In this monthly column, a number of recently published Dutch poetry collections are reviewed.
Poems left over
Koenraad Goudeseune: Poems left overAtlas Contact, Amsterdam, 2022, 96 pp., ISBN 978-90-25471-99-6
Our verdict: ****
Koenraad Goudeseune (1965-2020) is the author of nine collections of poems, two collections of short stories, three letter books and one novel. On December 9, 2020, he chose euthanasia after being diagnosed with incurable colon cancer. In the spring, Goudeseune published a posthumous collection of poems nude on Atlas Contact. It contains a selection of fifty from one hundred Petrarcan sonnets, with the title I wrote for nothing† Then 21 more sonnets follow under the title last word, which the poet wrote as his end approached. Benno Barnard and Rob Schouten introduce the collection.
Goudeseune omitted the meter and rhyme scheme in the classic Petrarcan zone (4-4-3-3 lines). It was only for him to make the stanza layout. In the cycle I wrote for nothing In almost every poem, the poet addresses a you, a you, a friend, a girlfriend in a lyrical and worn way. One day she gets a name: Ingrid. How much he loves her is evident from the following lines of verse: ‘Wherever you open this book, a page must not do without you.’ He also clearly says that it is for her that he writes: ‘I did not do it for my own sake, but only / for you, dear ones. “I do not want you to be gone.”
The setup of this cycle is very similar to the bundle The Songs by the Italian poet and prose writer Petrarch (1304-1374). He wrote no less than 366 sonnets and poems in other verse forms for Laura de Noves. Goudeseune explicitly refers to Laura in the poem of the same name that is part of the cycle last word: ‘From my youth I read with Petrarch / what tormented me so much. I had many Lauras, I wanted to be a poet myself. / And now, now I’m here. No love bothers me anymore. Sonnets are written. ‘
Goudeseune was a poet of ups and downs: rock-solid poems alternate with meaningless in his oeuvre. But if he was good, then he was really good. Writers should not be judged by their weakest work, but by their best. In this context Poems left over a party. Thematically, the uselessness and unhappiness of love and life may be central, but stylistically there are plenty of nuggets of gold to pick up. Verse lines that make you gasp and generate a euphoric feeling that lasts a long time. Electrifying poetry that makes you understand even better why it competes with all other literary genres. Just read: ‘Silence was composed // not, and yet music can not be much more classical.’ Or: ‘Mathematics cries when I compare you to a hot summer evening – / it must be more precise.’
A lot of verse lines also have a decidedly aphoristic character: ‘Low is the street value of poetry, enormous is the poetry value / of the street.’ And: ‘Much like autumn hides a tree in fog, / so poetry hides what goes on in words.’ The last line could just as well have been written by Herman de Coninck, who took the young Goudeseune under his wings when he was editor-in-chief of New World Magazine† This influence can also be found elsewhere in the collection (and in all previous Goudeseune collections). But in the end, Goudeseune is above all an authentic, romantic poet who has provided Dutch poetry with numerous crackling electric shocks in a completely idiosyncratic way, read: has given beauty of the purest caliber, and that is the only thing that matters.
Where is the lamb?
Mustafa Stitou: Where is the lamb?The Busy Bee, Amsterdam, 2022, 95 pp., ISBN 978-94-03170-61-9
Our verdict: *****
The Moroccan-Dutch poet Mustafa Stitou (1974) is considered one of the most important poets of his generation. When he made his debut in 1994, Remco Campert wrote: ‘Finally a poet again!’ Dirhams (the currency of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates) and sand, North African cola and a jet-black curly hair, Berbers and mountain people color Stitou’s first poems. At the same time, he describes city life in Amsterdam with temptations, chicken and chips, fast-filter coffee and household films, in poems that become longer, more associative and freer in form. Stitou calls himself a ‘conceptual-‘ anecdotal ‘, at least a time-physical poet’. Where is the lamb? is his fifth collection.
