June 7, 2010

Paul Bogaert

Paul Bogaert performing "Address" / photo by Douglas Messerli

Paul Bogaert [Belgium/writes in Dutch]

Born May 3, 1968, Paul Bogaert studied German philogy at the University of Brussels and at Leuven.

Bogaert’s debut collection of poems, WELCOME HYGIENE, published in 1996, features verses full of bizarre logic and a carefully measured mixture of styles and linguistic registers. His restless first person narrator is plagued with self-consciousness in the way he analyses himself and others, creating an alienating effect. Yet beneath this “analysis” and Bogaert’s dead-pan seriousness there is in all of his poetry a great deal of humor that reflects back to its Dadaist roots combined with a satiric look at contemporary advertising and other business uses of language, including the executive lecture.

The same rousing mental and physical sensations surface in his second volume Circulaire systemen (Circular systems, 2002). In this collection Bogaert examines his fascination for all things that rotate. A closed, circular system generates security, but also discomfort. In an aloof, pseudo-scientific tone he creates poetic language machines, in which the ordinary is contrasted with the systematic.

In 2006, his third collection of poems, AUB (PLEASE), was published. In 2008 Paul Bogaert wrote the National Poetry Day essay Verwondingen (Injuries), in which he tries to explain the secrets of poetry by analysing the Serbian contribution (2007) to the Eurovision Song Contest.

de Slalom soft (the Slalom soft, 2009) is a long, sparkling, narrative poem, featuring a lifeguard in a subtropical swimming paradise, personal coaches, drowned bodies and office workers. It won the Herman de Coninck Prize for best collection 2010.

In just a few years and with only four collections of poems, Bogaert has proved himself one of the most striking voices among young Flemish poets.

–Douglas Messerli with Tom van Voorde


WELCOME HYGIENE (Amsterdam/Antwerpen: Meulenhoff /Manteau, 1996); Circulaire systemen (Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 2002); AUB (Amsterdam/Antwerpen: Meulenhoff / Manteau: 2006); de Slalom soft. Gedicht (Amsterdam/Antwerpen: Meulenhoff / Manteau: 2009)


Edited by Tom van Voorde, Poets from Flanders: Paul Bogaert (Antwerp: Flemish Literature Fund, n.d.)


Tell me that it’s time, tell me that
I’m tired, leave all protests unheard,
give me a flannel, the bear I know’s mine,
show me my bed, tuck me in,
smell of soap, tell me how
princesses always sleep soundly
and just vanish, don’t go too
far, cover me up, tuck me in,
leave me alone, don’t throw sand in
my eyes, don’t put on any
song, don’t reconcile me to the night,
do what I do, tuck me in.

—Translated from the Dutch by John Irons
(from WELCOME HYGIENE, 1996)


In this way I want to, beloved,
have said: it is going to hurt.
I’d gladly in the dark receive
life and limb.
Don’t be afraid. I know the vaulting.
It is as frightening as where
one sees it
from the right perspective. Are you with me?
In answer to your missive with the enquiry
as to whether it will take a long time:
think of the rhythm, dove.
I know I am too focused
on myself, this is an ointment,
this is nitrogen
and here a leak,
listen, has to be stopped. Do you follow?
It’s far beyond normal.
I am formal: I cannot see you anymore.
I will bear with resignation what I am, what I know,
what one would call scars.
In that way I’ll be: modest and gone in the end.

Translated from the Dutch by John Irons
(from WELCOME HYGIENE, 1996)


The old electric switch,
the steep steps of cement,
the coolness too, the smell that is
so specific to cellars.
More still, fragile, the bottle of lemonade,
the spider, immobile, yet bigger than
elsewhere and the thief perhaps under the stairs.
Most of all the lack of banister.
You can compare it with caution.
Why am I cautious to such a degree?

—Translated from the Dutch by John Irons
(from WELCOME HYGIENE, 1996)


What you said was undiluted.
And it proved effective too:
I can’t see a thing. My head is clean
now and white. It’s done.
First I pushed my eyes in
and tilted my head back.
Then I filled up the holes
with eau de javel and white spirit.
That anything goes is a delusion.
It’s the air that is tenuous.
Give me time to come round.
Bury me where I requested
water and let me be – out of reach –
of fish.

