Anna Enquist

The Poetry of Anna Enquist

Hunting scenes

In an interview Enquist herself made a link between her psychoanalytical work and her poetry. In both cases, explained the poet, it is a question of finding a balance between analysis and feeling. The poet is after the bilingualism between technical and emotional language. The enormous response provoked by her work and the prizes she has received for it testify to her having succeeded in striking a balance between the two. Enquist writes lucid poems, about growing older, motherhood, seeing time slipping through your fingers and the helplessness of not being able to do anything about it. However, the tone of her poetry is fierce and dogged.

It is no accident that Enquist should have begun her oeuvre in Soldaten-liederen with a poem about a deserter. The choice is one of surrender or resistance, and in her work the poet clearly chooses the latter. In the face of life and the inexorable passing of time she adopts an attitude not of gloom and melancholy but of pain and rage. The poems are populated with ‘Angry wolves howling / for what was lost.’ Even music does not always have a consoling effect here, but is also violent and noisy, trumpet salvos blare through the valley or Bach fills the space with thunderous, threatening

In the cycle of poems ‘Prune’ all kinds of excision are dealt with. Surgeons, shepherds and gardeners perform their grisly work with knives and saws. At the same time there is an awareness that amputation is necessary for further growth: ‘See how it survives, how amputated it chooses its direction.’ This poems is about a branch full of blossom, but also recalls a constantly recurring theme in Enquist: the pain of seeing one’s children grow up and leave.

From the third collection, Een nieuw afscheid (1994), onwards, the poetry is more often about poetry itself:
The players tug laboriously
at the arid song.
Like music, poetry can also have a liberating effect:
When the player
is raised up, freed: gliding above the battlefield
for a moment he can dominate finiteness.
This feeling of a momentary freedom in art is reinforced by Enquist’s use of form and language in her poetry. She refuses to be imprisoned in a corset of rhyme, and effortly uses widely different language registers. Sometimes we hear an undertone of triviality, on another occasion scientific discourse, and the next moment she is exaltedly poetic. Through this variation she indicates that for there is no hierarchy between the various domains of life. From ‘ablation’ to ‘baby’s bottoms’, everything has a right to its own place in Anna Enquist’s vision.

Poetry lovers should be grateful. Enquist’s four collections are the best possible proof that you can you can satisfy literary connoisseurs and readers focused on feelings in equal measure.

HP/De Tijd

It is the tone, the drive and acute perceptions of this collection that immediately make you feel that the appearance of Soldatenliederen is an event of moment.

Vrij Nederland

Klaarlichte dag is a splendid collection, the best Anna Enquist has yet published.

Het Parool


Wooden almost, the way he waits
in the distance for my footstep, his
starting gun. Way up on the dike.

Down flat he goes, traces lightning
over the field, slams himself
home safe to his whirlpool of grass.

I don’t want to hunt you, hare; I want
to share your wide-open house, I want
to read what you wrote in the field.

I want to feel your golden-grey fleece
but ever between the hand and the hare
the lie and the ruin crowd in.

Translation © 1998 by Lloyd Haft

Anna Enquist

Anna Enquist (b. 1945) is one of the most popular writers in the Netherlands. She trained in piano at the academy of music in The Hague and at the same time studied psychology in Leiden. When she made her debut as a poet in 1991 with the collection Soldatenliederen (Soldiers’ Songs), for which…

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De poëzie van Anna Enquist . Poetry.


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Weteringschans 259
NL - 1017 XJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
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