Elmar Kuiper – January

Elmar Kuiper is the RIXT poet of the month January. In November 2019 he wrote the poem cycle ‘Mother Ganges’ in Kolkata (Calcutta), where he performed at the Chair Poetry Evenings. On the last day of the poetry festival he and some fellow-poets made a long pleasure cruise on the Ganges river. Kuiper: ‘I stared into the water and had to think of my mum, who was terminally ill this summer. In the poem I make a link between the polluted, holy river and my mother whose illness was incurable. She always used to say: ‘when it’s my time it’ll be my time.’ The cycle will be included in Kuiper’s new poetry collection: Wite Mûle, Swarte Molke (‘White Mouth, Black Milk’), which will be published by Hispel in the spring.

For Kuiper’s other poems of the month, in Frisian, see here 

MOTHER GANGES

I

In the source bathes a word, from the river bank
a cow bell rings. Mother Ganges carries her pain

in her vest. A bird with pointed wings
hangs still in the air. Another bird circles

rings around grey apartment buildings. Yes, God
I flung overboard. Yes, the mind pounds away,

its mouth filled with dirt, shouts filthy
things, shouts with a mouth full of poison.

II

The sun above Arundhathi’s eyebrows
is Prussian blue, as our boat pushes off

a priest sings. Lovely, isn’t it, being here
in a country where English sounds so funny.

But you’re distracting me, with your rank body,
floating sweetgrass and the refuse of the city.

Are you my mother, who says humanity will be
wiped out? Do you dare to call yourself mother?

I listen and lean over the railing and look
into your mustard yellow visage, Ganges.

III

You are my mother on the floating help and I
stay with you, hold your hand. Your veins, so

strangely thick. Yet another scan and you don’t
believe the results. But the spot in your head is

not an island where we can just sail to and
go on holiday and sunbathe. It is death,

mum, death who plays hide and seek with his
black face in your frontal lobe, making you so

quiet and mild. You whisper hoarsely: Then it’s
my time, my son. Are you giving up? You are

and will stay my mother, who washes my sins, incredulous
though I am. A raptor cries out in the air particulates.

IV

When evil cleanses itself from evil, I will be
clean and pure, mum, and I shall stream

quietly, until death will shiv me violently with his
sickle. When there’s no end or beginning, I’ll lie

on your bank and drown in the source. Oh well, let me
leave it there. Someone says: ‘Hello sir, picture please’

and I make strange faces, can’t think of
any excuse and say abashedly: ‘Okay!’

V

We sail a long way upstream. Kolkata lies like
a white haze in front of our eyes. Katyayani wants

a picture with the friendly giant. Humanity still
lives in the dark; I can almost hear you say it.

I stretch my back and put on a routine smile. Good
will triumph even though I don’t believe in evil.

Ashutosh laughs and Anindina says my eyes
are as clear as the Himalaya.

VI

Tagore, I want to wash the clay off of me, strike
a light tone, throw a coin into your being.

You don’t have to check the lights, mate. The tongue
of your lantern burns. What could I curse you with?

After all, life is just a dew drip on a lotus leaf.
But what about death, Tagore, it’s so hard and hungry.

VII

God, I’ve read Krishnamurthi over and over again, but what good
does it to me, 7500 km from home, I stare over the railing

into the water and see my father under the cow’s udder,
squeezing and pulling on the teats. I catch a glimpse of you:

your tongue sticks out and you stitch and iron
the seams. I hear Brian, compatriot, war veteran

and great poet say you have to put the parts in
different bags. He writes verses like cat’s-tails, like

smoked eel. Now I fly back and wrap up this poem,
mum, as Keisang serves me, pours water into

a plastic cup, the steel bird quivers
above the ocean, only for a moment.

© Elmar Kuiper
Translation: Trevor M. Scarse

Sipke de Schiffart – December

Sipke de Schiffart was RIXT-poet of the  month December 2019. You can read his original Frisian poems of that month here. The translation of one of them – ‘generation gap’ – is published below.

generation gap

my dad was an old-fashioned farmer,
every morning he went to work
at half past three
and expected the same of me

but I was half a century younger
and went to bed late,
after having watched TV,
Veronica and the VPRO,
so, I would get up later in the morning

now I think: getting up between five and six,
that’s still quite early
for a boy of around twenty years old

in the mornings I struggled
to wake up, every morning
my father got angry with me,
because I didn’t hurry up

one morning (now I think: middle of the night)
in December of 1980 he came
to my bed at half past three
to announce that Mick Jagger
had been shot in New York

the message had its intended effect:
I was immediately wide awake,
satisfied my dad went back to the barn
to feed the cattle

but when I heard on the clock radio
that it was John Lennon who was shot,
and not Mick Jagger,
I rolled over
and went back to sleep

© Sipke de Schiffart
Translation: Trevor M. Scarse

Jan Kooistra – November

Jan Kooistra was RIXT-poet of the  month November 2019. You can read his original Frisian poems of that month here. The translation of one of them – ‘sizzen is neat’ – is published below.

