The poetry of Maria Barnas
A pleasant, poetic immediacy
When Twee zonnen (Two Suns, 2003) was awarded the C. Buddingh’ Prize, the jury considered it ‘contemplative, musical poetry, desperate and humorous, powerful and brittle, with a transparency that gets more complex on re-reading’.
Although similar words could be used to generally describe Maria Barnas’s second collection, Er staat een stad op (A City Rises, 2007), the poet’s style has clearly evolved: Barnas loosens her grip on syntax and widens her focus. Meanwhile, sharp observations seem to overrule contemplation, and a light, slightly frightening sense of violence enters her poems now and again. Her craftsmanship, which critics praised in Twee zonnen, is still there, but it’s put to use in a more nonchalant manner.
Barnas still combines her various artistic trades, and added writing poetry reviews, a libretto and plays for theatre and radio to the list, but writing poetry is at the centre of her activities.
As she once told a reporter of the Dutch daily Trouw, she always needs to find a solution for something in a poem first, before she can start thinking about it in any other form. Her distinctive characteristic is that she displays control in all the disciplines she engages in. She sets about things in a selfassured, sophisticated way.
In her poetry, her language is just as sharp as her observations. Her work is also characterised by a subtle sense of humour: she meets a ‘tall poet with, on his arm,/ the lovely girlfriend and, loosely, the park’; maudlin metaphors are hanging from the bough like dead swans. And her work has a pleasant, poetic immediacy: when she describes the Amstel river and ‘the front of the city’, she suddenly briskly continues ‘but/ everything that I say exists.’ She is not afraid to link her poems to topical issues, such as a newspaper report or bomb attacks in London. Despite their clarity, her poems can have a disorientating effect. Associations occasionally lead the reader away from the described situation. The perspective in her poems regularly capsizes and changes. Each time we fall down, a city rises.