The poetry of Eva Gerlach
As wayward as only the really good poets are
After submitting to several reviews from 1977, Gerlach published her first collection entitled Verder geen leed (No Further Distress) in 1979. It immediately impressed by the precise and considered organization of the individual poems and of the whole collection, yet with a strong, dark, emotional current underlying this formal control. Two years after its publication Verder geen leed was awarded the Lucy B. en C.W. van der Hoogt Prize, an important prize aiming to stimulate young writers and poets. In many subsequent collections over the years, Eva Gerlach developed into a poet of classical stature. The narrative tone of her early poems, born perhaps from the spirit of the age, gradually gave way to an astute, incisive plasticism, by which she seems to be trying to get a hold on life’s events.
Gerlach’s poems, in their often dark way, are concerned with the themes that have concerned poets in all ages: transience, loss, the human condition. Avoiding any tendency towards dramatic display or literary effect, she writes about the mysterious, invisible forces that govern our lives, about the thought ‘that in presence lives a truth/ greater than just that/ of the address.’
Eva Gerlach’s poetry has more and more freed itself from the prevailing trends in post-war Dutch poetry. Irony, therapeutic impact or linguistic autonomy, the three mainstays of the poetry of her generation, never play a significant part in her work. She is first of all a modest, unsentimental, yet penetrating portrayer of human emotions and motives. Over most recent years it has been suggested that a stronger experimental tendency seems to surface in Gerlach’s poems and more surrealistic elements are amplified. This might also be regarded a further fine-tuning of a strong and distinct poet’s tone of voice, which either whispering, stammering or speaking quite clearly always reminds us: ‘Whatever’s whole we fail to see’ and ‘all that is split up sticks in us for good’.
In 2000 Gerlach received Holland’s chief literary award, the P.C. Hooft Prize, for her entire poetic works. Since then she has already added several collections to her corpus, including her second book of poems for children Oog in oog in oog in oog (Eye to Eye to Eye to Eye, 2001) and her most recent title Situaties (Situations, 2006).