Sybren Polet
(Netherlands, 1924–2015)   
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Sybren Polet

The poet Sybren Polet (pseudonym for Sybren Minnema) made his debut in 1946 with the poetry collection Genesis that was published under his real name. It was with Demiurgasmen (1953) that Polet first used his pseudonym. His first novel, featuring the character Lokien who was later to regularly return in other novels, came out in 1961 and was entitled Breekwater. In all his writing Polet reflects on reality.

Sybren Polet is often viewed as a member of the Dutch Fiftiers’ movement, but in reality, from the publication of his earliest collections, one might say that his stance was more strictly individualistic in relation to the Fiftiers or the reactionary poetic movement of the Sixties. His work demonstrates clear opposition to the pure lyricism of the experimentalists. Despite the allusions to hard reality he seeks, more so than the poets of the Sixties group, a kind of literature that engages with reality. Ultimately since Polet was to pave the way for postmodernism in Dutch verse he could, as such, be seen as a second Ezra Pound. That, at least, is what Mathijs Sanders and Redbad Fokkema concluded in ‘Lessons in Disobedience’, their 1995 essay on Polet.
In his autobiography Een geschreven leven (‘A Written Life’), Polet elaborates on his thought processes and on writing, an extension of thought: ‘this thinking and, in effect, all original thought is more akin to a fluttering, to a bat-like tentative feeling of one’s way, to erratically thinking ahead; control then follows automatically. If one surrenders to this, then that which is most salient will emerge without one having to worry about it too much; to a certain extent, the form will flow from what has already been thought through and written. I resolved to focus on writing-technical matters by, for instance, not answering questions wherever possible. Since what is invariably most important is the posing of the question, the answer becomes superfluous. By implication, the procedure thus becomes: include much white and many dotted lines and leave out everything that is unnecessary.’
The way in which he eagerly allows reality in, only to subsequently tear it apart and reveal it in a new light, makes it evident that (as Piet Gerbrandy once observed) his works are designed to trigger the imagination and show people how to fundamentally open their minds to the new, to the unknown and to potentiality.
Polet’s poetry collection Virtualia, Teletonen: Even- en nevenbeelden, which was nominated for the 2013 VSB Poetry Prize, once again convincingly exposes his poetic approach and fascinations. It has culminated in a collection packed with lines that bear witness to lucid scepticism and can readily be quoted, while also precisely tracing how language presents reality and erases it. ‘All innovation issues from unbalanced language situations’, Polet asserts. ‘Ever more gaps vanish into thin air.’ In 2003 Sybren Polet was awarded the Constantijn Huygens Prize for his complete works.

© Jan Baeke (Translated by Diane Butterman)

A selection of the poetry collections
Demiurgasmen, Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam, 1953
Gedichten 1998-1948, Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam, 2002
Luchtwegen. Nergenswind, Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam, 2003
Avatar. Avader, Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam, 2006
Binnenstebuitenwereld, Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam, 2008
Donorwoorden, Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam, 2010
Virtualia, Teletonen: Even- en nevenbeelden, Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam, 2012


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