The Poetry of Gerrit Komrij
The Invisible Labrinth
Gerrit Komrij’s poetry could best be described as a masquerade. A never-ending, deadly-earnest game in which nothing is what it seems to be. The poet doesn’t want to be pinned down:
Give me reflections, memories
the drab colours of the chameleon.
Komrij doesn’t see poetry as a means to express emotion or as the fruit of irrepressible passion: ‘Poetry’s a whore, she wants to dance,’ he once stated. Taking a poem seriously can only lead to disenchantment. The joys and tragedies of life, love, sickness and death are best kept at bay. Komrij always plays two worlds off against each other. The world of the ostensibly sublime is constantly being evoked, only to be revealed in its banality. Inversely, banal everyday reality is peeled back to display an absurd and ominous world. The most captivating scenes can be the springboard to macabre and bizarre conclusions. In Capriccio (1978) he sings the praises of a youthful love but continues with an image of anticipated horror:
Earth will bulge slowly from your mouth,
worms will burrow through your hollow skull.
The cult of beauty culminating in a sublime vision of the end of the world, as present in the collection Fabeldieren (Mythical Animals, 1975), has led to Komrij being unjustly labelled a romantic. His romantic and decadent élan, together with the homo-erotic tendency in his poetry, has elicited frequent comparisons with Oscar Wilde. ‘I’m an aesthete through and through,’ declared the poet in an interview. With his l’art pour l’art principles, he is an opponent of heavy or committed ideals in art:
The mouth that conveys the truth is wrong.
In his poetry debut Komrij astounded the critics by opting for fixed form and regular rhyme in the middle of the experimental sixties. Komrij himself emphasises craftsmanship. Skill is the crucial factor, not inspiration. The most remarkable feature of his poetry is his use of language. Komrij brilliantly jumps from one register to another, archaic forms can be juxtaposed with banal colloquialisms within a single poem.
The classical forms are deceptive. In essence his work is extremely modern:
People have to be led down a beaten track that leads to a
very uncertain situation.
These ostensibly beaten tracks are in reality nothing more or less than a ‘fertile labyrinth’. The reader loses his way in a make-believe world where certainties do not exist. The many paired poems in his oeuvre are significant. Komrij often follows a poem with a new poem asserting the opposite:
You can only really destroy something, really make it collapse,
when you yourself evoked it in the first place.