Lieke Marsman

I’ve begun breathing again

After her acclaimed debut collection in 2010, the young poet Lieke Marsman was considered a prodigy by many. Three important literary prizes and four years later, she confirmed her reputation with her next book of poems, The First Letter.

It was already evident in her debut collection that she was a thinker, but in The First Letter compulsive thoughts and delusions seem to lead a life of their own. A fear of everything and more plays an important role and can even get in the way of the poetry:

‘Today/ poetry seems to me a country/ to which I have not/ been given a ticket (…)/ a far-off island/ full of penguins.’

On paper it sounds more or less as it would sound in a hyper-aware and cogitating head. Talking is going on the whole time, the tone muttering at times, at other times as if she is having a row with (ex-) boyfriends and then suddenly realising: ‘who is it I’m actually talking to?’

The poems represent an attempt to recover language and poetry, and to find peace of mind. She writes aphoristically at some point:

‘The loveliest person/ is the one who doesn’t reflect on things; who has enough self-trust not to need/ any words inside the head when putting on a cup/ of tea’,

That this never turns into something sombre or heavy is due to the fact that Marsman’s sometimes panic-stricken fears are served with a generous dose of absurdity. She manages to lend even the most painful moments – a girl that is beaten black and blue by her boyfriend – a certain laconic charm, although behind such burly lines one dimly senses vulnerability.

The First Letter concludes with a tender lullaby. The tempest of thoughts has died down, and the poetry has returned. For good, let us hope, for Lieke Marsman is a valuable asset to Dutch poetry.

Lieke Marsman is a big talent. In warm, talkative poems she brings philosophical questions back to their human proportions.


Marsman investigates reality and language in a groping, playful and reflective way.

Jury of the Liegend Konijn Prize

I don’t really believe in the so-called therapeutic power of writing poetry.
For therapy, I go to a therapist.

Lieke Marsman


One night on TV a physicist says
it’s not impossible the universe will one day
stop growing and then slowly, faster
than light, implode. In that case
trillions of cosmoses might succeed ours
which would mean right now we are dangling
from a family tree of universes. Imagine
having to reproduce
by ceasing to exist.
Next morning, when I see
how at the start of a day I’ve begun
breathing again, I compare this tossing
around of stars to the bobbing
of my breasts, to a radio aerial
you aimlessly slide in and out
and then, my best shot to date,
to a sea anemone.

(Translation by Paul Vincent and Lieke Marsman)

Lieke Marsman

Lieke Marsman (b. 1990) is one of the leading young talents in Dutch literature. Her unique style combines prose, poetry and essay genres. After her acclaimed debut poetry collection in 2010, she was considered a prodigy by many. Her first novel, The Opposite of a Human Being, published in 2017…

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I’ve begun breathing again . Poëzie.


11 Poets from Holland


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