RivetingReviews: Anna Blasiak reviews COLLECTED WORKS by F. van Dixhoorn

Frans (François Henricus Anthonia) van Dixhoorn was born in 1948 in Hansweert, Zeeland, in the south of the Netherlands. He worked as a school teacher, then became a full-time artist, first with visual work and then, from the early 1990s as a poet. He published seven collections of poetry in Dutch, received some awards. This book is the first translation of his work into English (after French and German). Astrid Alben, his translator, together with the publisher, Broken Sleep Books, took no-holds-barred approach with the selection, which resulted in a 370-pages-long set of collected works. Not bad for the first book in English…

And what a feast this book is! It reads like a meditation, with certain lines and rhythms being repeated at some intervals throughout the book. This contemplative feeling might also be the result of the fact that van Dixhoorn’s poems are predominantly sixteen lines long, with rather short lines, and with a particular focus on the look of them on the page (size of the margins, placement of stanza) – the poems form similar looking blocks. As Astrid Alben writes in her introduction, it is so because “the poem as landscape is crucial to van Dixhoorn […] The landscape of the poem informs the form: all is at work to make the poem work.”

turn
one after
the other
turn

even better 

turn
one after
the other
turn

[…]

and again after the

turn
one after
the other
turn

This meditative flow carries the reader through the entirety of this vast book – and it does so in a gentle, light, almost unnoticeable way. That’s always quite a tall order, and especially for a book of this size! I kept turning page after page, in a daze, until I reached the end. As Alben writes, “Without metaphor or simile within the poems, the poems themselves become a metaphor for how we look at the world outside of the poems and for the act of reading. All the usual ways of discussing a poem are rendered nugatory: there is no story or plot, no theme, there are no characters or emotions to analyse. Van Dixhoorn looks beyond the single poem to the artistic project ahead.”

Another element that contributes to the enigma of this mesmerising set are numbers. Van Dixhoorn counts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, (4). He does that again and again, and again. Alben explains in her introduction that van Dixhoorn always counts the trees on his daily cycle along the canals. And this is exactly how he counts them, in a repeated sets of threes or fours. This, again, creates certain rhythm and meditative repetition, which flows from page to page.

the ship ran its course
out of sight
I have to believe them 
don’t change 
they become extinct 4. on the quay 
1. on the quay 
I was sitting on the quay 
watching
and so was she 
2. black belongs
in 3.
in the water
3. with a duck
4. when 
he returns

Reviewed by Anna Blasiak

COLLECTED WORKS

by F. van Dixhoorn

translated by Astrid Alben

published by Broken Sleep Books (2024)

March 2024 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.


Anna Blasiak is a poet, writer, translator, journalist and Managing Editor of the European Literature Network. Recently she translated According to Her by Maciej Hen, published a bilingual poetry and photography book with Lisa Kalloo Café by Wren’s St-James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime, and a book-length interview with a Holocaust survivor, Lili: Lili Stern-Pohlmann in conversation with Anna Blasiak.

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Category: March 2024Reviews

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