The Poetry of Huub Beurskens
The development of Huub Beurskens’s poetry can be categorised as a movement from closed to open poetry, from the compact to the transparent, from narrow to broad. In his first collections Beurskens wrote hermetic poetry: objective, cool, distant, introspective poems. Monologische Dichtung, to borrow from Gottfried Benn, a poet to whom the young Beurskens turned for a theoretical basis for his work.
Like Benn, he was allergic to similes, adjectives, colours and a lofty poetic tone. ‘I banished capital letters, full stops, articles, colours, the first person singular and as many adjectives as possible from my own poems, getting rid of everything that seemed superfluous to the monological poem, to the poem as artefact, as autonomous core,’ wrote Beurskens in 1992 in a poetical essay recalling that period. Superficially Beurskens’s later poetry reveals little of this outwardly severe poetics.
Significantly enough, Beurskens himself refers back to the work of the nineteenth-century poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins and to Impressionist painting and the music of Debussy, Ibert and Roussel. His poetry is characterised by many new coinages and by archaic, obsolete words that have fallen into such deep disuse that they could easily be mistaken for new coinages. It is full of scents, colours, tastes and, above all, sounds. Many of the poems evoke an Arcadian mood, even if that mood is always cancelled out by the poems’ contents. Although it flirts with the concept, this poetry is not really about a return to tradition, it would be more accurate to see it as a continuation of Beurskens’s earlier work. Viewed from the perspective of Beurskens’s post-Hollandse wei poetry, it’s not really possible to identify a turning point in the volumes he published in the eighties - Charme (Charm, 1988), Het vertrek (Departure, 1984) and Vergat het meisje haar badtas maar (If Only the Girl Would Forget her Beach Bag, 1980). Instead there is a gradual development in which it seems as if the poet is becoming increasingly permissive, both formally and thematically, but without altogether abandoning certain elements from the autonomous tradition.
The result is poetry which is innovative with regard to both the autonomous, originally avant-garde tradition and the late-nineteenth-century Impressionist and symbolist traditions. His is an old-fashioned lyrical inspiration in which a more contemporary concern for the problematical relationship between language and reality, word and thing, is nonetheless present. Beurskens is an autonomist who sings; a Cage who sounds like Debussy; a black square that looks like a Monet.