Let me start with a disclaimer – I’m no expert on Dutch verse. But I do read a lot of poetry, with a special focus on, and passion for, poetry in translation. Delving into Dutch poetry in English translation has been a real journey of discovery.
What is astounding for me is how much Dutch poetry is translated into English. As a poet and translator myself I know oh-so well that this is quite a rare situation for poetry written in any other language, especially a ‘small’ one. Dutch poetry in translation is therefore a shining beacon, an example that others should definitely follow. As we all know, English-language publication is more often than not a question of funding. Therefore thanks should be directed at the Dutch Foundation for Literature, which – not coincidentally – made this Dutch Riveter possible too.
There is a thriving poetry scene in the Netherlands, due in large part To a robust, well-developed infrastructure of literary magazines, publishing houses specialising in poetry, and bookstores putting poetry in the limelight (e.g. Amsterdam’s Perdu). There are spoken-word and poetry events everywhere in the Netherlands, from festivals (in Rotterdam, Arnhem, Nijmegen, Groningen and The Hague) to open-mic poetry cafés. There are various poetry-writing courses and a truly amazing number of poetry prizes and awards (e.g. the VSB Poetry Prize, the P.C. Hooft, the SNS-Lux Poetry Prize, the Literary Prize of the province of Gelderland, and more). Pretty much every regional or local library hosts its own poetry prize. Poems are everywhere, including on the walls of trains or in the underground, on pavements and on building façades. And, let’s say it again, there is Dutch funding for poetry and poets through various schemes, such as grants, educational projects and residencies. Since 2000, the Netherlands has also had its own poet laureate, and celebrates the National Day of Poetry every January and, in April, the Week of Poetry. It’s wonderful to see a country that takes such pleasure in poetry, and a country where poetry is popular.
In my reading and selection for The Dutch Riveter, I decided to focus on contemporary poetry and poets, partly because I wanted to take a close look at what is happening in Dutch literature now – and it turns out that a lot is happening. Contemporary Dutch poetry’s finger is very much on the global pulse: migration and refugees, climate change, sex and gender, sexual abuse, racism, identity – it’s all there. As Alfred Schaffer, a great poet himself, wrote in his introduction to New Dutch Poets, it’s about creating ‘poetry that isn’t just about form and style, about language and craft, but that is also relevant and tackles all sorts of urgent issues’. He also wrote: ‘Dutch poetry is in a state of constant flux, but with the emergence of so many new young poets it now seems to be heading in a truly new direction, one that reflects the challenges, obsessions and fascinations of this complex twenty-first century.’
What a great introduction his words are to my selection of poets for The Dutch Riveter.
By Anna Blasiak
Buy books discussed in The Dutch Riveter via the European Literature Network’s The Dutch Riveter bookshop.org page.