Skip to content
Jun 18 10


by Tsead Bruinja

Because I’m a bilingual poet who writes both in Dutch and in Frisan, people always ask me in which language I think and dream. I always answer that I don’t know for sure, but last night I found the answer:


we lagen op twee tuinstoelen
tegen de voet van de terp

mijn tante en ik

het was vijf uur ’s middags en zomers warm
maar de lucht was donkergroen

ik was gevlucht van mijn eigen bruiloft
en sprak met mijn tante over de kinderen
die aan de andere kant van de terp een kuil hadden gegraven
en die hadden gevuld met water

na het geplons van de kinderen
die van de terp in de kuil sprongen

zagen we hoe mijn oma overstuur thuiskwam
er was iets met mijn opa

ik herinner me niet welke taal
mijn tante en ik hadden gesproken

maar het laatste wat ik haar vroeg
was zonder twijfel in het fries

is pake dea?



we were lying on two garden chairs
at the foot of the small hill

my aunt and I

it was five o’ clock in the afternoon and warm like summer
but the air around us was a dark green

I had fled from my own wedding
and spoke with my aunt about the children
who had dug a hole on the other side of the hill
and filled it with water

after the splashing of the children
who jumped from the hill into the hole

we saw how my grandmother came home all upset
something was wrong with my grandfather

I don’t remember which language
my aunt and I had been using

but the last thing I asked her
was in Frisian without a doubt

has grandfather died?

Jun 17 10

Halfway through…

by Maikel van Ruiten

My first Poetry International Festival is altogether an overwhelming experience. From September until June 11th we have worked so hard to make this festival happen. And when the City Theatre doors opened for the first time, I had no idea what was coming.

Now, after some volunteer management, some Spoon River Anthology organising and many, many phone calls, we are halfway through the festival, and suddenly it strikes me . . . What am I to do with my life when that moment of bittersweet goodbye arrives on June 19th? Luckily for me that moment is still far away and I am enjoying every minute of the festival.

The poets seem to be having a nice time as well here in Holland. Trips to Kinderdijk and Delft have already been made and the Hidden Garden project was a wonderful way for the performing and non-performing poets to get to know the city. Much admiration goes out to Mr. Ledo Ivo, who walked the whole day and seemed to have a wonderful time. Mr. Ivo is becoming a festival favorite among the personnel because of his high spirits and enthusiasm at age 86.

I am very proud of this festival’s volunteer team who show up in the same very good mood every day and provide a lovely lunch, hand out information and guide the audience into the auditoria. Also I would like to point out our drivers who pick up the poets from the airport and make sure that they arrive safely in Rotterdam. It’s easy to take all of them for granted but all these volunteers make sure that our organisation continues to run smoothly. They are the backbone of our festival.

My phone rings. A volunteer tells me a festival guest has arrived safely. Did I already mention the importance of volunteers?

Jun 17 10

Impressions of the festival by Kate Coles

by Katharine Coles

On Tuesday, I sat in the garden café and listened to conversation about Afghan poetry.  I learned there is no such thing.

Why should this surprise me? People keep asking me about U.S. poetry—to describe it or say something about its state, which I’m reminded here is also a political word, though they mean its condition, as if it were about to be admitted to the poetry intensive care unit, or discharged with a tag on its toe. In the U.S. we’ve been announcing the death of poetry for decades.

It’s hard to believe in the death of poetry here. All these poets from everywhere are quick and curious. About the plants scooting around on little robot wheels, edging flirtatiously next to our shoes. About the town, the theater, the cheese. About each other and what poetry is like where we all come from.

If there is, for good reasons, no such thing as Afghan poetry, there is this poetry of Karman Mir Hazar’s, which comes out of place, tribe, experience, and language. Persian. The moderator, who shares in an intimate literary culture, wonders that Karman and his publisher Sam Vaseghi haven’t met before this week. I find a point of kinship.  I never met the publisher of my first book, who died this year. We corresponded by letter. The roads are good in the U.S. Still, it is 3000 miles long and 2000 miles wide and holds 300 million people.

After the session, I talk with the Dutch painter sitting across the table. I am curious, so she shows me notebooks full of whimsical, abstract drawings. At dinner, American poet Christian Hawkey—whom I had to travel to Rotterdam to meet—tells me he was a student of a dear friend, Agha Shahid Ali, who died in 2001. Of the four American poets I will sit down with on Thursday, I’ve met one before this week. But we share friends. Curiosity.  The work. A small culture in a big country.

Here we are all at once strangers and familiars. We find poetry in many languages, inspired by work from other languages, even those of painting or roving plants. And there are people to receive this poetry, all over the world.  Tonight, I’ve returned early to my hotel to see the last event with those others, on my computer on the live stream. I’m curious. In my room, waiting for things to start, I feel (almost) as much in company as I did earlier in the garden. I hear a voice talking Dutch, a harp being tuned. I see fingers on strings, graceful and disembodied in the dark, poised to speak.

