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PIP Anthology of World Poetry of the 20th Century: v. 06, Living Space: Poems of the Dutch Fiftiers

— Anthology —

Edited with an Introduction by Peter Glassgold Revised and expanded, with a Note, by Douglas Messerli

A Bilingual Edition

SALE PRICE: U.S. $9.95
— Anthology —
PIP Anthology of World Poetry of the 20th Century: v. 06, Living Space: Poems of the Dutch Fiftiers
Series No.: EL-E-PHANT 06
ISBN: 1-933382-10-4, Pages: 289
Dutch Literature, Poetry

In 1979 Peter Glassgold edited for New Directions a collection of seven poets of the group of Dutch writers known through Europe as the Fiftiers, poets who, having grown up in the turbulent 1940s, came of age as poetic and visual experimenters in the 1950s. The collection was a revealing one, and has stood through the quarter century since, along with newer and larger selections of poetry of the Netherlands, as a testament to the exciting poetry produced by these figures, which included Remco Campert, Hugo Claus, Jan G. Elburg, Gerrit Kouwenaar, Lucebert, Sybren Polet, and Bert Schierbeek.

In the subsequent years, some of the Dutch Fiftiers died, while others continued to write and have added to their reputations. Some of these figures, indeed, have been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and have received numerous other awards.

For the current volume, number 6 of his ongoing PIP [Project for Innovative Poetry] Anthologies of World Poetry of the 20th Century, Green Integer publisher Douglas Messerli has taken that original anthology and, along with Glassgold, expanded it to include more poems, updated bibliographical material, and two further poets, Paul Rodenko and Simon Vinkenoog, of that original group. Messerli and Glassgold also have included the original Dutch poems in this new volume, which they hope will once again help to reveal the greatness of these important literary figures.

Book Review(s)

THE ANTIOCH REVIEW (January 1, 2007)

by John Taylor

Living Space is one of the most exciting anthologies that I have ever read. It is full of compelling, funny, unsettling, challenging and formally innovative poems that should deeply impress English readers, though for the Dutch this provocative writing indeed springs from over a half-century ago. De Vijftigersbeweging—"the Fiftiers' Movement"—was made up of Dutchmen and Flemish-writing Belgians who were born just after the First World War or in the 1920s and who burst onto the literary scene after the Second World War, that is, during "the grand spree of/Liberation" when, in the words of the ever-frank Rem-co Campert (b. 1929), "water turned into whisky" and "everybody boozed and fucked, / all Europe was one big mattress / and the sky the ceiling / of a third-rate hotel."

This describes some of the ambience—rowdy, Brueghelesque, inebriating both physically and intellectually—in which the nine poets featured in Living Space came of age, though Campert also mentions a "year of the strike" whose "consequences still / are with us." Several poems by the Fiftiers accordingly point to hardships, uncertainties, and false illusions, while others celebrate sudden freedoms, pleasures, and possibilities, namely that of writing an "other" poetry, as the philosophically alert Gerrit Kouwenaar (b. 1923) phrases it. For him, new-found literary liberties motivate a quest of the "poem as object," of which he gives this, among other quiet, vivid examples: "a glass revolving door and the chinese waiter / returning steadily with other dishes." Other samples of his lexically straightforward, gently bizarre, and thought-provoking poems reveal his suspicions about "naming," "experience," and "reality"—which he declares is "no island," an intriguing transformation of John Donne's famous apophthegm. Like Kouwenaar, all Fiftiers are occasional philosophers in poet's clothing (though their outfits differ significantly from one to another), and they specifically dabble in philosophical anthropology. "Man hardly knows what man is," remarks Jan G. Elburg (1919-1992), "the poet knows all about nothing." In another epistemological piece, entitled "knowledge of what is," he sums up our plight as "more absence than what is called existence / is man."

Alongside their shattering of comfortable moral, social, and existential concepts, it is crucial to remember what marked the adolescence or young manhood of each Fiftier: the German Occupation, the dirty work of Dutch and Belgian collaborators, the deportation of the Jews, sabotage acts and survival in the Underground, illness, hunger, and poverty. Or, as Campert details it:

  Imagine: we were snowed in. 
  We were running out of food, 
  Radio was out of order, shoes split, 
  We stoked the fire with notebooks 
  Filled with memories to gain bleak heat 
  And the flag, that we ought to have 
  Planted somewhere, we used 
  For a blanket of course. There was 
  Absolutely no hope left at all, 
  Not even hope for hope ... 

This unpredictable poet then veers his next strophe toward an amorous memory still spiced with a few erotic details, characteristically teasing in the process our own expectations. He is not alone among Fiftiers when he sets personal narratives within a context of social concerns, though this by no means implies blind allegiances. For probably all Fiftiers, the experience of the Occupation destroyed their illusions forever. Campert simply announces: "Poetry is an act / of affirmation. I affirm / I live, I do not live alone." In this dual acknowledgment is underscored his and presumably most Fiftiers' simultaneous staunch individualism and uncompromising scrutiny of others, be they siblings, sex partners, deceitful upstanding citizens, or retired people in the south of France waiting "for death in parked cars / a newspaper folded over their faces // burp[ing] on their food over tables

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