The poetry of Menno Wigman
A ‘poète maudit’ in a 21th century jacket
As a poet, and also as a translator, Wigman is steeped in the tradition of nineteenth-century ‘black’ romanticism, including that period’s mix of posture and authenticity. The existence he describes has all the hallmarks of a lost generation in the style of the French Poètes maudits. There is also a link with certain trends in pop music; Wigman has played in punk rock bands. His poetry is on the whole melancholy, sombre, in tone. He is, in fact, a modern-day practitioner of Weltschmerz and Spleen: love is consummated but doomed to fail; paradise is forever sought but never found, young people indulge in loose and licentious living, but gloom persists.
After Wigman’s first collection ’s Zomers stinken alle steden (In the Summer All Cities Stink; 1997), his next one, Zwart als kaviaar (Black as Caviar; 2001), though retaining some of his illusionless outlook, sounded somewhat less bitter. As Dutch critic Rob Schouten put it:
‘The ugliness of the world and the failures of life continue to set the mood, but there may be some merit in this (…). With increasing subtlety and effectiveness Wigman succeeds in translating personal and up-to-date impressions into universal and timeless terms and images. A punk rocker on his way to becoming a classic.’
The word ‘classic’ also comes to mind when one tries to describe Wigman’s style and formal technique, which show a conscious and masterful use of (half)rhymes, metre and rhythm. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he remains loyal to classical verse forms, or creates poems that at least have the looks and sound of timeless pieces by long diseased ancestors. But he manages to revitalize these forms, give them an unmistakably personal and modern touch and thus write poems that are both transparent and edgy. This certainly goes for his most recent collections, Dit is mijn dag (This is my Day; 2004) and De wereld bij avond (The World at Night; 2006), which confirmed Wigman’s status as one of the most talented and popular poets among his generation.