Teaching of Literature
I spent Easter with my family and my eldest nephew suddenly declared: ‘Poetry leaves me cold.’ Luckily his parents’ bookshelves contained a copy of my own poetry collection as well as the ‘Big Komrij’ (main Dutch poetry anthology). So I took the opportunity to read aloud my poem combat boots (soldatenlaarzen). ‘Actually it is about me,’ I whispered. As I was in full flow, I also recited Slauerhoff’s In The Netherlands (In Nederland). This poem very famously starts with these lines: ‘In the Netherlands, I do not want to dwell/ One’s desires are forever reigned in as well’.
I carried on and added a sonnet by Jean Pierre Rawie, about a dying father, and A Picture (Een foto) by William Wilmink. The latter is about what a German soldier’s child thinks when, years later, he looks at a picture of his smiling father in occupied Holland. All very accessible poems that also convey an extra layer of meaning that goes beyond the actual words. So my nephew agreed: ‘Yes, I do like these poems.’
He attends the Gymnasium, so how is it possible that his Dutch language teacher cannot convey a love of poetry? Unfortunately many people have experienced this as part of their initiation into literature during their school years. I was no exception except during the lessons taught by Father Bennink, who knew exactly how to engage his pupils.
Father Bennink was entirely trustworthy, if just a bit of an old-fashioned Jesuit. He didn’t do informality but Dr Bennink used all his efforts to teach us his love of literature. When he explained the finer points of poetry, you could hear a pin drop. Some of the writers he introduced to us actually had been his pupils, he said in a voice thick with emotion. He couldn’t have known then that 25 years later I would publish my debut novel.