December 25, 2010

Leonard Nolens

Leonard Nolens [Belgium/writes in Dutch]

Born in Bree on April 11, 1947 as Leon Helena Sylvain Nolens, the poet graduated from Holger Instituut voor Vertalers en Token in Antwerp. Writing under the name, Leonard Nolens he became one of the major poets of Flanders writing, and has published over a dozen books of poetry, journals and translations. His work has been translated into several languages, with major collections in French, German, Italian and Polish.

Nolens brilliantly addresses a number of classic themes, as if haunted by them: parents, the questioning child, youth portraits, farewell parties, city portraits, friends, loneliness, alcohol, God, money, the dream woman, and dream book. Nolens’ poems invariably distinguish themselves through their polyphonic ways of thinking and imaginary ways of acting. Each poem is a reasoning, each cycle a solid yet explosive behavioural type. Since 1989 Nolens has published four volumes of a highly singular journal, in which the relationship between poetry and identity is further fathomed. Nolens received the Constantijn Huygens Prize for his oeuvre in 1997. In 2004 appeared the fifth edition of his collected poems.

In 2007 Nolens finished the cycle-in-progress Bres (Breach), which he had been working on for more than ten years. The book was awarded with the VSB Poetry Prize, the most prestigious award in the low countries for poetry which carries a stipend of 25,000 euro for the recipient. Bres is generally acknowledged as a landmark in contemporary Dutch poetry.

He is also known for his highly singular journals, in which the relationship between poetry and identity is further fathomed. In 2009, Nolens decided to publish his complete journals as Dagboek van een dichter. 1979-2007 (Journal of a poet. 1979-2007).

Nolens has received numerous other literary awards, including the Jan Capert Prize in 1991 and the Belgian State Prize for Poetry in 1992.

based on writing by Tom Van Vorde


Twee vormen van zwijgen (Antwerp: Pink Editions & Productions, 1975); Incantatie (Brussels: Manteau, 1977); Hommage (Brussels: Manteau, 1981); Vertigo (Brussels: Manteau, 1983); De gedroomde figuur (Amsterdam: Querido, 1986); Geboortebewijs (Amsterdam: Querido, 1988); Liefdesverklaringen (Amsterdam: Querido, 1990); Tweedracht (Amsterdam: Querido, 1992); Honig en as (Amsterdam: Querido, 1994); En verdwijn met mate (Amsterdam: Querido, 1996); Voorbijganger(Amsterdam: Querido, 1999); Manieren van Leven (Amsterdam: Querido2001); Derwisj (Amsterdam: Querido, 2003); Laat alle deuren op een kier. Verzamelde gedichten (Amsterdam: Querido, 2004); Een dichter in Antwerpen (Amsterdam: Querido, 2005); Een fractie van een kus (Amsterdam: Querido, 2007); Bres (Amsterdam: Querido, 2007) Woestijnkunde (Amsterdam: Querido, 2008)


Selections in Modern Poetry in Translation (1997) and in In a Different Light: Fourteen Contemporary Dutch-language Poets (Brigend, Wales: Poetry Wales Press, 2002); Poets from Flanders: Leonard Nolens, ed. By Tom Van de Voorde (Antwerp: Flemish Literature Fund, n.d.)


I have a love who’s as old as my self.
She cannot die as long as I’m not dead.

She so likes being burdened by my name.
She publishes my flesh and blood till it’s all gone.

She hawks outdated news of me around the world
And blindly sorts the lines I never understood.

I have a love, she’s always in danger
And can only leave when I don’t know the way.

The road that we are on, we roll it slowly up
Into a stone. We’ll lay it one day on our grave.

(from Laat alle deuren op een kier. Verzamelde gedichten, 2004)

—Translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent

Love’s Banks

Taking distance and leave is the horny metaphysics
Of men who keep their love hot and moist
In a far-off spot, and so cook their days.
Leaving, slamming doors, is the pure zealotry
Of women who have swallowed their lovers
And make their swelling bodies into sheer religion.

I know those two, they are alone, but for each other.
They have time, the same one, but on grounds that differ
Like that banks of that one widespread stream.
In that water they lie abysmally reflected
Viewing the passing, passing the view.
And not a soul who knows what has got into them both.

(from Laat alle deuren op een kier. Verzamelde gedichten, 2004)

—Translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent


They say that poets should keep their tongue in check.
They, they are the fashion journalists who slate my clothes
And tomorrow wear my designs. They are the kitchen inspectors
Who sup on my flesh and spit in my pans.
They are the weed killers and dead doctors of poetry.
But who has clothed the naked and fed the hungry ?

