Gerrit Komrij

The Poetry of Gerrit Komrij

The Invisible Labrinth

Gerrit Komrij’s poetry could best be described as a masquerade. A never-ending, deadly-earnest game in which nothing is what it seems to be. The poet doesn’t want to be pinned down:

Give me reflections, memories
the drab colours of the chameleon.

Komrij doesn’t see poetry as a means to express emotion or as the fruit of irrepressible passion: ‘Poetry’s a whore, she wants to dance,’ he once stated. Taking a poem seriously can only lead to disenchantment. The joys and tragedies of life, love, sickness and death are best kept at bay. Komrij always plays two worlds off against each other. The world of the ostensibly sublime is constantly being evoked, only to be revealed in its banality. Inversely, banal everyday reality is peeled back to display an absurd and ominous world. The most captivating scenes can be the springboard to macabre and bizarre conclusions. In Capriccio (1978) he sings the praises of a youthful love but continues with an image of anticipated horror:

Earth will bulge slowly from your mouth,
worms will burrow through your hollow skull.

The cult of beauty culminating in a sublime vision of the end of the world, as present in the collection Fabeldieren (Mythical Animals, 1975), has led to Komrij being unjustly labelled a romantic. His romantic and decadent élan, together with the homo-erotic tendency in his poetry, has elicited frequent comparisons with Oscar Wilde. ‘I’m an aesthete through and through,’ declared the poet in an interview. With his l’art pour l’art principles, he is an opponent of heavy or committed ideals in art:

The mouth that conveys the truth is wrong.

In his poetry debut Komrij astounded the critics by opting for fixed form and regular rhyme in the middle of the experimental sixties. Komrij himself emphasises craftsmanship. Skill is the crucial factor, not inspiration. The most remarkable feature of his poetry is his use of language. Komrij brilliantly jumps from one register to another, archaic forms can be juxtaposed with banal colloquialisms within a single poem.

The classical forms are deceptive. In essence his work is extremely modern:

People have to be led down a beaten track that leads to a
very uncertain situation.

These ostensibly beaten tracks are in reality nothing more or less than a ‘fertile labyrinth’. The reader loses his way in a make-believe world where certainties do not exist. The many paired poems in his oeuvre are significant. Komrij often follows a poem with a new poem asserting the opposite:

You can only really destroy something, really make it collapse,
when you yourself evoked it in the first place.

A poem cannot be judged on grounds of reality. Those who do not agree with this might prefer to leave Komrij unread, but those who do and have become tired of dreary everyday reality, will find their paradise in that vast ‘papaver field, which is an eldorado of hymns.’

Rob Schouten, A World Of Contrast: The Poetry Of Gerrit Komrij

Komrij’s work is unique in our language. His work has often been imitated but these edition of the complete poems shows that no poet resembles Komrij, and Komrij resembles nobody else.

Wim Zaal, Elsevier

Sinister, erotic, reflective, laconic and surreal.

Hans Warren, Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant

The Invisible Labyrinth

There is no freedom in the desert sands,
Despite the fact there are no stakes or fences.
If to be free’s your aim, then your best chance
Is stylish roaming through a maze of trenches.

Along each path you take you’ll meet with much
Coercion, but so doing won’t fall prey to
Gauche demolishers of fences, to such
As seek one hellish jail all are conveyed to.

They fail to see you in your clever lair.
Let others rush around in space unbounded,
Creating deserts, in their wild desire

For freedom, and let nations be dumbfounded
By international anthems, hymns and airs.
For fools like that, I thought, all hope’s unfounded.

Translation © 1998 John Irons

Gerrit Komrij

It is not easy to decide whether Gerrit Komrij (1944-2012) is first and foremost a poet, novelist, anthologist, translator, playwright or critic. He has proven himself in all of these disciplines. Komrij first came to the attention of a wider public through his reviews and columns. Caustic sarcasm…

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De poëzie van Gerrit Komrij . Poetry.


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