Ramsey Nasr

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.

Multifaceted, virtuosic, irreverent and polymath. His poems, in every form and register from sonnet to Whitmanian tirade, do not balk at history.

Marilyn Hacker

This poetry sparkles and effervesces, wallows in trimmings that are subsequenly ruthlessly discarded, and has the nerve to include words such as ‘soul’ and ‘heart’ without becoming ridiculous.

Piet Gerbrandy

He reaches the hearts of his readers exactly by omitting pretentions or false sentiment. The song has returned, it resounds in his poems. What a voice!


This is a poet who takes the pulse of his age, presses charges against injustice and oppression, without forgetting the heartbeat of his predecessors.

De Morgen

The Subhuman and his Habitat

welcome to the land of milk and honey
where figalmondapricots grow
unmetaphorically on accommodating trees
eat of them and be my guest today
i’ll pay your taxi to the first roadblock

my father waits behind the second roadblock
he’ll make you his guest of honour too
with oil bread oregano sesame
stars press down upon his roof
sleep there and give him nadir’s love

the day to father is hard but essential
try to find a kid with a barrow
take donkeys or scramble on foot round the cliffs
follow the others keep telling yourself
now we are animals this is permissible

wheelchairs go bouncing through dust
back from the city where they cure the sick
diabetic with cancer in blazing sun
many old, many sick, many sweating animals
but that’s the whole idea

in the day we are sweating climbing animals
because that’s the whole idea
they beat and kick the animals to an end
that one day we will give milk and honey
one day manna will rain from human hands

if this seems insane to you habibi
just think that miles down the road
real girls and boys are sitting nervously
outside starbucks as an act of resistance
uproarious in fear of their lives

Ramsey Nasr

Ramsey Nasr is a prize-winning poet, essayist, dramatist and actor. His first collection, 27 Poems & No Song (2000), was followed by the novella Captain Sourpuss and the Two Cultures (2001) and Two Libretti (2002). In the spring of 2004 he published his second book of poetry, awkwardly

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De poëzie van Ramsey Nasr . Poetry.


De Bezige Bij

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NL - 1071 DW Amsterdam
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