—Translated from the Dutch by John Irons
(from WELCOME HYGIENE, 1996)


An eight-armed carrier holder stretched so tight
that due to hooks and tension
it is hazardous to bring your eyes closer
than you need to see it: this is the image
that can help you get the hang of what follows.
Don’t connect any of this with yourself.
They are my jaws.
Had I been younger and lived at a point in time other than this,
I would not have written to you. I’d have advised
keeping well away, massaging the muscles of your stomach
for an hour or viewing the motion of your mouth
as something limited. I would have kissed you right and
left. I would have impressed
on you to shun the one with luggage-smelling breath.

—Translated from the Dutch by John Irons
(from WELCOME HYGIENE, 1996)

When one places the hand…
When one places the hand
onto the kind of rubber
and feels the knobs
of a body frame beneath,
then in escalator time a distance stretches out:
between the hand that gradually takes a lead
and the rest of the body in tow.
More and more in that fashion
till one lets go of the hand and gets used to forces again
that are immensely restraining, as to an escape.

—Translated from the Dutch by John Irons

(from Circulaire systemen, 2002)

It’s the jerky wheeze from the one who pants…
It’s the jerky wheeze from the one who pants
makes him/her pant like that. The lower lip
curls to what a cerebral lobe
full of echoes in captivity dictates.
One pants, pauses and pants
in a causal connection. Nobody at all
is bothered by it while the panting lasts.
Later animals appear:
the scaredy-cat in the big wheel,
the fairground pony that relives everything at night.

Translated from the Dutch by John Irons

(from Circulaire systemen, 2002)

One stands at a lock…
One stands at a lock
that guarantees mustiness.
Then one instinctively finds out the trick:
one tightens certain muscles, betrays
some hesitation, but then pushes through and clear.
One feels some pressure in the ear.
A quite abhorrent overtone.
A way of thinking not one’s own.
But one does not disturb a system’s core
when seeing the beloved in a revolving door.

—Translated from the Dutch by John Irons

(from Circulaire systemen, 2002)

One takes a quantity of details…
One takes a quantity of details
as if preparing for an operation.
At once the slaves of eloquence rivet themselves
together. A shiver makes ready.
How quickly one feels moved!
How quickly one becomes dependent!
How quickly tempted by something that fits!
One does not see the castle moat.
One hears a choir, a splendid song.
A crowd led off into captivity.

—Translated from the Dutch by John Irons

(from Circulaire systemen, 2002)

Just as one glimpses cockroaches…
Just as one glimpses cockroaches
(that one discovers later in the cake tin too),
one can react to what the wall clock shows.
Not to the hours that penetrate the walls
of homes or offices.
But to the hours that, spattered off the hands,
now vanish and are vanished quite,
although in glitter-packs they
still cling to the retina.
That is what the wall clock shows us.

—Translated from the Dutch by John Irons

(from Circulaire systemen, 2002)


Today nails that scarcely reach the side-skin.
enters the familiar liking, back
I say, off, leave the bed made.
The so-called flame-retardant cushioning
in the back. The priceless misconception
that you can calm such a slight fever with your lips or
douse it with fingers.
Later it will cause a stir:
a rupture on an x-ray
tweezers in the active intestines.

Translated from the Dutch by John Irons

(from AUB, 2006)


She gives.
So she entices me out of the igloo.
So she chops relaxedly into nonsense.
So she grapples with she wrests the deadlock.
So she runs down her target,
the four-colour fairy,
the eye-stroking tip-strewing fairy
who nippingly kneadingly if necessary
in one movement tracks down inhibitions and licks them up.

—Translated from the Dutch by John Irons

(from AUB, 2006)


I will speak to you within the framework of the night
where no sleep is possible.
I will not deny
that I need you for this and that for this,
to start with at any rate, I will look you in the eyes.

My voice will cover you
like ten blankets or so.
I will then in your presence talk
about the plans and actions
that cannot be squared.

Afterwards I will procure you the text
of a ballad, the lyrics of a song,
and in it – as a catch –
the dipping of your eyes and all
you can ask of the pituitary gland.

I will not deny
that it is an address, on the contrary.
I will speak about the pond of ruses
including among other things:
the ruse of repetition and the terror of refrain.

That that is the pond where I fish.
I will keep things short about the plans and actions
that cannot be squared.
I will spellbind you by means of paraphrases
of the crux of the argument.

