‘What I would most like to do is write lines that seem as if they have always existed,’ so wrote Menno Wigman (1966-2018) in a recent letter to the Volkskrant literary critic Arjan Peters. Wigman produced a body of work that can rightly be called classic, not just because of the style, but also because he is one of the few contemporary poets who wrote sentences that are known and can be quoted by many readers.
The feeling evoked by Wigman’s work is metropolitan and stripped of illusion, as in the poem ‘Sunday, Garden Centre’:
“Live by the clock, commute to the office,/ spend weekdays praising boiled coffee, / suffer colleagues, refill your coffers, / Sundays: garden-centre shopping.”
Nothing here is veiled or glossed over, existence is reduced to its essence with a few striking observations. It’s like this in almost every poem: hard more than sentimental, implacable rather than resigned.
Whether it’s about the interchangeability of lovers (‘But now that six or seven weeks have passed, / the ghosts all gather round our bed at night / to watch the slow and tender, dogged way / we strive to exorcise their deepest names’) or a son considering his father (‘He died the way he drove his Opel: correct, / controlled, his eyes fixed bravely on the road’). Wigman describes life’s great themes and – with his rhythms, a rare precision in his choice of words and the clarity of his images – strikes the reader direct in the heart.
Wigman was often burdened by self-awareness and an all too acute sense of perspective. He lived for poetry,but described it in his first collection as ‘a sickness that afflicts a coterie of fools’. As one of the few poets of his generation he wrote perfect metrical poetry and pared his work back to the bare essence. He wrote about the world he lived in, found comfort in the beauty of form and produced a unique expression of the inner life of his generation.
From 2001 on, Wigman’s work was supported by grants. His poems have been translated into English, French, German, Spanish and Polish. In 2014 he was interviewd by Letteren &cetera. All English quotes from Window-Cleaner Sees Paintings (Arc Publications).