Esther Jansma

The Poetry of Esther Jansma

Time is Here

It is fitting that Esther Jansma’s day job involves dating wood through its annual rings. Deciphering the traces left by time: what could be more poetic? For Jansma a poet is:
The rag-and-bone man, collector of
remnants, moments, cracks
in things.

Stem onder mijn bed, her first collection, was a return to her own childhood, to ‘the child of three who inspires her.’ She summons up an unstable world in which her father disappeared, the same world she recalled in the prose pieces in Picknick op de wenteltrap. We see a small girl and her sisters and their attempts to grasp a reality which is beyond them. Everything that appears simple can lead to questions: ‘How long does a moment take?’ or ‘What’s a day?’ After her father disappears, the world becomes even less stable and the comforting world of fantasy is suddenly off-limits: ‘We’re not princesses, after all. Princesses aren’t this unlucky.’

Jansma’s poetic universe has expanded since her first books and in Waaigat it is infinitely vast. Just as the woman Juana in one of her poems addresses ‘Brother Cloud’, the poet’s perspective now embraces the whole world, the sea and the moon. The world takes on surrealistic and expressive dimensions but the stakes are still the same. The poet still vainly and stubbornly struggles to bring something to life in her poetry. In Waaigat she seems to be succeeding when she names a lion:
My draughty mouth that is filled with time,
Waaigat, calls the beast and it comes.
But the next strophe reveals that the lion is imprisoned in its own name:
The word that means lion
curls and stretches, rises, shrinks
like paper consumed by fire.
The word has life-giving powers, but strictly within the confines of the poem.

A comparable problem arises in a poem about a fisherman who catches a mermaid in his nets. This gorgeous haul arises in and through the poem but the work is literally a death sentence. There is a world which can only exist in poetry. But that does not necessarily have to lead to a feeling of poetic impotence. Jansma exploits poetry’s limitations and populates her work with snow queens, monsters and muses

Hier is de tijd does what the title promises, for it brings the time in focus. And in doing so, Esther Jansma shows her mastery which is still unequalled by any poets of her generation.

Arie van den Berg, NRC Handelsblad

Waaigat is a harsh, versatile, colourful collection, with life and death as equal forces. It is Jansma’s best work yet, full of mysterious forces which keep the poet and reader spellbound.

Rob Schouten, Vrij Nederland

Waaigat to me is the evidence that poetry is about presence, about the longing while knowing better, because we don’t only think but also exist. I take off my hat for Jansma’s presence in this Waaigat.

Marc Reugenbrink, De Groene Amsterdammer

Just like fairy tales and the stories about Alice and the baron who pulled himself out of a swamp by his own hair, Picknick op de wenteltrap is both cheerful and cruel, meaningful and senseless.

Xandra Schutte, De Groene Amsterdammer

The Lovers

He lay washed up on the red rocks
and dreamed her voice was calling him, sand
scattered over him and blowing away.

The sea lay itself down on his breast.
His heart was the breeding-ground of
colourful birds. The wind came back.

One by one the birds rose up,
they shrieked and fell upwards, helpless,
they were swept aside.

When they found him his heart was a wound,
a deserted chamber, the difference between him
and the ground was love, no more.

She lifted him up. Gently she tried
to close his lips. In the ship
she tried to close his mouth.

She grew silent and pressed his lips together.
She grew silent and laid his arms round her neck.
It worked. His head lies on her shoulder.

He is silent. They set sail. They are everything
to each other.

Translation © 1998 by James Brockway

Esther Jansma

Esther Jansma (b. 1958) is a welcome guest at poetry podia and on literary programmes, not only because of the quality of her work but also because of her ability to discuss it clearly and incisively. She is an archaeologist but calls herself ‘a fulltime poet with a part-time job’. She made her…

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De poëzie van Esther Jansma . Poetry.


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