Maarten van der Graaff’s debut book Vluchtautogedichten (Getawaycarpoems, 2013) opens with the line ‘enormous enormous space’. In the 50 pages that follow, the poet fills this space by painting, sketching and blotting with an incessant flow of words. Lucid announcements switch to absurd scenes; a fleeting thought can grow into a whole story or remain fleeting, or it can turn completely into its opposite, because as Van der Graaff writes in ‘The athlete trusts his jump’: ‘Only fascists never contradict themselves’. Alternating between youthful elation and boundless boredom, Van der Graaff tries to express ‘how tired everything is’ and, simultaneously, how ‘fragrant and / useless and light’. This results in sprawling poems that show what it is like to live and read in this very moment; what it is like to be bored to death every now and then; and what it feels like to refuse to give up hoping, maybe even believing, in something more. ‘I like question marks that are everything but profound. Can I go?’
Vluchtautogedichten was awarded the C. Buddingh’ Prize for the best Dutch-language debut collection in 2014. The jury called Van der Graaff an ‘immensely mobile and resourceful poet’ and praised ‘the breadth of Van der Graaff’s poems, regarding composition, vocabulary and themes’. After the award ceremony, which took place at the Poetry International Festival, a journalist from the newspaper Trouw asked him: ‘“Boastfulness, swagger and bravura are good stances for young poets”, according to the jury. Are you such a literary punk?’ Van der Graaff’s answer is as spontaneous as it is thoughtful: ‘Apparently people experience what I do as punkish. I do tend to be direct and not hold back. And I write a lot. I write a lot and quickly and throw a lot away. But what type of poet I am . . . In any case I am a poet that does not really know yet. I do not know what direction my work will be taking, I am in search much more than “swagger and bravura” suggest.’
Van der Graaff continued this search with the publication of his second book, Dood werk (Dead work) in 2015. Here again the poet stands firmly situated in the current day and reports his findings without holding back. His tone is confident and free from illusion. In ‘Lijsten’ (Lists), the first half of the book, and ‘Geklokte gedichten’ (Clocked poems), the second half, he attempts to create cohesion between his life and surroundings. This attempt is as slippery (‘The shape of my existence shows itself / as crumbly factuality,’ he writes) as it is necessary, because there is ‘a social sphere I don’t understand. / I want to write for those who / are found in this space.’
With Frank Keizer, Van der Graaff is an editor and co-founder of the online literary journal Samplekanon. He is also an instructor in Creative Writing at the ArtEZ art school in Arnhem.
Dood werk (Dead work). Atlas Contact, Amsterdam, 2015
Vluchtautogedichten (Getawaycarpoems). Atlas Contact, Amsterdam, 2013. Winner, C. Buddingh’ Prize for best Dutch-language debut collection, 2014
Online literary magazine Samplekanon (in Dutch)
Essay on Dutch poetry by Maarten van der Graaff and Frank Keizer (in English): Part 1 and Part 2