‘We have become so attached to our freedoms that we take them for granted’

Actor and poet Ramsey Nasr was inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s letters to the Poetry Week gift. “If you do not care about the story, you will continue to make the same mistakes. Then there is always a new Van Gogh.”

Janita Monna

The conversation is already coming to an end – the phone insistently warns that the next interviewer is waiting – as Ramsey Nasr almost breaks through the screen with infectious enthusiasm: “Do you know what I think is a miracle? That we now communicate in abstract sounds that we have assigned meaning to, and that those words trigger something in your and my head. And that it is even more extreme when reading. That humans can invent a parallel world. A world of letters found in the imagination. A world that is real, and not. I think it’s as great a miracle as the origin of life. It is the power of drama, of literature, of poetry. ”

Writer and actress Ramsey Nasr wrote for the ten-year-long Poetry Week, which began Thursday, We were enchanted† Everyone who buys a collection of poems next week gets this poem gift for free: ten new poems. Nasr’s first poetry in a long time.

What made you not write poems?

“Well, I did things, but after 2013 I was done with poetry. Or no, I should say that differently, ‘be done with it’ is such an ugly, irrational, typically Dutch expression. No, after four years as Poet Laureate, I had pretty much used all the oxygen for my own poetry. I wanted something radically different. ”

The Dutch identity dealing with culture, with one’s own history, between 2009 and 2013, Nasr wrote several poems about it as a poet winner. “With everything I saw on the street, with everything I read in the newspaper, with every opening of an exhibition or business, I wondered: is there a poem in this? Can this be turned into something that is about more than just this specific event, does it have social relevance, significance for others? ”

The most diverse current events – four hundred years of Dutch-American relations, an exhibition on ‘The Lady with the Scales’ by Vermeer, the Mahler Year, the critical report on Dutch support for the invasion of Iraq – prompted the Netherlands and its customs. , norms, values, to criticize the interaction with the other: ‘how could this lobster people arise from sparse larvae?’ In the recently published anthology of his poetry, Nasr more compactyou can read some of the poems.

In the intervening years, the actor Nasr was mainly in the foreground. Among other things, he played the role of Jude Saint Francis a little life from Hanya Yanagihara, for whom he received a Louis d’Or.

He became known to the public as Erik, a lovely father and stepfather, and (ex-) husband of the sour, alcohol-addicted Merel from the popular TV series Eyeballs† “No”, he laughs when asked a question concerning the interviewer’s son, “Black is very nice in real life”.

And now there was room to make the Poem Gift. Different work than what Nasr wrote before. The long, often narrative poems, the generous sentences full of driving language have made room for what at first glance looks like a ready-made. Ten poems based on the letters of Vincent van Gogh – Nasr read them during the lockdown.

Thanks to poetry, with expressive lines, on pages with a lot of white.


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How did you proceed? what in We were enchanted is Van Gogh, and where’s Ramsey Nasr?

“In fact, this gift is a distillate from a larger collection that I will write according to this process. I have isolated fragments from Van Gogh’s letters to make them poems. By omitting the context, the addressee, the date, the place where the letter is written, the writing becomes archetypal, timeless, as crisp as poetry.

‘Another poet would have made other choices. Different letters, different fragments, different order. This is my interpretation of Van Gogh, my compelling word choice, rearranged in a different context.

“In this collection, I let Van Gogh speak in his literary expressiveness. At the same time, I also want to say something. And I hope a third person, a reader, can say, ‘Hey, this is about me, too.'”

In a few sentences, the time in which the poems exist shines through. The lockdown, the polarization, the need for contact. †I am crushed by boredom and sadness† †one is afraid (…) to move ‘; ‘Like everyone else, I need / for association

How consciously did you choose rules like this?

“I did not want to write a bundle of corona. But ten years ago I would no doubt have made other choices. Van Gogh sought connection with nature, with humanity. When he writes ‘I am crushed by boredom and sorrow’, he is blocked inside, surrounded by mad men, as he says.When I read those letters, the country was locked, I was alone on my balcony.And thus arose an almost organic connection between Van Gogh and the situation that I and with me the whole of Holland was situated in.”

You mentioned a ‘radical break’ earlier, is it necessary in poetry to reinvent yourself now and then?

“Last fall I Nasr more compact my whole oeuvre up to the light. Considering what had passed the test of time, what I still liked, and what really did not. At first I thought: god, I do. But I worked on it for weeks. Started rewriting things and sometimes spent days brooding on a few lines in a poem. An example? At the time, I wrote ‘My New Fatherland’, inspired by ‘Wien Neêrlandsch Bloed’ by Hendrik Tollens, where I protested against the Rutte I cabinet, which took office with the support of Geert Wilders’ PVV. In that poem, there was a stanza that gave me a letter to the editor. Now I always got all sorts of things, but here I thought: they are right, this is too hard. so I have ‘I would rather be attacked by a people / theirs‘changed in’I would much rather go hand in hand with a people / theirs† But such an adjustment does not just happen. Except for the content, you fiddle with rhymes, meters. ”

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Statue Jildiz Captain

When I reread your poems, for example ‘My New Homeland’, I am shocked at how current some of them still are. Have you never had that thought yourself?

