Hester Knibbe

I take the brains

A Thin Permanence is the title of one of Hester Knibbe’s collections. The title says much about her poetry: a poetry in which the attention for things permanent invariably combines with themes like vulnerability, fragility, transience.

Permanence, says Knibbe, is only appearance, in a sense, because all those things that seem to have stood the test of time – classic art, Greek mythology, Chinese temples – have not always remained the same: ‘Change has always been/ here’.

It is change, the motion of life, which Knibbe tries to come to grips with in her poems. Not to understand it unequivocally, but to probe it, give it a form by which to get hold of it. While she keeps her distance, the poet finds images that represent the actual events as well as her personal experience of them.

Since 1982, Knibbe has published over a dozen volumes of poetry. In 2001 she received the Anna Blaman Prize for her work. The jury report emphasized the development that is so apparent in this oeuvre: a development ‘from tentative, groping poems to an effective, surefooted poetry which stands as if it has always been here.’ In 2015, her collection Archaic the Animals won the top Dutch-language poetry prize, the VSB Poetry Prize; she was also appointed as the Rotterdam City Poet Laureate.

Comparing the poems from her earliest collections, Between Gestures and Words and Girl in a Bathing Suit with those in the latest volume, we find much similarity, especially in form – frequent use of internal rhyme and enjambment, flowing rhythm – but striking differences and ongoing development as well.

Knibbe’s voice can be harrowingly clear and dreamily disorienting, often in the same poem – but it’s a fortifying and ennobling one nonetheless.

Christian Wiman

Simultaneously austere and elaborate, her poems investigate contradiction and ambiguity: the ‘flexibility of stone’, the Persephone who is complicit in her own kidnapping, the fluidity between dream life and the waking world.

Kathryn Maris

Knibbe’s poems expose the field of tension between what remains and what withers away.

Paul Demets


I take the brains the tongue and the cheeks,
one said, but I throw away the heart.

We were stunned into silence, went over the rest
of the body, keeping our thoughts to

ourselves. Climbed up the mountain next morning
to look for food, found inedible.

Then we slaughtered innocence.
We left brains tongue and cheeks
intact, took the heart.

(Translation by Vivien D. Glass)

Hester Knibbe

Hester Knibbe (b. 1946) was the poet laureate of the city of Rotterdam in 2015 and 2016. She chaired the Dutch PEN between 2008 and 2010, and published fifteen books of poetry to date, earning her a number of prestigious Dutch prizes, among which the Herman Gorter Prize (2000), the A. Roland Holst…

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I take the brains (2016). Poëzie.


11 Poets from Holland


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