No, the tongue you have stained on your slides is also mine
And what you is actually pretty pathetic.
Your metrical jackets and rhyming britches, count me out.
Your salt-free sonnet snapshots, excuse me, no, merci.

I can’t help it, the sublimest prosody
Comes from the guts, ultimately every soul thinks intestinally
(Unlike my capital letter, here she comes :
She is the C clef of my horizontal staves.)

Perhaps this charms or startles. It wasn’t meant to.
Many of these lines are hammered together with malice and hate.
Even with good intentions, my road leads to hell.
If you suffer you go to hell, there’s no percentage in pain.

Words, seed and cents were made to spend freely.
Never put them in the savings book of the evident form.
The deepest form is in the fellow’s rhythm poetry
With balls, therefore, as Pavese said, and he gulped his death.

(from Laat alle deuren op een kier. Verzamelde gedichten, 2004)

Translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent

The Poet to Himself
Go on, just you try, unclothe me
To the bone, I’ll remain the final cut
Of your suit, the rested rectangle
Of your bed, your handiest form of hope.

And you, you’re nothing but a glimpse
Of me, oh you, my chain-smoking shadow
Between two trains, my moaning phantom

With suitcases, you, my hobbling ghost
Who will wash away through the slow revolving door
Of a derelict station.

Go on, just you try, forget me,
My friend, my frank absent slave.
I am your whip, you bleed from my hours.
I am your work and you are my servant.

(from Laat alle deuren op een kier. Verzamelde gedichten, 2004)

—Translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent

Verklärte Nacht

We are sitting naked at table. Your eyes light up the room.
Luminescent, your butterfly hands stir the air as you speak
To me, or quiet in sleep on the black cloth remain.

I touch them every day. Their lifelines know my name.
Their transparent veins conceal the course of my fate, the beat
Of our blood that changes the white of your cheeks to desire’s mottled bloom.

The back door blows open. The first drops of rain rustle through
The trees, sprinkling the wind-shaken window in which you sit glowing,
A light which shows me myself, into whom I may fade and pass.

You pile up the plates, brush the crumbs off an fill up my glass.
From the kitchen I hear the clink of knives and blue porcelain echoing,
Far off. My legs are aching with not being able to go to you.

(from Laat alle deuren op een kier. Verzamelde gedichten, 2004)

—Translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent

from Bres


We were many then, people like me.
We did not lie athwart in mother.
We lay on father’s top shelf
We lay on nobody’s stomach.
We lay well placed in the gap in the market.
We lay in the distance.
We lay back and liked each other.

We, people like me, were many then.
We were not a fleeting photo.
We were not a dissolving crowd.
We were not casual beings.
We lived in austere houses
Of stone, central cogitation.
We were our won exception.

We were, many of us, like then, me,
And temperament was no curse.
Personality not yet a stigma.
The sexual nature of texts
And gods was still not a scandal.
We were on first-name terms
And every first name was me.


We were few.
We were some.
We were others.

We never touched up the Christian lap
Of trade unions, never bumbled democratically
On wings of high fliers to the top of the party—
We played with fire in their sleep.
We became black sheep in cloned pens
Full of baby boomers, we perched like rare white ravens
On a cage full postmodern parrots.

We clung to each other.
We clung to each other like loose sand,
A widespread street gang of daydreamers,
A hermetic clique of hermits.
We lived on our knees
And worshipped the sun of not knowing
And kissed the eternal light of scepsis.
Nowhere were we at the centre.

We were poor and speculated on the exchange
Of intellectual tradition.
We acted with prior inside knowledge
From forgotten ages.
We became heroes to our precursors.
We were jeered at by our successors.
We became, dead earnest, our own laughing stock.

We were the open would
Of a shut book.
We were the closed mouth
Of an open question.


We were few.
We were some.
We were a few.
We were others.

We played no part in a riot
Of European stature.
We did not take to the streets.
We did not take a stand.

We pitched a tent of books and canvases.
We, in libraries, swotted modernity.
We real-timed in sheet music the amazing effect
Of silence—it still echoes here.

We carved our statues from study and stone.
They still stand here upright in rows.
They will read themselves aloud there.
They found only later their partners in crime.

We were not a poetic theme of Mao’s.
We thought, we’ll make our own poem.
We thought, we’ll make history here
On the sly.

(from Derwisj, 2003)

—Translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent


“Epitaph,” “Love’s Banks,” “Paranoia,” “The Poet to Himself,” and “Verklärte Nacht”
Copyright ©2004 by Leonard Nolens from Laat alle deuren op een kier. Verzamelde gedichten (Amsterdam: Querido, 2004)
English language translation ©Paul Vincent

Copyright ©2003 by Leonard Nolens (Amsterdam: Querido, 2003)
English language translations (c) Paul Vincent

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