Can a contemporary poet be decadent and modern, urban at the same time? The Dutch poet Menno Wigman (1966) is. He is called a dandy of disillusion, but then a serious one who is also a perfectionist. Ennui and Spleen walk elegantly along in his lyrics.
He is a poet “with the highest density of instant classics” and his poems seem indeed to have always existed when you read them for the first time, as translator David Colmer observes in his preface to the (bilingual) anthology he made of Wigman. “There are emotions that are fascist”, “They came too late. Their promise unredeemed / The cities gleamed as black as caviar.”
Wigman was a poet laureate of Amsterdam and translated Rilke and Baudelaire among others. He is involved in the Lonely Funeral project, in which poets attend the council funerals of people who have died destitute and alone, and read a poem they have written at their graveside.
Read more about Wigman's work in this article from the 2014 issue of The Low Countries Yearbook.
It’s hard to translate this almost always metrical poetry, rich with alliteration and assonance. Colmer got away quite well with it. Read this romantic agony.
I know the melancholy of copy centres,
of hollow men with yellowed papers,
bespectacled mothers with new addresses,
the smell of letters, of old bank statements,
of income tax returns and tenancy agreements,
demeaning ink that says that we exist.
And I have seen new suburbs, fresh and dead,
where people do their best to seem like people,
the street a fair impression of a street.
Who are they copying? Who am I?
A father, mother, world, some DNA,
you stand there with that shining name of yours,
your head crammed full of cribbed and clever hopes
of peace, promotion, kids and piles of cash.
And I’m a dog that’s kenneled in its cantos
and howls for something new, something to say.
Light. Heaven. Love and death. Decay.
I know the melancholy of copy centres.
Menno Wigman, Window-Cleaner sees Paintings, selected and translated by David Colmer. Introduction by Francis Jones, Arc Publications, UK, 2016.Foto Menno Wigman © Bianca Sistermans