On the shoulders of shopping-bag people

Anne Vegter becomes Poet Laureate of the Netherlands
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Anne Vegter
© Merlijn Doomernik.

It is no easy task to write poetry about the dominant concerns of our society. Where many poets have the natural tendency to shut themselves up in a private, sometimes downright hermetic world, a Poet Laureate must strive to reach a wide public without betraying their own poetic integrity. Following in the footsteps of Gerrit Komrij, Driek van Wissen, and Ramsey Nasr, who have all fulfilled the duties of the position in their own way, Anne Vegter will spend the next few years as Poet Laureate. It is high time that a woman took on this task.

Anne Vegter is an extremely versatile poet and writer. In 1989 she made her debut with the children’s book De dame en de neushoorn (The Lady and the Rhinoceros), which was promptly awarded the Woutertje Pieterse Prize. Her first poetry collection, Het veerde (It Rebounded; 1992), showed that a poet of stature had risen. Several more children’s books followed, as well as a collection of erotic stories and several plays, but in every genre at which Vegter tries her hand the fact that she is first and foremost a poet glimmers through. Even in her drawings.
Vegter does not write easy poetry. This does not mean that her work is inaccessible  (on the contrary) but it lacks the tendency to hide anything whatsoever. Her most recent collection, Eiland berg gletsjer (Island Mountain Glacier; 2011), does not shield the reader. Friendship, marriage and sex, deterioration and loss – not in themselves exceptional subjects – are picked apart by Vegter in such a confrontational manner that the reader is left gasping for breath. But she also asks much larger questions. In a long monologue, the daughter of Noah undermines the foundations of patriarchy and the Christian tradition by killing and emasculating her father. The poem ends paradoxically, however:
a poet said:
you can declare god dead but
with that the name is still not gone
The cultural-historical consciousness or, if one prefers, the social commitment Vegter shows is not new, though it seems to grow stronger as the years go by. The title of the collection Aandelen en obligaties (Stocks and Bonds; 2002) already suggests that economic and financial thinking has made its way into every corner of the private sphere. In the seemingly careless style that is her trademark, she writes in Spamfighter (2007) that:
As evening hangs from the shoulders of 
shopping-bag people, I could go for that.

We have earned, searched, purchased, taken
our time, nodded in favour of staying in

No one escapes the treadmill of consumption, and perhaps there is more poetry in that fact that one might expect at first glance. Is the poet not a ‘shopping-bag person’ par excellence? “That day,” she writes, “it became Saturday night again with the chance / to make sense of it all.” 
You won’t find straightforward politics with Vegter, but lines like this one, from Eiland berg gletsjer (Island Mountain Glacier), invite debates on childrearing and moral consciousness:
my father said i shouldn’t stand out growing up and i ate without weight
his father said that the man who betrays his country sells forgiveness to ovens
“On whether it takes time to be Anne Vegter” – this is how the poem ‘Meten & wegen’ (Measuring and Weighing) begins. The answer is nuanced: “It doesn’t necessarily take time but the head [. . .] bulges out.” Her creativity is certainly inexhaustible. But readers are “searching for someone in whom they can rest”. In this case they are probably in the wrong place with this poet, who prefers to rudely awaken than to encourage rest.
Because of her open eyes and penetrating language, because she can build bridges to theatre and the visual arts, and because she also knows how to win children over, Anne Vegter is the perfect Poet Laureate.

© Piet Gerbrandy (Translated by Megen Molé)  
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