It goes without saying that the poems of Lucebert, one of the best known and most influential poets in the Netherlands of the last century, are not entirely unknown beyond our borders.
Already his work has been translated into more than twenty languages and at various times in the past splendid anthologies have appeared in countries such as Spain, Germany and France. However, the plans that Douglas Messerli – an American publisher at Green Integer Books in Los Angeles – now has, amount to something completely unique in international terms: he is producing a bilingual version, in several parts, of the entire works.
Some years ago he published an anthology entitled Living Space: Poems of the Dutch Fiftiers. It was the Emperor of the Fiftiers that stole Messerli’s heart, though, and so he went in search of a translator to help him realize his publishing dream. It was through the Dutch Foundation for Literature that he finally came into contact with Diane Butterman who had, for a long time, been fascinated by the poetry of Lucebert. She it is who has translated The Collected Poems of Lucebert, Volume 1. It contains the one hundred and twenty-six poems written by Lucebert between 1949 and 1952 in both their original Dutch form and English. The translations are preceded by an introduction written by Anja de Feijter, Professor of Modern Dutch Literature at Radboud University in Nijmegen.
What motivated you, the translator, to spend a number of years working specifically on the poetry of Lucebert?
Butterman: ‘His experimental verse is magnificent, very layered and complex. That is what makes it such a huge translation challenge. For me the poetry embraces both the beauty and the innovative power of language. In the translations it is not my voice that comes through but his and that is something rather stunning. When I reread the work I perpetually discover new layers of meaning: that can only be a testimony to the sheer vitality of his verse.’
Are you meanwhile busy working on the second volume?
‘The second volume is more or less completed. I just have to finish compiling the notes so it should come out in the course of 2014. At the same time, I am also working on the poems for volume three: there will be four volumes in all, each of which will be between six and seven hundred pages long.’
Do you have an idea how the work of Lucebert will come across for the American reading public?
‘I am convinced that American readers will be open to the poetry of Lucebert. There will be recognition because of the considerable parallels with their own literary history. Within the broader context of world literature it falls into the sub-genre known as late modernism. In the Netherlands anyone who thinks of Lucebert automatically thinks of the Fiftiers and the avant-garde movement Cobra but in the English-speaking world there were similar movements such as the Beat Generation Poets in America.’
The second, third and fourth volumes will appear consecutively in the next few years. The first volume can be purchased from the more established bookshops or ordered via the Green Integer webshop.