Like its predecessor Temple from 2013, Stitou’s new collection also has a title that is religiously inspired. Many of its poems can be read as an associative commentary on the Bible verse (Genesis 22: 7), from which the collection has its title: ‘We have fire and wood, said Isaac, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?’ Isaac does not yet know that not a lamb, but himself, will be sacrificed – an event that ultimately does not take place because an angel intervenes in time: Abraham’s faithfulness to God has been proven.
If you are not familiar with Stitou’s oeuvre, based on the above, you can expect deathly serious, harsh verses that will make you sad and docile. However, nothing could be further from the truth. First, Stitou writes in a simple, direct language, sometimes with an almost everyday character. And second, he uses a cultured laconic style. It leads into the poem sacrificial animals to, among other things, the following verse: ‘Smile to his sideways protruding ears: / they give him something undeniable / cheerful. He is handsome to look at, / mane height: one meter eleven. // A child, but ready for slaughter / muscular and meaty and of unique / meat quality. Sometimes he / (an extra number) spells his name: i-sàààààk. ‘
From the point of view of a fanatical believer, these verses must sound blasphemous. But this is Mustafa Stitou – a man from an Islamic culture – in its entirety: a poet drawn to the frontier area where sacred and profane, human and inhuman, dream and reality meet and merge. IN Where is the lamb? he examines the meaning of the victim from different angles. For this purpose he uses both archaic and contemporary elements. See the sixth poem in the cycle The citieswritten from the perspective of the sacrificed lamb:
As it rattles, the angel leaves the stage
and I, who invented this to become fleshless
the women wash and braid my intestines
scrub my stinky stomachs rinse
clean my trachea, which is solid like plastic
a pipe from a hardware store, to which escaped
my soft pink lungs hang them cutting
my kidneys my live my heart that is warm
as if it were still alive, they cut to pieces
for seasoning and frying for
breakfast (my gallbladder goes
trash can as well as my penis).
The archaic word ‘angel’, which has existed for thousands of years, refers to a supernatural, intellectual being found in various religions. On the other hand, there are contemporary names like ‘a pipe from a DIY store’ that make you think spontaneously of PVC pipes, and Kliko, which is a container on wheels used for household waste.
In his search for the meaning of the sacrifice, Mustafa Stitou desecrates almost everything that refers to the sacred and the spiritual. For example, he consistently writes the word ‘god’ in lower case. He speaks not only of god, but also of ‘the god’, ‘a god’ and ‘another god’. God (without capitalization) appears in ever-different guises in Stitou’s poems. In the fifth poem of the cycle ‘Pantheon’, god is even feminine: ‘A god called god is being chased on a shopping Sunday by an atheist mob who accuses her of being manipulative and hypocritical, pure poison. / Panicked she tries to escape the horde (…). ‘
All the forms that god is in Where is the lamb? occurs, point to an identity that is not established. All past assurances, including clinging to one faith, have fallen apart, crumbled, given way to fear, loss of control and eventually resignation: ‘And because the panic / feeling of losing control of your life lately holds / makes room for an amazing resignation, you / you get better: accept an invitation, pretend to laugh / you smile. ‘ Can it get uglier?
Where is the lamb? shows great thematic and stylistic unity. It took the poet no less than nine years to write the collection. The poems are arranged in six numbered sections, of which only the fifth has a title (relics† It is striking that Stitou uses remarkably few poetic stylistic devices to achieve his goal. No conspicuous use of alliterations, assonances and other tricks in dealing with him. At first glance, his poems sound like newspaper articles, but it is deceptive, for beneath this apparent simplicity hides many meanings. That is what makes Stitou’s poetry so fascinating. Where is the lamb? is a remarkably strong bundle that you will want to pick up over and over again. What also applies to the bundle Cumin Splitters by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld: You’re never done with it, and certainly not in a relatively short review. Frustrating for the reviewer, a blessing for the reader who has all the time in the world.