Jun 17 10

Kumamoto Literature Band and Hiromi Itō

by Yasuhiro Yotsumoto

Hiromi Ito, one of the guest poets at this year’s festival, and I, editor of PIW-Japan, cannot be more different from each other in many ways, but there is one thing we have in common: both of us live outside Japan, Hiromi in California and me in Munich, and yet we have been writing poetry only in Japanese. A kind of self-imposed, non-political exile, carrying our mother tongue amid the foreign languages.

Both of us visit Japan frequently, almost commuting in Hiromi’s case, partly to engage in the literary activities, but also because of our ageing fathers. Hiromi’s father lives alone in Kumamoto, mine, also alone, in Fukuoka. Those happen to be the neighboring prefectures in Kyushu island, about 1,000 km southwest of Tokyo.

One day about two years ago, Hiromi told me, “Yotsumoto-san, I’m thinking of starting up a small group, right here in Kumamoto, to introduce contemporary literature from around the world. You know, everything new and interesting comes through Tokyo in Japan, and I want to change that. I want to connect Kumamoto directly to what is going on in the US, Europe, and Asia.” I said without any hesitation, “Great idea! I will join you.” On the spot, Hiromi, as Captain of the Kumamoto Literature Band, appointed me as the Chief of its Munich (one-man) Bureau.

For me, and probably for Hiromi as well, the real motive behind this is rather to combine the stressful task of family care and literature activities, which would otherwise be only accessible in Tokyo. By organising poetry readings and workshops by ourselves, we can have some fun while staying close to our fathers and saving time and money to visit Tokyo. Now, that is a great idea.

As it turned out, it was much more than “some fun”. The Kumamoto Literature Band organized more than a dozen lectures, workshops, and readings by well-known authors. Its membership is currently 50, involving academics, journalists, artists, students, and book lovers in and around Kumamoto. Its most activities include a Ren-shi (Linked-poetry) live session by poets Shuntaro Tanikawa, Wakako Kaku, Jerome Rosenberg, as well as Hiromi and me.

Behind all of these is Hiromi’s inexhaustible vitality and leadership. For any event, Hiromi personally finds sponsors, ensures maximum publicity, provides her own house for lodgings, entertains the visiting authors and holds house parties for the volunteer staff, all the while taking care of her father.

Now Hiromi will be bringing this Kumamoto spirit to Rotterdam and I will be joining the Captain on Friday as the Munich Bureau Chief. Let’s see what kind of ideas and materials we can find there for our future endeavours in Kumamoto . . .

Read more about The Kumamoto Literature Band on Hatena Diary.

Yasuhiro Yosumoto, editor of the Japan domain on PIW, will be interviewing Hiromi Itō on Friday 18 June in the foyer of the Rotterdam City Theatre at 19.15 hrs. Hiromi Itō will then be reading at 20.00 hrs, along with Michael Palmer and Ron Winkler, in the small auditorium. This event will be live-streamed.

Hiromi Ito (c) Michele Hutchison, Poetry International festival 2010

Jun 16 10

The festival programmer’s view

by Correen Dekker

Correen Dekker

As a programmer, I have the chance to invite my favourite poets to the festival and I’m free to come up with fabulous plans for festival programmes. I’m responsible for turning these plans into realistic plans and then into real programmes. It’s the perfect job for someone like me, who loves poetry and enjoys being an organiser. Fortunately, I haven’t been doing this alone. Together with my fellow programmer, Liesbeth Huijer, and festival director Bas Kwakman, we made the important decisions about which programme should be when and where, and what the main topic would be. We also owe a lot to Poetry International Web editors, festival friends, poets and others, who came up with advice and suggestions, gave hints on good poetry and helped us along the way.

While devising events, my personal ambition is to acquaint the audience with poetry that’s ‘new’, to bring on stage poets they haven’t heard of yet. I’d like to programme both poetry that has been written long ago, and contemporary poetry. And in my opinion, moving borders, crossing borders, and focusing on both western as well as non-western poetry and poetic traditions is one of the most interesting parts of programming the Poetry International Festival. Bringing on stage beautiful unknown poems, whether from Kazakhstan or from Europe, from the sixth century or the twentieth, that’s what thrills me.

You can understand I’m exited about the participation of someone like the Peruvian poet, Carlos López Degregori, whose colourful poems I really admire, or having the opportunity to listen to the almost claustrophobic and questioning poetry of South-Korean poetess Kim Hyesoon. I’m really glad to have the Sudanese poet Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi between us. He’s quite young and not yet well-known in Europe, but reads in his own land for audiences of 3,000 people – something we almost can’t imagine in the Netherlands. I also hope to gain some insight into the poetry scene in Krakow on Friday, and am much looking forward to the programme on the widespread (but in the Netherlands quite unknown) Persian-Arabic love-duo Layla and Madjnun tomorrow.

