The Poetry of Esther Jansma
Time is Here
It is fitting that Esther Jansma’s day job involves dating wood through its annual rings. Deciphering the traces left by time: what could be more poetic? For Jansma a poet is:
The rag-and-bone man, collector of
remnants, moments, cracks
Stem onder mijn bed, her first collection, was a return to her own childhood, to ‘the child of three who inspires her.’ She summons up an unstable world in which her father disappeared, the same world she recalled in the prose pieces in Picknick op de wenteltrap. We see a small girl and her sisters and their attempts to grasp a reality which is beyond them. Everything that appears simple can lead to questions: ‘How long does a moment take?’ or ‘What’s a day?’ After her father disappears, the world becomes even less stable and the comforting world of fantasy is suddenly off-limits: ‘We’re not princesses, after all. Princesses aren’t this unlucky.’
Jansma’s poetic universe has expanded since her first books and in Waaigat it is infinitely vast. Just as the woman Juana in one of her poems addresses ‘Brother Cloud’, the poet’s perspective now embraces the whole world, the sea and the moon. The world takes on surrealistic and expressive dimensions but the stakes are still the same. The poet still vainly and stubbornly struggles to bring something to life in her poetry. In Waaigat she seems to be succeeding when she names a lion:
My draughty mouth that is filled with time,
Waaigat, calls the beast and it comes.
But the next strophe reveals that the lion is imprisoned in its own name:
The word that means lion
curls and stretches, rises, shrinks
like paper consumed by fire.
The word has life-giving powers, but strictly within the confines of the poem.
A comparable problem arises in a poem about a fisherman who catches a mermaid in his nets. This gorgeous haul arises in and through the poem but the work is literally a death sentence. There is a world which can only exist in poetry. But that does not necessarily have to lead to a feeling of poetic impotence. Jansma exploits poetry’s limitations and populates her work with snow queens, monsters and muses