Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer

‘I’d said that anyway’

After reading Classics and a stint of teaching at Leiden University, Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer decided that the bohemian lifestyle of a poet, writer and journalist suited him better. His first book of poems, in 1998, earned him the C. Buddingh’ Prize; his sixth collection scored no less than a hattrick of major Dutch poetry awards this year.

A prolific drinker and an even more prolific writer, Pfeijffer has written novels, essays, plays and song lyrics, while simultaneously becoming one of the Netherlands’ leading contemporary poets.

Pfeijffer is a seasoned performer with great stage presence who likes to provoke. He posed naked on the back of his collected poetry from 1998-2008, The Man of Many Ways, and is quick to air his views in his newspaper column, often stirring up new controversies or deliberately making enemies. Running through his entire oeuvre are questions of authenticity and fantasy, imagination, romantic love, sexual failings, nostalgia, and identity. A commonly posed question is ‘How to live’. Pfeijffer has a wide range of styles and registers, combines high and low and is fond of hyperbole. The poet has a strong sense of comic timing and knows when to use the bathetic or the obscene to good effect.

Pfeijffer’s background as a classicist is more than apparent in his poetry, yet he is fond of drawing from modern life too. Computer game avatars, erotic comics and television programmes feature in his work, alongside barbarians, witches, pirates, princesses and other mythical figures. In his latest poetry collection, Idylls, he found new energy in a combination of a complex classical form – rhyming alexandrines – with accessible, narrative content. The rise and fall of the verse gives the poems a hypnotic power, while the repetition of a running motif ‘de nacht is aangezegd’ (the night has been announced) affords a dark suspense.

A captivating blend of styles and registers […] everything in this collection undulates, sways, has rhythm and verve.

NRC Handelsblad

Pfeijffer is an extraordinarily gifted poet.


IDYLLS, 16 (fragment)

That thing I’d been meaning to say just now
before you suspended hostilities with a cynical frown,
got up and neatly knotted your hair,
collected your bags with a hurried air,
sighed and hoisted the strap of your vest,
paid half the bill and pointed out a stain on my breast,
called off your troops, their armour pristine,
and slipped past me like an ice-cold breeze,
leaving me there distraught, a hamlet turned to dust,
you sighed again and gave me a look of disgust,
raised an eyebrow, tutted and walked away,
it wasn’t ‘I love you.’ I’d said that anyway.


(Translation by Michele Hutchison)

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer (b. 1968) has published poetry, stage plays, essays, columns, travelogues, stories, political satires and nine novels. In Het ware leven, een roman (Real Life. A Novel, 2006) he set out to play a game with world literature. La Superba (2014) showed Pfeijffer’s…

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I’d said that anyway (2016). Poetry.


11 Poets from Holland


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The Netherlands
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