Romantic Agony in the Polder - Menno Wigman (1966-2018)

Romantic Agony in the Polder - Menno Wigman (1966-2018)

Menno Wigman (Beverwijk, Nederland, 1966) is dead. A Baudelaire in the Polder, a dandy lost in a calvinist, minimalist country.

Luc Devoldere

Top photo Foto © Bianca / de Beeldunie

Coincidences can be weird. A few hours before the news of his death arrived, I wrote him an e-mail, saying that I hoped he was fine. That we should meet again, in a café or a street in Paris or Rome. I sent him a comment I had written for the Digital Library of Dutch Literature (www.dbnl.nl) on a poem of his. And now he is dead. Never again shall we hear his voice, his tone.

They said he was born too late, kept on mourning, steeped in nostalgia. I would say he went through nostalgia as a stern warrior, a rebel with a cause that he left behind. He is – I refuse to say: was – an absolute poet of today. He saw very sharply how things hopelessly coincide with themselves in the here and now in which we are doomed to live.

There is only language, the incantation and the spell of language. No consolation – let us leave that to the therapists. It is more about accuracy and elegance in phrasing, formulating, expressing reality. This is what poets do: they celebrate language as an accurate elegance. It generates no profit. It does not change or save the world. But that spell.

You can read an essay on Wigman by the astute critic Piet Gerbrandy, that was published in The Low Countries in 2014.

But above all, read Wigman’s poems. 

In this book: Menno Wigman, Window-cleaner Sees Paintings, selected & translated by David Colmer, introduction by Francis Jones, Arc Publications, UK, 2016 (bilingual edition). 

Or here:

Hotel night

The libraries have been shut for hours.
The city centre celebrates a street.
Insomnia. Pick up a book and put it down again.
TV it is. To watch the way it creeps.
The city centre celebrates a street
and sniffling taxis stand out in the rain.
TV it is. To watch the way it creeps.
For hours now the weather’s been repeats.
The empty taxis drifting through the rain.
At worst you’ll have four decades more of days.
For weeks the weather’s only been repeats.
You read your palm and hope that you exist.
At worst you’ll have four decades more of days.
God knows the kinds of secrets that you keep.
You read your palm and hope that you exist.
Your orphaned spirit gives and starts to slip.


Hotelnacht

De bibliotheken zijn al uren dicht.
Diep in het centrum triomfeert een straat.
Insomnia. Drie boeken ingekeken.
Tv dus maar. Toekijken hoe het jaagt.
Diep in het centrum triomfeert een straat
en staan verkouden taxi’s in de regen.
Tv dus maar. Toekijken hoe het jaagt.
Al uren wordt het weerbericht herhaald.
Er drijven lege taxi’s door de regen.
Je hebt desnoods nog veertig jaar te leven.
Al dagen wordt het weerbericht herhaald.
Je leest je hand en hoopt dat je bestaat.
Je hebt desnoods nog veertig jaar te leven.
God weet wat voor geheim je verzwijgt.
Je leest je hand en hoopt dat je bestaat
nu je verweesd en wel je hoofd uit glijdt.

From This Is My Day (Dit is mijn dag, 2004), translated by David Colmer

To the Death

We didn’t pity those who died.
A solemn train, the parting pain:
it left us cold. We were young
and scorned the clamour of flowers
and dressed-up sparrows, we walked away
and lived our time to death.
The pleasures, not the pining, and the world
a mattress. And in between all the kisses
a quiet sense that this was it: revelling,
in the here and now, as beasts know how…
We didn’t pity those who died.
And when we woke with a start in a white room
– far from the streets and the trains —
a malnourished man came to visit
and pointed. We scarcely looked up,
remained calm and faded him out.

Hard tegen hard

We waren niet begaan met wat er stierf
Een trage stoet, een laatste groet:
het deed ons niets. We waren jong
en hoonden het misbaar van bloemen
en verklede mussen, we liepen door
en leefden onze tijd aan stukken.
De lusten, niet de lasten, en de wereld
een matras. En tussen alle kussen door
een stil besef dat dit het was: het zwelgen,
nu en hier, de wijsheid van het dier …
We waren niet begaan met wat er stierf.
En toen we wakker schrokken in een witte zaal
— ver van de straten en de stoeten —
kwam ons een ondervoede man bezoeken
en wees. We hebben amper opgekeken,
bleven kalm en deden hem verbleken.

From In the Summer All Cities Stink (In de zomer stinken alle steden, 1997), translated by Paul Vincent, first published in The Low Countries, 2000.

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