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International Poetry: 16 June

by Thomas Möhlmann on June 18th, 2010

A review of the international poetry programme on 16 June.

Poets: Hasso Krull (Estonia), Nyk de Vries (Friesland, The Netherlands), and Kim Hyesoon (South Korea)

First up is Hasso Krull, a poet from Estonia who looks a lot younger than his 45 years. His poems appear fresh and accessible, but after each poem he reads, I’m left wondering for a few seconds what has just happened. Krull just showed me how holes are everywhere, that they in fact make up everything we see or do: is the whole of our existence actually build on holes? And when, in another poem, he just described that there’s always something alive in the water, little seeds or bugs, or some pollen, even if it’s water from the purest source, I end up unsure about whether that’s a good or a bad thing. It’s the calm, seemingly sincere way he reads his work, even when his thoughts have gone astray for a few lines already, that keeps creeping around in my own head long after he’s finished. The cosmic and the comic are blended to reveal how life is – as Eels put it – ‘funny, but not ha ha funny’.

After some twenty minutes, it’s Nyk de Vries’s turn. The Frisian/Dutch poet and musician, born in 1971, is introduced as a master of ‘the unexpected twist’, and that’s exactly right. His short prose poems, mostly consisting of less than 120 words (De Vries: ‘Well, none of them ever reaches 170. Unless it really is a damn good one’), aren’t nonsensical at all, but they do plunge you into the weirdest situations, uncertain of how you just got there, and how you’ll ever get out again.

I really liked De Vries’s Dutch debut collection Motorman, which appeared three years ago, but had never got the chance to see him read before now, even though he has performed on some major Dutch stages over the last couple of years. After tonight, I’ll be sure to try harder next time, because his show – accompanied by his high school friend Fokke van der Veen on guitar and a number of samples – really rocks. The short tales are buoyed by the music, the sounds adding an extra tension to De Vries’s already unsettling little universes, without messing with any of the words. The best example is the poem ‘Carnaval’ (Carnival): a young woman’s recorded voice reads in Dutch, while the poet reads them in Frisian, leading to a bilingual duet, of which the English translation can be read on the screen above the stage.

No additional instruments or samples with the last poet for tonight, Kim Hyesoon (1955) from South Korea. But there’s a strong musicality in her words, at least in how they sound to me, because of course I don’t understand a word of what she says in her own language. Simultaneously reading the Dutch and English translations on the big screen, it’s funny to watch some of the differences between the two. In ‘Another Titanic’ for example, one line in Dutch translation reads: ‘ik zou als een slang rijst eten en mijn mond afvegen,/ antwoordde ik’ (literally: I’d eat rice like a snake and wipe my mouth,/ I answered’), while the English states: ‘I’d eat, wipe my mouth, and slip out like a snake,/ I answered’.

In both languages though, these hallucinating poems seem to focus on identity and physical coherence, and the the loss of both. Hyesoon shows us how things and bodies could fit together, how they can fall apart, how they’re able to end up as other things or bodies, in new and yet again unstable forms. When Hyesoon has stopped reading, I leave the auditorium pondering on ‘How painful the light must be for the night’.

After over an hour with these three magnificent poets, it’s definitely time for some small talk and a beer at the bar. I’ll just try not to think about the amount of pollen, seeds and little bugs in it . . .

From → Thomas Möhlmann

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