At this 41st Poetry International Festival, my work is actually done. I just have to be aware of sudden changes in programmes and sudden problems to be solved. (I’m still waiting for the first hectic and unsolvable problem to come, in fact everything has gone really smoothly so far). I’m keeping an eye on the poets, seeing if they know where to be at a certain time, helping them to be there and checking if they’re enjoying themselves.  If most things go as planned, I’ll be really enjoying myself, and I really hope everyone who visits the festival does too.

Jun 16 10

John Updike

by Auke Leistra

Translator Auke Leistra was at the festival on Sunday evening for the John Updike book presentation.

Early in the evening I spoke to a young American poet who told me he had once applied for a job as a copywriter at a publishing house: a position in which you fill your days writing the back cover of book jackets. We all know those texts, written along established lines. On the back cover of the Dutch translation of the short story collection My Father’s Tears by John Updike, there’s one of those texts written by Joost Zwagerman. Four lines praising Updike’s talents. This is good, this as it should be - but on Sunday evening Joost Zwagerman showed us the difference between the cliché and a more heartfelt, a more passionate piece of praise. Besides being a poet and a writer, Zwagerman is also a gripping speaker, and as such he delivered an electrifying speech on his love for John Updike. It was a pleasure a) being there and basking in his love for Updike, b) getting my first copy of the translation from him, and c) getting the chance to read a fragment from one of those brilliant stories. To me, poor lonesome translator, it was a blissful Sunday evening, if ever there was one!

Jun 16 10

Rotterdamse vingeroefening

by Ron Winkler (Germany)

This again is not a poem but kind of a contract.

The first month of my first hour here went like this: small molecules of wind started tingling my skin, sometimes atoms extremely dry.

They smelled like the seagull element.

I saw the best bicycles of my generation locked by locks. I saw very ambitious pannier bags. I wondered which could be the most extravagant one: two small kangaroos fastened to each side of the rear wheel?

At the blue train station I was offered a Brandbier. I prefered to have some milk of explosion instead.

I didn’t see any seamen, nowhere, I saw cloud guys with oceans in mind.

My wallet got heavier from getting lighter.

Probably I’d ordered too much of “so much depends upon a red wheel barrow.” And the like.

Though I don’t understand it, I’m still seaching for a shop selling the flavour of the river nearby.

Not a single moron shared a maroon with me.

Maybe the people are as orange as they feel.

I hope the poems I heard will start to exist. But I won’t hope as hard as a pope.

Ron Winkler (c) Michele Hutchison, Poetry International festival 2010

Jun 16 10

On bilingualism and soccer

by Katia Kapovich

My most useful information about bilingualism was drawn not from “second language acquisition” literature but from a famous Soviet spy mini-series about the adventures of the double-agent Isaev working undercover as SS officer Shtirlits in the upper echelons of the Nazi high command during the last months of WWII. Here is the scene that I have in mind. Shtirlits comes to see his Russian agent Katia, my namesake, who is also located in Berlin. It’s a very poignant moment, because she is very pregnant. “You probably understand that you’ll be delivering at home,” Shtirlits says. “Why?” she asks, her German being as good as her Russian, she cannot think of any reasons why she couldn’t go to the hospital. “My German is all right. I speak without any accent.”

“Your German is indeed all right! But when in pain you’ll be screaming in Russian, dear child!” he says with a sigh.

That’s it. And that is exactly what all of us, bilingual people, need to know. The second language as well adopted won’t be the one we’ll be screaming in when in pain.

Here’s the proof. On the third day of the Rotterdam Poetry Festival, I decided to go to see Amsterdam in the morning. I’m not a big traveler, to say the least. On the day I was a bit nervous. Having a map and two sandwiches in my bag pack I left the hotel lobby braving my way to the Central Station. It took me a while till I found it though Lucy Pijnenburg, a festival coordinator, had spent minimum an hour giving me very detailed directions. Cunningly hidden between fences, cranes, working excavators, Central Station looked extremely agitated which added to my mood. As I walked toward it, people in bright orange t-shirts, orange hats, orange wigs, orange everything poured from all entances. On their chests were orange garlands and they were blowing orange horns. “Who are these folks and why are they dressed like that?” I asked myself, as I was beating my way through the crowds. Then a strange thing happened which increased my panic. I asked a couple of passers-by to show me where a ticket booth was and found out that nobody knew what I was talking about. Orange people looked at me and shrugged shoulders. Just yesterday everything was fine. Precious time was lost, my train left, I was still there wondering what might have possibly happened during one night that made Dutch people forget English. Somebody put a garland on my neck and placed a triangular hat on my head. In my new triangular hat I went out for a smoke and boom . . . it all became clear to me. All the time I was there I was speaking Russian, no wonder nobody knew what I wanted. “So what’s going on with all these orange costumes,” I asked a woman. She groped for words: “Denmark . . . Holland . . . A soccer game!”

