The poetry of Remco Campert
A refreshing lack of solemnity
Although the 1950s – jazz and Paris, the special atmosphere of the post-war period with its combination of hope and cynicism – have remained a vital reference point for Campert, he has always moved with the times. Since the 1990s his poetry has taken a new turn, becoming more reflective, even elegiac in tone. While his new work also begins in the everyday and the incidental, it often takes off from these to air more universal questions.
His themes have changed; the rebellious tone of the writer of the 1950s and 1960s has been replaced by a more intimate and lyrical quest. The irony and humour remain however, together with a refreshing lack of solemnity. As for his poet’s signature, the critic Xandra Schutte puts it in a nutshell, in Dutch weekly Vrij Nederland:
‘His great gift is that he writes largely about himself, but does so with so great a distance that it never feels like navel-gazing and so little that he never falls into facile irony. If you want to describe his tone, however, you are chasing a soap bubble.’
As someone who has always lived by the pen, Remco Campert has worked in various genres. He is not only a poet, but has published a wide range of fiction. He has won many awards, including the most famous, the P.C. Hooft Prize, for his complete poetic oeuvre.
Remco Campert was born in The Hague in 1929 as the son of poet Jan Campert and actress Joekie Broedelet. In 1950 he co-founded the literary journal Braak, and one year later, his debut collection, Vogels vliegen toch (Birds fly, don’t they?), was published. Campert was one of the group of Dutch poets known as the Vijftigers or ‘Fifties’ poets. Coming to adulthood under the shadow of WO II, they felt the need for a poetry that took nothing for granted, in terms of form or content. Beyond their ties of friendship, what united this rather varied group was their opposition to a literary tradition that in the aftermath of the occupation felt outmoded. Instead they chose for experiment and, in Campert’s case, for a language closer to common speech. He was the most accessible of his contemporaries and, perhaps because of this, his work has always appealed to a broad public. His most recent collections of poetry are Nieuwe herinneringen (New Memories; 2007) in Holland and I Dreamed in the Cities at Night (Arc Publications, 2007) in the UK.