The poetry of Ramsey Nasr
If there is any truth in the cliché that Dutch authors are characterized by reticence and control, then Ramsey Nasr is an atypical Dutch poet. Holland’s current Poet Laureate, its youngest to date, he enjoys creating long, unfurling verses in which several voices resound, in which humour and tragedy coexist, and in which he is not afraid of taking a moral stance.
It is tempting to explain these characteristics by reference to his mixed background (he has a Dutch mother and a Palestinian father) or to the city where he lived from the early nineties until 2010 (Antwerp, in Belgium). But that would be to indulge in something Nasr vehemently criticizes in his work, namely the custom of presenting human identity as fixed and unchanging. His recent poems and essays plead passionately for a cosmopolitan, open-minded view of man and la condition humaine.
Nasr began his career as an actor, and made his debut as a poet in 2000 with 27 Poems & No Song in which his theatrical background is still evident. His long epic poem entitled No Song was performed as a dramatic monologue. This text is a rhymless revamp of motifs from the myth of Orpheus, in which Nasr expands the main character to cosmic proportions in order to express his colossal endeavour and its utter failure. The other poems in the collection are considerably shorter but they exhibit the same sense of romantic irony. Time and again the poet establishes that the world is not as magic as he once liked to think it was: ‘Again no miracle this morning’.
In the second collection, awkwardly flowering (inconveniently blossoming), 2004, Nasr partly makes use of the same motifs and styles. However, at the same time, he introduces a new writing style: that of light absurdism. After his second collection, Nasr opted, increasingly obviously, to give his works political and social significance.
Time and again Nasr addresses the issue of identity, never shunning controversy and often adopting a slightly moralistic tone, although he offsets this by consistently mocking the concept of national identity. The fact that Nasr mocks his own moralism along the way, does not by far mean that he really abandons it.