August 1, 2011

VIJFIGERS (the "Fiftiers") (Dutch Poetry Group)


Vijfigers (the "Fiftiers") (Dutch Poetry Group)

The Vijfigers (the "Fiftiers") is a group of Netherlands and Belgium poets who grew up in World War II and began writing soon after the War.

The movement had its beginnings in the art world of postwar Amsterdam, among the painters who joined together in 1948 to form the Experimental Group Holland (De Experimentele Groep Holland), known internationally as Cobra (COpenhagen-BRussels-Amsterdam). Its birth manifesto proclaimed in part: "A living art recognizes no distinction between the beautiful and the ugly because it doesn't draw up any aesthetic norms. The ugly which functioned as a supplement to the beautiful in the artistic production of the culture of the last centuries was a permanent indictment of the unnaturalness of this class community and its aesthetics based on virtuosity, a demonstration of the curbing, restrictive influence which these aesthetics exerted on the natural creative urge."

Many of the poets that would be described as the "Fiftiers" were also artists, and they recognized on COBRA's manifesto a revolutionary overturning of received aesthetic, social, and intellectual standards, and a stress on the very physicality of art. The young poets attracted to the group—all born between the two world wars and survivors of the Nazi Occupation—soon applied this attitude to their own literary art. Without subscribing to fixed goals, they sought to make (paraphrasing one of the number, Gerrit Kouwenaar) not so much a "new" poetry as an "other" poetry—and antipoetry, if you like. Or in the words of Lucebert, another of the "Fiftiers," they wanted to write experiential poems, unfettered by form and subject matter, that explore "The space of complete living."

"The poetry of the "Fiftiers," Kouwenaar wrote in 1953, "[has] virtually no precedent in the Dutch linguistic area, that is to say, no previous history rooted in tradition. It came upon the scene quite quickly and on a broad front, and despite rather stiff opposition still managed to be accepted rather fast.... However reasonable it seems in hindsight, it remains a mystery as to how a group of young poets that sprang up a few years after V-Day, each independent of one another and each going his own way, should have met on the broad delta and collectively put out to sea, or rather to have been driven there—as there was no way back."

The Fiftiers remain to this day the leaders of the Dutch literary avant-garde of the 20th century. Among the poets linked to this group were Remco Campert, Hugo Claus, Jan. G. Elburg, Gerrit Kouwenaar, Lucebert (Lucebertus Jacobus van Swannswijk)—sometimes described as "the pope" of the group—Sybren Polet (Sybe Minnema), Paul Rodenko, Bert Schierbeek, and Simon Vinkenoog.

In 2005 Green Integer published a bi-lingual anthology, edited by Peter Glassgold (based on an earlier anthology of the group he had edited) and Douglas Messerli, which contained a large selection of poems by the "Fiftiers": Living Space: Poems of the Dutch Fiftiers (The PIP Anthology of World Poetry of the 20th Century, Volume 6).

—Peter Glassgold and Douglas Messerli

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