Photo: Geart Tigchelaar


words not deeds

recently I read that the Poet
Laureate wants to make the woods
dark again and that Greta Thunberg

is autistic, that once more the Kurds
leave everything behind

I was in Sachsenhausen the other day
where I heard horrible stories
I saw a young man crying

saw large numbers of ashen rooks
I heard the echoes in the distance

wanted to move to a village where
you can still see the stars
where the swallows fly in summer and
owls sit on the trusses in winter

sometimes I yearn for the courage
of that lassie from Sweden
and reclaim the dark from the woods
tell those tales again and
unseat all those false blowhards

but I shouldn’t step into
the garden late at night
and look up at that
infinitely glittering sky
because then I will be reduced
to tears like a little boy

© Jan Kooistra
Translation: Trevor M. Scarse

Tryntsje van der Veer – October

Tryntsje van der Veer was RIXT-poet of the  month October 2019. You can read her original Frisian poems of that month here. One of them – half moon – is published here in translation. The poem was written in response to the situation in Ruinerwold.

Photo: Geart Tigchelaar


half moon

in daylight
dark blue
a shiver

half my heart
reeds from the brushwood
heaps of ooze

in a drone flight
the house the barn
the yard disclosed

my whole head
full of dramatic scenes
the curtain has fallen

in naked light
a tree the garden
ditches stink

trust in keys
loved ones and deserters
helpers dressed in black

in moonlight
doors hurl
don’t resist

in the basements
the water rises
sewers never lie

until full moon
beards and old clothes
times never lie

in daylight
dark blue
a shiver

© Tryntsje van der Veer
Translation: Trevor M. Scarse

Anne Feddema – September

Anne Feddema was RIXT-poet of the month September 2019. You can read his original Frisian poems of that month here. One of them – Papel Solo – is published here in translation.

Papel Solo

I’d already seen them for many a day
The crowd of profitess sisters
At the Sevillian cathedral
Swarming Sybils
Money is their language
Almost fighting
For the favour
Of the future tourists
They don’t have no
Red headscarves
Large earrings
No balls of crystal
They’re wearing Kappa clothing
Cervesacynic within me says:
Is there any honour in this work?

Today the last day
In the city of Carmen
And Don Juan
So… sigh…
Let’s get it over with
What will the future hold for me?
I give her my hand
And clichés start tumbling out
I’ll grow old, be happy
And rich, of course
I hear the chatter
Already pass me by
Now it’s my time to read her hand
I give her two euros
However, she says:
‘ Papel solo ‘
Money is what she wants
But only made of paper
I walk away abruptly
And point at my buttocks
Almost sing
Papel solo
Papel solo
To wipe myself

© Anne Feddema
Translation: Trevor M. Scarse

 

Sytse Jansma – August 2019

Sytse Jansma was RIXT-poet of the month August 2019. You can read his original Frisian poems of that month here. One of them – Hiroshima – is published here in translation.


Hiroshima, 6th of August 1945

this poem is an indictment against nuclear weapons
now that I know how narrow pilots, people, countries

that they actually opened the hatch, a ‘little boy’
above playing school children
a dad cycling to work, a waiting mum
on the steps of the main station

that it can be turned so easily
in mere seconds

people, talking with each other,
looking into each other’s eyes full of life,
just saying what they wanted to
say at that moment

into sizzling heaps of flesh

a person, that you’re there,
and then suddenly you’re not

after which, like a delirium,
everything comes down as black hellish rain

on top of the made redundant;
the cups on the table, the toys
in the garden, the clothes
in the closet

and that underneath the rubble
of what used to be a home,
only crushed bones remain

white powder that flies up
at the softest of breezes

© Sytse Jansma
Translation: Trevor M. Scarse

Job Degenaar – July 2019

Job Degenaar was RIXT-poet of the month July 2019. You can read his original Dutch poems of that month here. One of them – Girl on her way to the textile mill – is published here in translation.


Foto: Bangladesh Labour Foundation (BLF)


Girl on her way to the textile mill

Some kids never get to be kids
a fact we seemingly concede

for centuries they’ve been used
abused like animals

The world doesn’t stop
when in the early morning

a small girl walks to the factory
to spin the web of her miserly life

unable to extricate herself from it
in vibrant colours

while we on the sunny side of the earth
blindly turn our backs

to the shady sides
like hers

©  Job Degenaar
Translation: Trevor M. Scarse

Meisje op weg naar de weeffabriek

Sommige kinderen zijn nooit kind
daarin schijnen we te berusten

al eeuwen worden ze gebruikt
misbruikt als dieren

De wereld houdt niet op
als in de vroege morgen

een klein meisje loopt naar de fabriek
om het web van haar armzalig leven

waaruit ze niet ontsnappen kan
kleurrijk in te weven

terwijl wij aan de zonzij van de aarde
verblind de rug toekeren

naar schaduwplekken
als die van haar

© Job Degenaar