Besides being a poet and translator, Jan Baeke is one of the programmers of the famous Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam. Before that, he worked for the Amsterdam Film Museum. In a note to his fourth collection, Groter dan de feiten (Larger than the Facts, 2007), he lists a number of people who inspired him during his writing process. This list shows that the work of international film makers such as Andrej Tarkovski, Federico Fellini, Michael Haneke and Luis Buñuel are as important to Baeke’s poetry as writings of poets like János Pilinszky, Wallace Stevens and Ann Carson. Both Baeke’s imagery and technique seem to be fuelled and formed by film and poetry alike.
As a translator, Baeke has a preference for Anglo-Saxon poets from all over the globe: among others, he has translated poems by Lavinia Greenlaw (English), Liz Lochhead (Scottish), Deryn Rees-Jones (Welsh) and Russell Edson (American). As a poet, he made his début in 1997 with Nooit zonder de paarden (Never without the Horse), about which Dutch poet and essayist Erik Menkveld wrote: “Jan Baeke likes to involve his readers in bizarre situations. A drawing room where horses dance gracefully, a train compartment full of dogs, a ‘decade, season, time of night’ in which buses are ‘no longer cherished’, or the house of a man who lives with a saw. Even so, his poetry cannot simply be labelled ‘absurdist’; however unlikely the locations, images, observations and trains of thought in Baeke’s poetry may be, they always appear to convey some worthwhile truth about the reality of our lives.”
Reality, its rules and limits, and the human (in)ability to stretch these are subjects which continue to fascinate Baeke, from Zo is de zee (That is the Sea, 2001) and Iedereen is er (Everyone is Here, 2004), right up to his more recent collections Het tankstation op de route (The Gas Station along the Route, 2013) and Seizoensroddel (Seasonal Gossip, 2015). As critic Hans Groenewegen put it: “Each poem is another attempt at discovering the laws that govern our world.”
The same “unstable universe” serves as décor in the love story told in Groter dan de feiten (Larger than the Facts, 2007), which was nominated for the most important poetry prize for a single collection in the Netherlands: the VSB Poetry Prize. Over five chapters a story unfolds – though never fully. It is the story of two lovers in and around some Mediterranean hotel who constantly attract, distract and repel one another, just as fact and fiction do.
Through his poetic explorations, in his search for coherency or at least some grip on reality, Baeke shows us just how uncertain, incoherent and unpredictable the world around us actually is.
Jan Baeke is working together with Alfred Marseille under the name of Public Thought, in making ciné poèmes, data poems and digital poetic installations. Samples of their work and more information can be found here: www.publicthought.net.
Seizoensroddel (Seasonal Gossip), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2015
Het tankstation op de route (The Gas Station along the Route), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2013
Moeders en cowboys (Mothers and Cowboys), Tungsten Press, Hilversum, 2011
Brommerdagen (Moped Days), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2010
Groter dan de feiten (Larger than the Facts), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2007
Iedereen is er (Everyone is Here), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2004
Zo is de zee (That is the Sea), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2001
Nooit zonder de paarden (Never without the Horses), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 1997.
Poems published in translation
In: Héroes y villanos del cómic = helden en schurken in het stripverhaal = héros et vilains de la bande dessinée (Spanish and French, anthology), translated by Ronald Brouwer and Frans de Haes, Fundacion Carlos de Amberes, Madrid, 2007
In: Carapace 53: Dutch Edition (English, review/anthology), translated by Willem Groenewegen, Snail Press, Cape Town, 2005
In: Amsterdam/Marseille (French, anthology), translated by Vannina Maestri and Kim Andringa. CipM/Perdu, Marseille/Amsterdam, 2005
In: Drehpunkt: Die Schweizer Literaturzeitschrift (German, review, no. 122, 2005), translated by Norbert Hummelt
In: The Amsterdam Review (English, review, no. 1, 2004), translated by Willem Groenewegen
In: Vika moreto vo sepijata: antologija na sovremenata cholandska poesija (Macedonian, anthology), translated by Suzanna Rensburg-Dapcevska, Struga PE, Skopje, 2004
In: Poetry Wales (English, review, no. 3, vol. 39, winter 2003/4), translated by Willem Groenewegen
In: Le verre est un liquide lent: 33 poètes néerlandais (French, anthology), translated by Jan H. Mysjkin and Pierre Gallissaires, Farrago, Tours, 2003
In: Action Poétique (French, review, no. 171, 2003) translated by Kim Andringa and Henri Deluy
Exercise against time (English), translated by the poet and Rod Mengham,CCCP Translation Series, Cambridge, 2001
In: Action Poétique (French, review, no.156, 1999) translated by Jan H. Mysjkin and Pierre Gallissaires
VPRO Baeke at VPRO, including video
De Bezige Bij Baeke’s publisher
De Recensent An online review of Baeke’s Groter dan de feiten
10 (tien) An animation of one of Baeke’s poems on Youtube
Jacket Magazine Four of Baeke’s poems in English translation by the poet and Rod Mengham
cipM Baeke at the centre international de poésie Marseille (cipM)