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Hans Lodeizen

The poetry of Hans Lodeizen

A pioneering gay exponent of postwar experimentalism

Growing up, Lodeizen was a frail, introverted child whose asthma often kept him home, where he spent much of his time in the garden studying ants. In high school he came out of his shell more, captivating his classmates by reading their palms and predicting all sorts of future fortune and doom. But like many teenagers coming of age during the Second World War, he felt trapped. And he’d realized he was gay at a time when homosexuality was still widely pathologized. He dreamed of a different world where he could truly be himself.

Growing up, he was a frail, introverted child whose asthma often kept him home, where he spent much of his time in the garden studying ants. In high school he came out of his shell more, captivating his classmates by reading their palms and predicting all sorts of future fortune and doom. But like many teenagers coming of age during the Second World War, he felt trapped. And he’d realized he was gay at a time when homosexuality was still widely pathologized. He dreamed of a different world where he could truly be himself.

He found that world in the America of the late ’40s. Travel was not easy, but he managed to escape, first to London, then to the US, where he studied Biology at Amherst College and befriended James Merrill. Instantly smitten, Merrill described him as ‘clever, goodnatured, solitary, blond / all to a disquieting degree.’

During semester breaks he visited New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans and had his first sexual experiences with men. Embracing his gay identity seemed to be the breakthrough that allowed him to find his voice. Like e.e. cummings and Frank O’Hara, Lodeizen started breaking poetry down into something simpler and more immediate—one of the first poets to do so in Dutch.

His poems are intimate snapshots of his inner life in free verse, a fresh, engaging combination of everyday language and a dreamscape of associative metaphors. They are filled with steamboats, the Hudson, handsome sailors, as well as dandyesque references to cocktail parties and palaces, gloves and gondolas. We see a young person caught between yearning, indignant melancholy and an eagerness for life: ‘I will take the wind into my arms,’ ‘I will never do a lot of work.’ But there’s also a bold, joyous exploration of love between men. There is pride here, twenty years before the push for gay liberation became part of the mainstream. ‘Who cares if I am good or evil,’ he writes defiantly, ‘I am in love / Without blushing.’

Academic failure forced him to return home. Soon after he was diagnosed with leukemia and died at just twenty-six, months after the publication of his first collection, Het innerlijk behang (The Inner Wallpaper). In two and a half short years he left behind an impressive body of work. Without being a part of the Dutch literary establishment, Lodeizen left an indelible mark and has remained popular with generations of readers.

His poetry is characterized by the prescient melancholy that is also found in the work of Keats, who similarly died young… His work is of a rare poetic power. Not grand and sweeping, but honest, pure, noble… Lodeizen was a remarkable poet — not just an inspiration to those who came after him, but virtually the only one of his kind.

de Volkskrant

The Inner Wallpaper

I will give the reasons
for my love, for my despair
I will live in the room
of my body and tell you
why I love the landscape

I will put my hand
on the sunbeam and with my fingers
unravel the rainbow I will take the wind into my arms
and listen to the shell of the night

with your body I will
describe mine and in your eyes
as in a prism I will see the world
decrypted – a secret corner behind which
stairs lead endlessly to black cellars

I will say that my body
is a tower, that my hands
walk at night and that my head
has been calibrated so that all I see of the world
is my friends: you and another.

(Translated by Emma Rault)

Translations

Hans Lodeizen

Hans Lodeizen (1924–1950) is a peerless figure on the Dutch literary scene. He spent the tiny sliver of an adult life that he got to have in the English-speaking world, working in isolation from his Dutch contemporaries — most of whom he never even met — but he was a significant influence on…

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Details

De poëzie van Hans Lodeizen (1950). Poetry.

Publications

More Dutch Classics

Publisher

G.A. van Oorschot

Herengracht 613
NL - 1017 CE Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 623 14 84
Fax: +31 20 625 40 83

E-mail:
frederike@vanoorschot.nl
Website:
http://www.vanoorschot.nl

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