In memoriam

Gerrit Komrij

6 July 2012

In Gerrit Komrij (1944-2012) Dutch literature has lost one of its most versatile and productive writers, an original voice that went against the grain both in poetry and in prose. As well as a poet, novelist and essayist, he was an anthologist and translator. His essayistic work won him the P.C. Hooft Prize in 1993 and he was awarded many other distinctions over the years.

Komrij made his debut as a poet at the age of twenty-four. In contrast to the experimental mode of the period, his was a different, solidly structured sound. The content, however, concerned above all else absurdity. The banal and the sublime repeatedly collided and he played a virtuoso game of pastiche and inversion. Many of his poems were about poetry itself.

Of great importance are the anthologies of Dutch and Afrikaans poetry he compiled, instructive and entertaining are the views on poetry collected in his In liefde bloeyende (Blossoming in Love, 1999), which won him the Gouden Uil; unforgettable is his Verwoest Arcadië (Arcadia Destroyed, 1980), in which he describes a shy boy from the provinces who moves to the big city and discovers literature and gay love. That book has two sequels, the autobiographical story collection Demonen (Demons, 2003) and the novel Hercules (2004). In the spring of this year Komrij published his last novel, De loopjongen (The Errand Boy).

As the first Dutch poet laureate (2000-2004) he devoted himself to the promotion of poetry, setting up De Poëzieclub and the literary magazine Awater. His work has been published in translation in Portugal and South Africa (in both English and Afrikaans), but Komrij enjoyed his greatest fame in the Netherlands, the country he left in 1984 but could never let go. In the poem ‘Contragewicht’ (Counterweight) he wrote: ‘There is a land I left behind with pain / There is a land which I in pain inhabit’.

Victor Schiferli

Fiction and Poetry Specialist


Victor Schiferli (1967) specializes in Dutch fiction, recommending books to German-, English- and Scandinavian-language publishers, and in Dutch and Frisian poetry.


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