Peter van Lier is a strange poet. His work consists of meticulous observations of human actions. In doing so, he seems to strive for neutrality and objectivity – a venture that never quite succeeds. And this is exactly what makes his subdued precision so fascinating. Precarious, small incidents are held there in his words. Measured observations. Stems of grass. Prams. Insects. The quest for the unsulliedness of things, humans, has something helpless, something poignant about it. It appears to be naive – but the reader knows better.
“The poet seems to be using his senses for the first time,” the essayist Hans Groenewegen writes about van Lier. “The poet looks at the world almost like an Adam, as a pristine human being.” This is also expressed in the stalling, almost stumbling form into which van Lier pours his concentrated poetry: often it is a part of a sentence – sometimes a single word – that form a line of poetry. An occasionally somewhat awkward and slightly solemn use of language makes the reader over-conscious of the construction that is being used. Is his poetry a negation that accentuates everything that is not commented on in his pursuit of apparently trivial details? Peter van Lier manages to irritate his admirers, or even to get them to tear out their hair. Critic and professor Jos Joosten speaks of “a personal register, a personal idiom and an unfashionable style”. Via his tenacious minimalism Peter van Lier succeeds in bringing about something. With telling precision he brings language to a stop.
Peter van Lier made his debut with Miniem gebaar (Slight gesture). This had been preceded by his study Van absurdisme tot mystiek (From absurdism to mysticism): a metaphysics from Nietzsche and Beckett to Heidegger. His most recent collection is called Zes wenken voor muggen aan de deur (Six hints for mosquitoes at the door). His book Links, rechts (Left, right) describes two walks and is written in a hybrid form of prose and poetry. If the reader is prepared to creep into the skin and garb of the walker, every detail there speaks volumes.
Zes wenken voor muggen aan de deur, Van Oorschot, Amsterdam 2007.
Gaandeweg rustieker, Van Oorschot, Amsterdam 2004.
Links, rechts. Twee wandelingen (Poetic prose), Van Oorschot, Amsterdam 2001.
Gegroet o…, Meulenhoff, Amsterdam 1998.
Miniem gebaar, Meulenhoff, Amsterdam 1995.
Van absurdisme tot mystiek (Essay), Damon, Best 1994.
In: Poésie néerlandaise d'aujourd'hui (French, Morocco), translated by Jan H. Mysjkin and Pierre Gallissaires. In: Electron libre: revue de poésie, number 2, 2005.
In: Le verre est un liquide lent: 33 poètes néerlandais (French, anthology), translated by Kim Andringa et al. Farrago, 2003.
In: Poètes néerlandais, aujourd'hui (French), translated by Jan H. Mysjkin and Pierre Gallissaires. In: Action Poétique, number 156, 1999.
In: The low countries 5 (English), translated by Deborah ffoulkes et al. Ons Erfdeel, 1997.
Van Lier’s own website
Van Lier interviewed by Dutch critic Remco Ekkers.
Van Lier’s Publisher
Van Lier at the Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam 2008