Alfred Schaffer

‘I take another really good look’

In 2014, Alfred Schaffer’s latest poetry collection, Man Animal Thing was published and met with instant acclaim. ‘This book is a real happening in poetry, a masterpiece,’ according to leading daily NRC Handelsblad.

And another daily, Trouw, wrote: ‘Schaffer shows what kind of animal things a man is capable of and how little human lives are worth sometimes. He does this with humour, with schwung, tenderly and thoughtfully; in poetry in which bloodlust can look like a “massive bar of dark chocolate.” (…) Man Animal Thing grabs you by the throat.’ Partly inspired by Chaka, a famous South African novel from 1931, written by Thomas Mofolo, the book charts the imaginary progress of the nineteenth- century statesman and tyrant, Shaka Zulu (1787-1828). Structured around a series of daydreams and major events in Zulu’s life, the poet extracts Zulu from the historical past and moves him to the modern media age where speed dating, UFOs and effervescent painkillers are the norm. The collection is hugely diverse, from lyrical poetry to tweets – to wit: ‘SHAKA’S COURT CASE LIVE FROM NEWS24’:

7:20 A closely-guarded Shaka Zulu hurries through the Court’s back entrance.
7:41 The row of journalists at the main entrance twists and turns like a spastic snake.
8:13 @SimonsH06. Made it! We’re on the fourth row! S. crumpled up next to his mother on the front row. #Shakasmum

Schaffer’s poetry has shifted from linguistic experimentation, unsettling observations in a sober business-like tone and reflections on life’s incoherence to a more mature, overarching vision in which formal and conceptual experiment goes hand in hand with lucid, lyrical texts. His early promise has been more than realised.

The artistry is never obtrusive, nor even obvious, but the poems are resonant and unbounded. They coherently straddle disparate and incongruous worlds, periods, settings, and move seamlessly between private and communal spaces. The effect is that one is drawn into the powerful processes of poetry establishing its own reality.

Breyten Breytenbach

DAY(DREAM) # 5,106

The classic shoot-out.
And with so much competition too
it’s bizarre, it makes my balls tingle.
I stand on one side and on the other side
there’s me too, only the leaked version with a cold.
The albino smurf cut out of The Smurfs
and somewhere else I forgot.
Tension crackles like a fire in a paper factory.
I take another really good look –
how fat I’ve become, god almighty, I’m not solid.
Like a dictator in formaldehyde.
Between us a boundless expanse, a concrete polar region. Actually just a mixture of sand and grass
no larger than the back garden I used to lie in.
I see myself thinking but that’s not my body
that’s not me, I would never grope around my jacket pocket for a mouth organ
to play a foolish little tune on.

(Translation by Michele Hutchison)

Alfred Schaffer

One of the most talented Dutch poets of his generation, Alfred Schaffer (b. 1973) debuted in 2000 with the collection His Rise in the Suburbs. His second book, Vagrants (2002) was nominated for the prestigious VSB prize. After that came No Hands Before Your Eyes (2004), Foam (2006) and Cage (2008).…

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I take another really good look (2016). Poetry.


11 Poets from Holland


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