Arjen Duinker

The Poetry of Arjen Duinker

The feast of the pleasant meaninglessness

From his first volume of poetry on, many of Arjen Duinker’s poems have been focused on the reality of things as separate self-contained entities. That is: things as they exist without the interposition of human, all-too-human thought, without the interposition of the abstractions that rear their heads as soon as a human opens his mouth.

In his second volume we can read:

‘If you give me abstractions,
I’ll give you a fan of wood’


‘Nothing is more foreign to me than belief,
Nothing is more foreign to me than emotional connection
through thought.’

What he wants is that:

‘of things
the very things become visible.’

In his collections to date he has consistently tried to shed his own personality, essence and baggage in order to smuggle into his poems the things he experiences without thinking: the effortlessness, the self-evidence of things like flowers and stones. In every poem it’s as if the poet is, to quote from Het uur van de droom (The Dreaming Hour), ‘body-searched’ by uninterpreted nonhuman reality. ‘Things’ go through his pockets, his clothes, his head, his whole personality for that human, all-too-human quality that ensures that people always perceive themselves facing reality. In the long poem ‘The Hours’ a square

‘Lets me linger in the shadow
of every possibility.
Comes over to me
And searches me
And starts to laugh.’

The laughter of reality itself is often heard in his poetry. This laughter ensures that the stone that cannot blossom blossoms, that the permanent abstraction of language becomes wooden fans in Duinker’s hands, and that readers immediately hear reality itself speaking in a line like: ‘I’m silent about reality.’ The poet calls out: ‘Come, things that stay and laugh, notice me!’ This request, this longing to be a part of an undivided reality, a reality experienced not with the mind but with all the senses, leads to poetry that comes in search of the reader’s own all-toohuman qualities. The poems come right up to the reader, go through his pockets, check the seams and hems of his personality, his essence, his baggage, amiably but determinedly shaking him down.

Duinker is celebrating the feast of the pleasant meaninglessness, with intelligent poetry in stead of slogans. He pays tribute to the ‘miniscule life’ of a lizard, demands attention to the ‘lonely shoestring’ and he magnificently sings the praises of a piece of paper that has blown away’

Herman de Coninck

With The Hours, Arjen Duinker has written a poem one could call programmatical for the generation of bewilderment. Besides that it’s also a versatile, inspired, often comical, sometimes absurdistic and emotive poem; it makes Duinker one of the most important poets of these times.

Koen Vergeer in De Morgen

Duinker’s multi-coloured, inquisitive poetry is infectiously happy. ‘Happiness also exists without a definite article’, he says. ‘The rest is superstition, aimed at fools, / As talk of the importance of taste / Is a matter of false

Piet Gerbrandy in De Volkskrant

A very lyrical poet.

Remco Ekkers in Leeuwarder Courant

Filon and I

The vestiges of a shoot-up
To impress your sweetheart, there’s a lot of ghosts,
Filon, hanging round you.
Sometimes an embarrassment.
Sometimes a sigh.
Sometimes a tremor, sometimes a little success.
Sometimes there’s a wasp.
You scratch to reprieve the pain,
To become something almost invisible,
So that you can live with yourself.
But a ghost is already hanging round you.

Today I am being unreasonable.
Got up unreasonably, got dressed the same.
Possibly got lost in the alphabet.
Possibly in search of a compliment.
Possibly moved by a footstep,

My feelings today are unreasonable.
My ambitions today are unreasonable,
And what I see of the already seen
Comes from my unreasonable sleeve.

So stay where you are, Filon.
Your arguments are merely stammerings
And your nose is fat,
Your mouth, your tongue, both fat,
Your hand, your wrist, fat too.
Stay where you are, let me look at you unreasonably.

Because now and again you hear the click
Of thin shoes on the stairs.
It’s time coming home,
A chrysanthemum in his button-hole.

And occasionally you awake
From a bewitching wistfulness,
Not knowing whether you were dreaming.
Time is mute. Wound is mute.

And sometimes you think
That you’re capable of much.
Because you talk to lots of people,
Because your heart is big.
No, I don’t feel like
Thinking today only unreasonably,
And I can see there is a ghost hanging round you,
Round you and your thrifty voice,
Round you and your thin following,
Round you and the straws you clutch.

Whether you go home tired to bed,
Whether you refuse to open a door and hide diamonds,
Whether you make plans, cut a plaster,
Or have a quick feel in your trouser pocket,
You’ll never be like time
On the stairs, endless stairs.
There’s a ghost hanging around you.
Roof leaks, door sticks, breath catches.
Don’t be scared, Filon, no reason.

There’s the hours, there’s the clouds,
And of course your initials and imperfections.
What have you passed by?
And did you steal anything else?

You’re neither disgusting nor colourless:
Let’s have a poppy to celebrate it!
Nature’s hanging round you too.

Universe rips, star falls, ice melts.
Oh awesome seas in the soul,
Promise of anonymity!

In spite of your immense talent,
In spite of your immense chest
And in spite of your immense cursing
You can’t get rid of nature, Filon,
Because nature is a ghost too.
Of field, worm, blackbird.
Of skin, calluses, teeth.
Of encounter, wish, air.
With cyclonic eyes.

And history is hanging round you,
And the lips of your woman want an answer,
And soon you’re going to do something stupid.
Why don’t you get used to that ghost of yours?
Where’s your icy smile?

Leave it. Don’t bother.
Every explanation: pavement with dog.
Every dog: leg with bells on it.
Every pavement: the flight inside.
The night is short,
The day shorter, but long enough.
You’ve already built up a wealth of experience,
Hesitated and self-confidently made your choice.
Not that pencil there, no, this one.
No cigarette-case, none of that hustle and bustle.
You’ve got a tie and a quiet life,
But that ghost is bothering you.

I talk an unreasonable amount, choose
My words badly, as if
I have unreasonably little to say.
While others are eating,
While others are discovering,
While others are murdering.
And washing their car. Changing sparking plugs.
And watching the stars. Going by.
And selling wisdom. Mumbling.

I almost said
That the whole world, Filon, revolves around you,
But hey, aren’t those the endless stairs?
Or inexorable regularity?
Nickel-plated heart perhaps?
You’re right, it’s probably a plane,
Flying high and lonely, almost forgotten.

Are you afraid of forgetting?
Are you afraid of not learning from what has gone before?
Before you, your work, your taste?
Your letter-box, your footstep, your hope?
I wish I was unreasonable, through and through!
I wish I was bereft of reason today, in every way possible!
I don’t know why, I’m tired.

Dream, that’s what I’d like to do.
Dream and live simultaneously, intertwined,
With illusions, without illusions,
And therefore accept that the possible is possible,
Meaning speechless, a wasp a wasp, or a ghost of one,
And that whatever’s circling around you, Filon,
Goes looking for company without you noticing.

Door swings open.
It’s time,
Chrysanthemum in his buttonhole.

Translation © 1998 by Deborah ffoulkes

Arjen Duinker

Arjen Duinker (1956) studied psychology and philosophy. He has published one novel, Het moeras (The Morass, 1992), and eleven volumes of poetry. He made his debut as a poet in 1988 with the volume Rode oever (Red Shore). This was followed by such volumes as Losse gedichten (Loose Poems, 1990), De

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De poëzie van Arjen Duinker . Poetry.



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