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Huub Beurskens

The Poetry of Huub Beurskens

Frightened Nature

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.

Self-confident and versatile, erotic and intellectual, rich in words and smooth rhyme: here is someone who gracefully distances himself from the ‘rock hard buffers against mortality’, as he has come to consider his earlier poetry these days.

Guus Middag, Tirade

Aangod en de afmens is a powerful, carefully composed collection, in which the poet has created his own universe with great virtuosity of language.

Jury VSB Poetry Prize 1995

What’s wonderful about these poems is that there’s so much happening in them. In contemporary language, vital and associative, Beurskens can be as tender as direct.

Y. Né, De Stem

Beauty and vulnerability as each other’s traditional opponents: poetry is not often this natural.

Gert Jan de Vries, de Volkskrant

Antissa Bay

I wonder if the waves here have got other things to disgossip about with their pebbles
than they have anywhere else on the shores of the same sea?

Scientifically speaking no. The lyre became one of the constellations.
And now her star Alpha is twenty-six light years away from us and

nearly fifty times as far from her star Beta. It’s still
fabulous seeing Lyra in the east at maynight. Vega

is much bigger and hotter than the sun that keeps dabbling my
shadow in and through the water moving in and over and

through itself. The constellations are all mirages. We clutch at them
not to conquer what’s clutching at us inside but in order to manifest ourselves

by means of them. Projections. And memories: no erections, kisses, caresses
or tumbling out of clothes when my very first love and I went on

our very first walks together alone, just the thrill of seeing how
our shadows interpenetrated right before our eyes!

And look at my shadow now interpolating itself again with the pellucidity
of the incessant murmuring of the sea. But its lot is still not

a happy one: always prodding me on or dragging me along. I could never
leave it alone, all on its own, when on holiday, turning my back, cautiously, leaving

the beach on tiptoe, without looking back to see if it had disappeared,
washed away perhaps, into the depths. I’ll never be able to do that, ever.

Translation © 1998 by Deborah ffoulkes

Huub Beurskens

Huub Beurskens (b. 1950) studied at the academy of arts in Tilburg, and later taught drawing and history of art in Amsterdam. He has written several collections of poems, stories, and essays, as well as several novels. For his collection Hollandse wei en andere gedichten (Dutch Meadow and Other…

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De poëzie van Huub Beurskens . Poetry.

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