Here is what I think about it now. It’s not only excruciating pain but isolation too that can burn an otherwise reliable second thesaurus that we keep in our brain, leaving in its spot an orange smoke. After I underwent a ten minute loss of bilingualism I thought: “It’s great that Rotterdam Poetry Festival brings together poets from all over the world and make them talk to each other. Not always but sometimes poetry is a soccer game of its kind, and as any game it needs other players.” Anyway, I didn’t go to Amsterdam. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good day for a trip.

Jun 15 10

East European criminal

by Eugenijus Alisanka (Lithuania)

Each participant was given a festival t-shirt. It is always a pleasure – quite often a poet returns from literary events with a t-shirt, a bag or with a ballpoint at least, marked with logos of the event. Later on they recall countries, cities and people you met. Sometimes it is hard to throw out even a dried-up pen, not to mention the washed-out characters of a t-shirt. Memory is greedy and sparing.

As a rule, small presents are the same for everyone. This time I was baffled by choice. Not only XL, L or M, but the inscription on the breast as well. It is always hard to make a choice, because any choice exludes all other alternatives. I tried to choose from the catalogue, but suddenly, while I was studying the inscriptions, new t-shirts arrived on the shelf with one more inscription, missing in the catalogue. As if especially for me. I did not doubt any more. It was saying: “I am an East European criminal who dies 16 to 17 times a day”.

I’ve been walking all day long with the phrase in my mind. I do not need to put the t-shirt on any more as the phrase got engraved on the inside of my forehead. The more I think about it, the more I get envious of the phrase author’s imagination. It is like a line of a perfect poetry, a poem, if you like. It is absurd from the first glance but plumbing deeper – very rich and provocative. It says so much about the one who created it as well as the one who dare to wear it on his breast – as a good poem does about the one who wrote it and the one who reads it.

The creator of the phrase imagines an East European as a superman or even god. Not all gods die and resurrect a couple of times, some have succeeded in resurrecting just once. Even if I did not consider myself as a criminal, I could have reason to be proud.

But am I not a criminal? Have I not violated almost all of the Ten Commandments during my life? Have I not committed adultery, have I not lied, not stolen? Is it not me who constantly kills mosquitoes, ants, flies, mice and moles in my countryside home? Am I not the one who exceeds the speed limits constantly? Is it not me who violates rules of language when writing poems?

Just one thing I am not sure about – do I really die 16 or 17 times a day? I think it is a small exaggeration.

Eugenijus Alisanka (c) Michele Hutchison, Poetry International festival 2010

Jun 15 10

Projecting translations – an in-house impression

by Marloes van Luijk

Saturday night, half past seven. In 30 minutes the opening of the 41st Poetry International Festival will be a fact. Seen from the projection room, the hall is still empty. But I know that will not last much longer. Just one final check – are the slides still in the same order and format? Did we make all the necessary alterations? The stage director next to me is getting nervous too, I can smell it. Only thirty more minutes to go…

Saturday night, a quarter past eight. The director’s speech kicked off the festival and the fourth poet is already reading. In Polish. Luckily, she doesn’t talk too fast and we can easily keep up with her original poems and our translations on the screen. The poets read quite quickly after each other however, so there is hardly time to breathe in our small upstairs room.

Saturday night, ten to nine. The show continues like a fast train but some poets really do cross the speed limits. Perhaps the Japanese lady had to catch her plane home that same night. We tried to keep up with her but she took her own route. The audience doesn’t seem to mind, though – the speedy sound of the incomprehensible far-eastern language makes them laugh.

Saturday night, twenty past nine. A poet with a guitar, poetic actors and a breakdancer have been on stage already. We take these opportunities to stretch our arms and sip some water. And to prepare for the next three poets who will read in Farsi, Arabic and Portuguese. We do have a translator who helps us with the two non-Western languages, but the tension rises again when the trio step onto the stage.

Saturday night, ten o’ clock. The opening show has finished and the audience are celebrating and drinking in the foyer. I shut down the laptop and we both take a deep breath. I feel like I just ran a marathon, with the only difference that after that water tastes best. Now I’ll definitely go for a beer. Six more nights like this to go, but the kick-off went well!

The Production team is made up of Liesbeth Huijer, Loesje Derkx, Rosa van Ederen and Marloes van Luijk.