice to utter: ‘Schokolade Schwiegermutter,’ and he added: ‘mit sch’. He looked as if he spent large chunks of his time waiting for his mother-in-law and as if he despised chocolate. Unfortunately Mr Deperink didn’t enter a poem.

In a few poems family members are cursed to hell, in others actually swiftly dispatched to the other world. In one case an entire family is shot in the first line.

Often children are compared to (soft) fruit, whereas parents are likened to objects. There are a large number of stillborn children and on the whole parents practise vigorous smacking.

It’s remarkable that granddads feature more often than grannies, maybe because granddads die earlier, leaving a more lasting impression. Many granddads were war heroes, but grannies are more likely to have Alzheimer’s.

As a matter of fact, poems about love feature more grandparents than parents. Groovy couples from the sixties don’t seem to make the best of parents.

Young poets exhibit great skill in writing poems with a deeper meaning. While their more mature colleagues often rely on tears and wrinkles to describe their relatives, young poets appeal to the emotions using different means.

One of the poems written by a young teenager makes it clear that he really loves his parents and his sister, yet they don’t have any time for him. He doesn’t use the word, but I’ve begun referring to his entry as ‘the suicide poem’, because it is bereft of hope. Yet the thought occurred to me: if he can put it into words, it may all turn out well.

Another poem is by a young girl; again no tears are shed, but pieces of clothing are removed in each stanza and there are repeated mentions of ‘hands’. It is about sexual abuse without naming it. I nearly contacted the authorities, but that’s not done. After all, we are running a poetry competition. (If you read this, I hope you can show this poem to a trusted someone close to you.)

After having read the poems, I’m left with this question: where are the partners? The number of romantic poems is tiny.

This week a lovely girl of my own age cooked me pumpkin soup. It inspires me to write a poem, a poem without wrinkles or tears, but with assorted vegetables or something involving soft fruit. I’m getting a bit excited already.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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