Radna Fabias (1983) spent years quietly working on her debut. When Habitus came out in early 2018, it was met with a flood of rave reviews, and Fabias wowed audiences at every poetry festival with her outstanding performance. The following year, the collection won virtually every Dutch and Flemish poetry award – from the C. Bud- dingh’ Prize for the best debut to the Herman de Coninck Prize and the Grote Poëzie Prijs. And rightly so, because Habitus is a truly bril- liant collection of poems about a woman caught between two worlds.
Fabias was born on the island of Curaçao, a former Dutch colony in the Caribbean, and came to the Netherlands at the age of seventeen. Her poetry is rich with sensory detail, letting the reader see the blue of the sea and the pink and yellow of houses and churches in the Antilles. But if you immerse yourself in Fabias’ cinematic language, you also discover the other side of the idyll:
‘the street kids on undersized bikes
the way they dance their bikes around girls who have just started menstruating
the mothers who warn about them
Fabias’ poetry examines the position of the migrant, shuttling between two worlds, in search of a home. This strongly composed collection looks at the fictions of her mother country and arriving at a new home, at people’s histories, mothers and fathers, but also at skin colour, stereotypes of exoticism and gender. Perhaps rather than a home, Fabias’ poetry is looking for a form of its own: the poems take on wildly divergent styles, at times reminiscent of ‘travel guides’ and theatre or film scripts, as in ‘view with a coconut (in soviet montage)’:
‘the tropics paint orange-yellow a more intense orange-yellow but
someone keeps calling and crying.’
Fabias’ poetry gets deep under your skin; it’s sharp and visceral, exposing flesh, muscle, fear, and sensuality. It shows that identity is made up of a complex mixture of ingredients – of ‘faith, superstition, and (great) grandmotherly advice’, of experiences and preconceived notions. She cleverly plays with stereotypes and makes biting jokes:
‘like many women I always knew I’d marry a man
it ended up being a black man because that looked better with my dress
a matter of contrast.’
Fabias is already an essential voice in Dutch-language literature.