»There one touches on the question of the poet’s function. He is, of course, no Cassandra, no one predicts doom. Sig ‘I told you that‘makes some sense. Of course, when I publish an opinion piece or a poem, I wish everything would change, but it does not. You can not solve things, you can at most interpret them.

“But I have concerns. The common thread in many of my works, whether about the Middle East or about Dutch art and culture policy, is that something endemic in our soul – a funny word, but good – in our identity is at stake. We’re making ourselves a factless, storyless, over-profit-hungry people. And if you do not worry so much about history, you will continue to make the same mistakes. Then you will again ridicule a new Van Gogh. “Then a Thierry Baudet may be in charge. ‘In my new homeland’ I referred to Wilders, but one might as well read Baudet instead. In fact, that comparison is even better.”

‘Freedom’ is also a recurring theme in Nasr’s work. In 2009, when Karst T. on Queen’s Day with his Suzuki ‘freedom [nam] to hit others‘, he wrote’ In the land of kings’. It ultimately did not end in the anthology. He actually recorded ‘A beautiful day to tear up the silence’, about the man who shouted through the two minutes of silence on May 4, 2010.

“If you write about a theme more often, you have to make sure that people start thinking: you’ve got it again. So I would not have too many overlaps in that anthology. In both cases it is about one who uses his freedom at the expense of others, ‘where everything is allowed, everyone is forbidden’. The idea that there is always someone who thwarts you, that your freedom is always being attacked, it is getting stronger.

“For a moment, at the beginning of the pandemic, we were able to push ourselves into the background. Then a common interest suddenly became greater than our own urge to always do what we want, where we want. But we have become so attached to our freedoms that we have come to take them for granted. ”

Does poetry outweigh ugliness?

“Let me be positive. Van Gogh is indispensable in today’s Holland. We see through his eyes, we see through his revolutionary quest. A revolt of colors, I call it in my essay The foundations† His life was tragic and euphoric. People thought he was a strange brush at the time. But he discovered something through which we can now look at the world, at painting through Van Gogh’s eyes. ”

‘Art gives no security (…) Art gives something to hold on to by hooting’, you wrote The foundations† What can these poems do?

“It’s up to the reader. But art can take comfort in the experience that life is extremely insecure. Comfort not so much as’ it’s going to be fine ‘, but rather as’ it does not end well, I know well, you know , but we know it together now ‘. I’m convinced that is why so many people wanted to read poetry during the lockdown. Or Van Gogh’s letters. When the uncertainty becomes so great that it permeates everything, it may be “comforting to read about someone who was constantly looking for connection and did not find it. It does not hurt to get lost for a while. It was someone else once. That he made beautiful art out of it.”

The phone rings again. We need to end the conversation. Finally Nasr: “So if you ask, what do you hope this poetry does? Maybe something from another world through Van Gogh’s words will open up. Very short, very short.”

For activities in Poetry Week: www.poezieweek.com.

Ramsey Nasri (1974) is a writer, actor and director. He debuted as a poet in 2000 with the collection 27 poems and no song, for which he received a nomination for the C. Buddingh ‘Prize for best Dutch-language poetry debut. The sequel Clumsy flowering (2004) was awarded the Hughes Pernath Prize.

In 2005, he was a city poet in his then hometown of Antwerp. In 2010, shortly after Nasr took office as Poet Laureate in the Netherlands, a collection of his works was published until then: From lily to hydrogen bomb (2009) Meanwhile, he bundled his poems to ‘the fatherland’ in 2011 in My new homelandPoems about crisis and fear (E. du Perron Prize). When he stepped back in 2013, appeared I have a dream, with all the poems and opinion pieces he wrote as a poet laureate. In 2013, he was awarded the Golden Goose Feather.

Nasr is an actor affiliated with the theater company ITA. In addition, he regularly plays in TV series, which Ischa Meijer in I AMafter the book by Connie Palmen, and in Eyeballs

In his statements, he is critical of the Middle East, of the Netherlands and of cultural policy. His essay was published last year The foundationsa call for radical change as a way out of the corona and climate crisis.

Ramsey Nasr’s work is published by De Bezige Bij.

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Ramsey Nasri
We were enchanted
Poeziecentrum vzw in collaboration with Awater / Stichting Poezieclub. 32 pages
Free when buying poetry for 12.50.

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Ramsey Nasri
Nasr more compact
An anthology from my own work
The busy bee; 208 pages 20 €

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