The Poetry of Rutger Kopland
Rutger Kopland is without a doubt one of the Netherlands’ most popular poets and this popularity is due largely to the tone of his poems. Kopland speaks to his readers in a quiet, conversational style, using ostensibly simple phrases. His poems seem to evoke a wistful, almost nostalgic atmosphere of a lost paradise, happiness beneath an apple tree or in the grass, Among the Cattle, to quote the title of his 1966 debut volume. They seem to evoke it.
Kopland addressed the issue in a series of notes from his diaries that were added as an appendix to one of his volumes: ‘Everyone finds a lost paradise in my poetry, a longing for it. I don’t long for the past, I long for experience (…) and experience is new, now.’ These diaries also reveal that Kopland has long wrestled with the problem that the obvious words for the proverbial ‘major emotions’ have a steamroller effect, flattening everything before them. Those words might have been worth something in a world that was still whole, but that world no longer exists for Kopland, neither does he long for its return.
Kopland’s poetry is constantly balancing on the borderline between language and what it evokes. Irony was a common device in his early work and he is a master at using subtle exaggeration to steer a path between cliches. He once described the clash between his nostalgic tone and the far-from-nostalgic meaning of his poems elegantly as ‘memories of the unknown’. Through creation, through writing and slashing, something completely new emerges and turns out to be a memory: the memory of what and who you always were, irrespective of all the ideas you’ve always had about yourself: a stranger, someone else, an emptiness,
a hole in the form of
a man in the landscape.
In his poems, Kopland is constantly observing himself.
In his later volumes, from the eighties on, Kopland’s poetry seems to become more abstract, more philosophical. He wrote a series entitled ‘Die Kunst der Fuge’ in which a non-specified ‘it’ wanders, merges, dissolves, disappears,
and it went on, as if there was always something else
that has to be sought, found, lost, sought, as if there was always something, something that has to be
before it disappears and after.
The poems seem to provide the basic pattern for the kind of movement Kopland makes in all his poetry. They demonstrate the ‘mechanics of emotion’. The continuing presence of these mechanics in his latest volumes - Geduldig gereedschap (Patient Instrument, 1993) and Tot het ons loslaat (Until It Lets Us Go, 1997) - guarantees that Kopland is still a poet whose work evokes the response: yes, that’s it exactly! - and that feeling is immediately reassuring, almost comforting. But what it exactly is is rather disturbing: the ‘now’ in which you are who you are is already over, a memory, the essential unknown, intangible.