An Evening of Prose Poetry

Last October 24th there was a sociable gathering in café De Basuin in Leeuwarden. As the Danish poet Carsten René Nielsen was staying in Groningen for six weeks to write new material and to translate work by Nyk de Vries, amongst others, RIXT invited him for a performance. Nielsen is a prose poet pur sang, so the evening was centred around that genre. Because of that, our own prose poet Nyk de Vries was invited as well.

The varying occasional formation Reade Runen – consisting of Elmar Kuiper, Cornelis van der Wal, Syds Wiersma and Geart Tigchelaar – which has a connection with Denmark as they were there last April and are busy gathering and translating a collection of Frisian-Danish poetry, performed as well. As said, the composition of the formation varies and Hein Jaap Hilarides replaced Tigchelaar for the evening, as Tigchelaar was hosting the evening.

Tigchelaar started the evening by asking the audience if they were familiar with the term prose poem. Only a couple raised their hands shyly. So, Tigchelaar hoped that the rest of the audience would be familiar with the genre as well by the end of the evening.

Hein Jaap Hilarides

Hilarides was the first to perform with verses in Biltsk and even a few in English to allay Nielsen. However, it has to be said that Nielsen is learning Dutch and understands a fair amount of the language already.

Nyk de Vries

De Vries was able to showcase his prose poetry, utilising music and images alternately in his performance. Thus, his set had a more multimedia approach. His performance was superb and it added some variety to the evening as well.

Syds Wiersma

Syds Wiersma travelled through Ireland during the summer, so he poured all his experiences and meetings over there into the mould of prose poetry. Full of narrative and with a rich language he took the audience with him on his travels.

Carsten René Nielsen had made a vibrant selection of his poems from his latest collection Enogfyrre tin (Forty-one things) and Tigchelaar read translations of them in both Dutch and Frisian. Some members of the audience were able to understand Danish, so Nielsen was pleasantly surprised when some laughed along during his original language performance.

Elmar Kuiper

After the break it was Elmar Kuiper’s turn who was in high spirits and in-between his poems he told some vivid tales about his expeditions as a young boy with his dad, a cattle photographer.

Nyk de Vries

Next up was return performance by De Vries. He took us along with him to an interview he and others from the Blauwe Fedde literary magazine had had with the Frisian author Rink van der Velde, we sat with him atop a crane in LA, and the next moment in the clubhouse in Harkema. Nielsen added that in his view the Frisian word for clubhouse, ‘kluphûs’, only has a good translation in the Danish ‘forsamlingshus’. According to Nielsen, no other language comes close to the full width of the meaning in Frisian.

Cornelis van der Wal

Following this, Cornelis van der Wal read four translations of prose poems by Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Revérdy. The last poet is less famous than the others, and Van der Wal had to concede that he himself hadn’t heard of him before either. Van der Wal had translated the poems superbly and the somewhat raw verses accorded well with his own distinctive style of performance.

That the French invented prose poetry can be asserted as fact comfortably. Which was a nice bridge for Nielsen to step in after Tigchelaar asked him to explain to the audience what exactly a prose poem is. It all started in France, but today the genre is mostly practiced in the United States and Canada, not so much in Europe (anymore).

Prose poetry is closely linked to so-called flash fiction. A prose poem often uses narrative as well and is a short form of prose, but it is more poetic in language and more concise. Nielsen would categorise some of the poems in the collections of De Vries as short prose, but Nielsen concludes that the best identifying mark of a prose poem as a prose poem is the author’s own identification of it as such. The covers of De Vries’s collections state that they are prose poems, and thus they are prose poems, according to Nielsen, because this provides a framework for the reader.

No one in the room could add to that, so Tigchelaar thanked the poet collective RIXT and Boeken fan Fryslân in particular for the (financial) support and ended the official proceedings. This allowed everyone in the cosy De Basuin to drink one more with the poets.

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

Ljouwert/Leeuwarden designated City of Literature

Photo: Geart Tigchelaar

At the end of October Ljouwert/Leeuwarden, the Frisian capital and European Capital of Culture in 2018, was designated City of Literature by UNESCO. Leeuwarden is the second Dutch city, after Utrecht, that joins the group of worldwide Cities of Literature.

The project of Cities of Literature started in 2004, with Edinburgh being the first City of Literature. Since then the network has grown, in collaboration with the larger UNESCO Creative Cities Network, to include around 30 cities. Other cities in the network are Ljubljana, Prague, and Melbourne, amongst others.

The UNESCO jury had the following to say about the bid book of Leeuwarden: “The bid-book gave a glimpse of great ambitions. Creative and substantively strong.”

With access to the network, it is hoped that the Frisian literary network can be expanded. That Leeuwarden has been named is a reward of the ambitions of both Leeuwarden and Friesland to keep literature and culture high up on the list of priorities for the city.

Talented Frisian writers and artists will be challenged to contribute to literary projects in Leeuwarden. With the Frisian language, being the second official language in the Netherlands, and the multilingual atmosphere in Leeuwarden, the city together with the province of Friesland will mobilise its literary and artistic heritage and potential, and showcase them in innovative ways on the local, regional and international level.

RIXT is very pleased that Leeuwarden has received this title, since our poets pack wants to reach beyond the Frisian borders and intends to invite poets from other regions and countries to stay here for a while and cooperate with Frisian poets.

All the same

At the poetry festival Transpoesie in Brussels, in September 2019, Elmar Kuiper was this year’s Frisian poet who was invited to read from his work. During his stay he wrote a prose poem about one of his nightly walks through the city.

Photo: Elmar Kuiper

All the same

At the end of a literary evening in Brussels, I drank a Kaapse Pracht with a South African, whom I, miraculously, was able to understand. “A Frisian has a cruel tongue” I proclaimed and ducked out, staggered across a broken-up street and heard a load of sharp s’s and the hard g of an Arab shouting at me even at this late hour. I looked nervously around me and hurriedly crossed the intersection. Near the Holiday Inn our eyes met each other. She sat bolt upright, on a piece of bubble wrap, in the doorway of a restaurant and had wavy hair and dirty cheeks. Wrapped up in a drab blanket she looked me up and down. The white of her eyes became a puddle in which I almost drowned. “Help me, sir,” she whispered, soft as a summer rain, and I reached, generously minded, into my pocket and folded my wallet open, yet not even a penny rolled out of it. “These are hard times for poets as well,” I snapped, as if it was nothing, but she didn’t say anything and just shook her head.

© Elmar Kuiper
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


The Arch

This year in March poet Geart Tigchelaar cycled from Fryslân to the Soutar Festival of Words in Perth, where he had a reading with Scots poet David Eyre about the relation between Frisian and Scots on the basis of Tigchelaar his work. Eyre is currently working on a translation of Tigchelaar his debut collection of poetry leech hert yn nij jek [empty heart in new jacket] (Hispel 2016) to Scots.
Tigchelaar had an anthology of Soutars poems in his pannier. The poet also packed his camera, so he gave himself the assignment to make a photograph each day, which suited a poem or a fragment of a poem and posted them on the social media. The organisation from StAnza Festival in St Andrews (where Tigchelaar has performed in 2018) really liked the initiative and bundled the photos and poems in an e-book.

Tigchelaar has also written a poem, inspired by the life and work of William Soutar, which was translated by Eyre in Scots and published here.

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