February 15, 2023

Paul Bogaert (Belgium / writes in Dutch) 1968

Paul Bogaert (Belgium / writes in Dutch)



Born May 3, 1968, Paul Bogaert studied German philology 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.

Photo by Douglas Messerli

     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 analyzing 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 from 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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