The poetry of Jan Baeke

In a note to his fourth collection, Groter dan de feiten (Larger than the Facts, 2007), he lists a number of people who inspired him during his writing process. This list shows that the work of international film makers such as Andrej Tarkovski, Federico Fellini, Michael Haneke and Luis Buñuel are as important to Baeke’s poetry as writings of poets like János Pilinszky, Wallace Stevens and Ann Carson.

Original title
De poëzie van Jan Baeke
Jan Baeke

Both Baeke’s imagery and technique seem to be fuelled and formed by film and poetry alike.

As a translator, Baeke has a preference for Anglo-Saxon poets from all over the globe: among others, he has translated poems by Lavinia Greenlaw (English), Liz Lochhead (Scottish), Deryn Rees-Jones (Welsh) and Russell Edson (American). As a poet, he made his début in 1997 with Nooit zonder de paarden (Never without the Horses), about which Dutch poet and essayist Erik Menkveld wrote:

‘Jan Baeke likes to involve his readers in bizarre situa­tions. A drawing room where horses dance gracefully, a train compartment full of dogs, a “decade, season, time of night” in which buses are “no longer cherished”, or the house of a man who lives with a saw. Even so, his poetry cannot simply be labelled “absurdist”; however unlikely the locations, images, observations and trains of thought in Baeke’s poetry may be, they always appear to convey some worthwhile truth about the reality of our lives.’

Reality, its rules and limits, and the human (in)ability to stretch these are subjects which continue to fascinate Baeke, from Zo is de zee (That is the Sea, 2001) and Iedereen is er (Everyone is Here, 2004), right up to his more recent collections Het tankstation op de route (The Gas Station along the Route, 2013) and Seizoensroddel (Seasonal Gossip, 2015).

As critic Hans Groenewegen put it: ‘Each poem is another attempt at discovering the laws that govern our world.’The same ‘unstable universe’ serves as décor in the love story told in Groter dan de feiten (Larger than the Facts, 2007), which was nominated for the most important poetry prize for a single collection in the Netherlands: the VSB Poetry Prize. Over five chapters a story unfolds – though never fully. It is the story of two lovers in and around some Mediterranean hotel who constantly attract, distract and repel one another, just as fact and fiction do.

Through his poetic explorations, in his search for coherency or at least some grip on reality, Baeke shows us just how uncertain, incoherent and unpredict­able the world around us actually is.

Jan Baeke
Jan Baeke (b.1956) published seven collections of poetry since 1997. He also translated a number of poets into Dutch, including Lavinia Greenlaw, Deryn Rees-Jones and Russell Edson. He works for the annual Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam.
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