Maarten Inghels lives in Antwerp’s Schipperskwartier, the red light district near the port. He grew up in the city, where he studied Dutch language and theatre, film and literary sciences. He coordinates the Eenzame Uitvaart (Lonely Funeral) project, which provides poets to speak at the funerals of those without relatives and friends. He is currently working on a novel.
What immediately strikes you about Inghel’s poetry is the loathing for all things false and deceitful. With the skill of a pathologist, in Waakzaam (Vigilant; 2011), he dissects the ugliness of hedonism and the aberration of egotism using drawn-out tirades in which the metre jerks and judders, and in which he makes a conscious choice to use ugly, often composite words full of hard consonants, like something posted by a spammer on an Internet forum. In Waakzaam, Inghels rifles through the rubbish bins of language, barking in powerful sound-clashes. Angry and disillusioned, he unmasks the world around him as a “false and forged pursuit” populated by flat characters such as “the flirting toyboy and the end result of a botox accident”. The characters appear to be out for no more than “to lick their own heavenly body” against the background of “photoshopped breakers”. But that cold war can also break out in the domain of friendship and love – then love becomes a “repeating rifle”, or “offal”.
Even the ‘I’ proves suspicious: “[I] practise my face in front of the mirror”. The greatest anxiety comes from the realisation that the I will prove unscrupulous: “One’s own rigorous love as retort.” That is la condition moderne according to Inghels, who specifically asks for “new lies” to enable the triggering of a gag reflex. This society and this mentality are destined for the drains.
At the same time, in Waakzaam, behind that fury and fear of the false lurks a longing for what is genuine. Interestingly, Inghels describes that craving for clarity the most lucidly in his debut collection, Tumult. Despite the painful images that crop up there, too, the book is about seeking true love to alleviate the insecurity and ineptitude of the I. In an interview, Inghels once said, “To me, indifference is an alarming condition.” In his eyes, people should be ‘different’ – identifying with the other, acknowledging the other as equally valuable, possibly even more valuable than the I.
The new modus vivendi Inghels seeks (“a horizon of voices” or “a skeleton key for resting, long”) has no foothold in the already too rotten reality. It is, however, rooted in man’s ability to invent a reality: “In the back of your hut you had a mosque / Perhaps in the evenings you prayed there with the king”. The human imagination plays a crucial role in moral reconstruction. Exchanging reality for a radically personal imaginary world is not an option, though. For Inghels, reaching and touching others is too important for that. At an existential level, the flight into dreams is too easy for him, so he continues to poetically lash out against “bourgeois emotion”, “anecdotia”, “warble chatter verses” and “aesthetic recreation”.
The new world will not arrive all by itself. A new awareness has to be built. And that is both a linguistic and a physical process. In Maarten Inghels’ poetry, language acts as the creative force uniting language and the physical in an intimate relationship: “I will crawl inside you, close your mouth / behind me. I will kneed your lung and fade into the rest”. Or: “Even for braille I am too blind”. Noise, the most unformed of sound bites, binds the fumbling man and the desired woman: “May I be noise in your ear, my love, mount / the stairs, knock on your door, cough, ask: / Did you hear me?”
In Inghels’ new world, insecurity and suppleness are positive characteristics. Only in insecurity can one be tender, only “muscles made supple by jazz” can lose their rigidity. Music plays a key role, but so do the the striking images of water Inghels uses to describe the object of desire. The swimmer is a recurring metaphor that focuses the tensions in this poetry. Unfortunately, we are “swimmers on the beach, / while alertly shielding our eyes we / see the sad-eyed seals wash up” and the poet himself is “a dead blackfish”. But “that is what / a person wants; / a moment of clarity, / calm and a green flag on the pier. / Saying you may swim now / here.”
In this respect, Inghels shows himself to be an heir to Paul Van Ostaijen, who wrote in Bezette Stad (Occupied City) of “nil in all directions” and, at the same time, of the “simple stuttering of a soul for love”.
Tumult, Uitgeverij Van Gennep, Amsterdam, 2008
Het abattoir van het afscheid (The Slaughterhouse of Parting), Het Gonst, Antwerpen, 2009
Waakzaam (Vigilant), De Bezige Bij Antwerpen, Antwerpen, 2011
Maarten Inghels’ poetry is published by De Bezige Bij, Antwerpen
Maarten Inghels’ website
An interview with Maarten Inghels by S.J. Fowler in 3:AM Magazine