H.H. ter Balkt

The poetry of H.H. ter Balkt

A stern powerful voice whose incantatory poetry is drenched in history

Besides this plethora of incidents and objects that all lend their own history to the poems, the great variety of voices and moods is also striking. Ter Balkt wrote poems like fire- and-brimstone sermons, but also like idylls, a declaration of love, a descent into the absurd, a song and a litany. What is striking in all of this is that the great number of things that occur to him, and occupy him, are always unified in a clearly constructed and homogenous poem. There are few poets who write poems in which so much happens as in the work of H.H. ter Balkt, and even fewer poets who did this in such a vital and unfettered way.

The leading critic and poet Piet Gerbrandy wrote of Ter Balkt’s poetry that it ‘is characterised by a freedom that has seldom been equalled in our language area.’ He also highlighted how artfully Ter Balkt incorporated reality (the historical and the contemporary) into his work. Ter Balkt wrote about this: ‘The poem is never autonomous. And it can’t be because it is part of the world, not of the underworld, or from the workshop of the joyless makers. It must be in, and of, the world or it won’t be anything at all.’

And in this world that is per definition changeable, Ter Balkt’s work was subject to change too. He re-wrote a fair number of poems, often drastically. This doesn’t indicate, as Gerbrandy explains in his essay, that the poems in their published form were not good enough, but that they have to be seen as part of the historical process that they themselves comment on. He represented a unique and entirely original voice in Dutch poetry.

As Ter Balkt wrote in the poem ‘Shredding Machines on the Horizon’, from his final collection Vliegtuigmagneet (Airplane Magnet, 2011), nominated for the VSB Poetry Prize: ‘On the horizon the shredding machines rehash unnoticed what falls into them.’ To conclude after sublime sentences and images about changeability and stasis with: ‘The constellation glitters / of what must endure, of the world and us.’

That is the great power of his poetry: it breaks down boundaries and initiates an intercourse between everything that’s drifted apart or been divided by the pressure of modern life. He establishes connections between the most diverse experiences and events, places and times, with the energy of his humour and his imagination, and sometimes also the courage of despair.

Jury report P.C. Hooft Prize

He writes a sort of poetry that can’t be compared to anyone’s, either in the Netherlands, or internationally, as far as I can see. On the one hand, H.H. ter Balkt stands in the tradition of the mystical, visionary poets, but on the other, his poems demonstrate a worldly-wise and powerful capacity for language.

Het Parool


There’s something so sad in the wise eyes of pigs,
they look like prophets of a slaughter season.
(I’m not fond of prophets, and yourself? No,
more of a climbing evergreen.)
Their tusks torn out on the assembly line
as out they trek from mother, the body exodus from hot Egypt,
though the Red Sea delivered and on to straw and the many-
bladed graven images of man.
Once in a while one, an old bear under the old
tree of knowledge (dying variety of apples)
standing still as death looks at wind on the horizon,
by insight blinder than by nature nearly.

You nearly see, in the bride-like autumn veils
in the tang of the whispering wind, the cloud
of thoughts turned on its top-heavy head: Striped I ran, boar
once, and what am I now! A pity for the tamed
pigs, of animals they are the poets,
melancholic and good for nothing much
till singed and on the wall their blubber
snaps like an elegy open.

H.H. ter Balkt

H.H. ter Balkt (1938-2015) made his debut as a poet with work that was rooted in the rural life of the eastern Netherlands, as the title Boerengedichten (Peasant Poems, 1969) made clear. The landscape proved to be a constant factor in his substantial oeuvre, just like art and history. It is on…

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De poëzie van H.H. ter Balkt . Poetry.

Themes: classic


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