I will not exaggerate with examples,
but where necessary provide you with the example
and the images that I find apt:
a worn plastic folder,
inward-looking animals, a sheet of carbon paper.

I will naturally only start after a few seconds,
so that the least quiver of the voice
is quelled in advance.
Only then will I begin,
firm of voice, suddenly, abruptly, with

an outline of the problem,
an outline that immediately strikes the substance,
illuminates the core and in a flash
reveals the basis: here where we are
together, sleeping is inappropriate.

I will look at your limbs
growing stiff and feverish both at once.
I will not pass on what I see
let alone what I read in your eyes.
I will count to ten.

I will not conceal from you the fact
I wish to influence you
and that a bullet has been made
of materials that the body
has no need of.

That I wish to see you
living in a different age.
Details of the song?
I will myself not sing it.
I will accompany you.

I will speak so monotonously to you
that you will fade and fall away
and no longer be yourself.
I will not spare you.
Then I will let you be: the star!

I will let you be the star who wields the microphone
as an inseparable part of the body,
the star who closes her heavily dressed-up eyes
and obeys the slightest finger-snap.
I will have an abiding memory of you.

I will tell you
how hard it is
and that it can always get harder.
I will defend rest being good
if one has something to lie down on.

I will possibly imagine for you
a bed,
an anecdote,
a dead-end street.
I will let you be: the prototype.

I will let you be the prototype of a woman beggar
with worn-out shoes, that like a prototype
shuffles from here to there and back again,
stiff and feverish both at once.
I will also locate it all, naked, within the framework of later.

I will capture your attention with images
and let you hear what can be done
with carbon paper, a wound and a fizzy pill.
I will broach the future
and summarize the pond.

Something can always happen:
the tickling cough, a glass that falls, a fart,
a microphone that whistles, someone who enters
or exits from a lack of air
as in an overheated caravan.

I will also let you be:
1. an ascetic goat;
2. a tombola;
(if the mike whistles, put your hands to your ears)
3. stiff and feverish both at once.

I will have a short break for all kinds of suggestions.
Then I will pick up the thread once more, carry on
from where I was, shade in each outline, gnaw
the matter to the bone. I will not desist from
feverishly finding formulations.

I will describe each detail of the goat, who like a human
starts searching her own small house – and is as such annoying –
for what she has lost, and constantly is much amazed
and says: ‘that’s just not possible’
and goes on searching in yet other corners.

I will place the text in a plastic folder
for the future.
In doing so I will imagine you: lying down.
An interruption, always possible.
I will drink regularly from a glass.

The images will be most apt.
And all the questions welcome.
And I will make a list of all possessions
and keep the difference just to myself
between valuable and valueless.

The sum of all the stanzas will be for you
and when you are no longer there, for your near ones,
or, if there are none, for your near ones’ near ones,
or, if there are none, for your near ones’ near ones’ near ones,
and if there are none, that will be typical of the state that you are in then.

I will confront you with facts,
hard objects, comparisons and figures
about entrances and territories,
and with the cursing goat that in her caravan
is trashing everything.

I will stop
at the moment that you hang upon my lips,
that I hang upon your lips
after yet another paraphrase of the crux and an overview
and a summary of the basic images fished from the bed.

I will not expect
anyone to thank me.
When I finally stop,
when I move and you fall begging out of sight,
when I count to ten,
when you wake up,
when the day immediately leaps up,
when the animals talk,
everything will be forgotten,
first what’s most stupid.

—Translated from the Dutch by John Irons

(from AUB, 2006)

“Tuck Me in,” “Not Your Business,” “Stairs,” “Welcome Hygiene,” and “No Hands”
Reprinted by WELCOME HYGIENE. ©1996 by Paul Bogaert. Reprinted by permission of Meulenhoff / Manteau.

“When one places the hand,” “It’s the jerky wheeze from the one who pants,” “One stands at a lock,” “One takes a quantity of details,” and “Just as one glimpses cockroaches”
Reprinted from Circulaire systemen. ©2002 by Paul Bogaert. Reprinted by permission of Meulenhoff / Manteau.

“She gives…,” “Charity now,” and “Address”
Reprinted from AUB. ©2006 by Paul Bogaert. Reprinted by permission of Meulenhoff / Manteau.

English language copyright (c) by John Irons.

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