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.’