After reading Classics and a stint of teaching at Leiden University, Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer decided that the bohemian lifestyle of a poet, writer and journalist suited him better. His first book of poems, in 1998, earned him the C. Buddingh' prize (‘Pfeijffer invaded poetry like Genghis Khan’, his publisher writes); five acclaimed collections later, he was invited to write the 2015 Dutch Poetry Week gift book, producing an ambitious sonnet corona, Giro giro tondo: An obsession. A prolific drinker and an even more prolific writer, Pfeijffer has written novels, essays, plays and lyrics (for singer Ellen ten Damme), while simultaneously becoming one of the Netherlands’ leading contemporary poets.
A tall, corpulent man, Pfeijffer is a seasoned performer with great stage presence who likes to provoke. He posed naked on the back of his collected poetry from 1998-2008, De man van vele manieren (The Man of Many Ways), and is quick to air his views in his newspaper column, often stirring up new controversies or deliberately making enemies. Running through his entire oeuvre are questions of authenticity and fantasy, imagination, romantic love, sexual failings, nostalgia, and identity. A commonly posed question is ‘How to live’. Pfeijffer has a wide range of styles and registers, combines high and low and is fond of hyperbole. The poet has a strong sense of comic timing and knows when to use the bathetic or the obscene to good effect.
In 2014, Pfeijffer’s fifth novel, La Superba, won the Libris Prize, earning him a much larger readership. The novel, which is playfully semi-autobiographical and has a political edge, exploring different forms of immigration, was inspired by Pfeijffer’s new life in Genoa, Italy. He moved there in 2008 with then girlfriend, photographer Gelya Bogatishcheva, after the two had cycled to Rome on a whim. The account of their journey, The Uphill-Downhill Philosophy, makes for an entertaining read.
Pfeijffer’s background as a classicist is more than apparent in his poetry, yet he is fond of drawing from modern life too. Computer game avatars, erotic comics and television programmes feature in his work, alongside barbarians, witches, pirates, princesses and other mythical figures. In his latest poetry collection, Idyllen, the first in seven years, Pfeijffer found new energy in a combination of a complex classical form – rhyming alexandrines – with accessible, narrative content. Reminiscent of Martinus Nijhoff, the poetry appears effortless. The rise and fall of the verse gives the poems a hypnotic power, while the repetition of a running motif ‘de nacht is aangezegt’ (the night has been announced) affords a dark suspense. The NRC Handelsblad writes, ‘A captivating blend of styles and registers . . . everything in this collection undulates, sways, has rhythm and verve.’
Van de vierkante man. De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 1998
Het glimpen van de welkwiek. De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 2001
In de naam van de hond. De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 2005
De man van vele manieren: verzamelde gedichten 1998-2008. De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 2009
Giro giro tondo, een obsessie. CPNB, Amsterdam 2015
Idyllen. De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 2015
Rupert. Een bekentenis. De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 2002
Het grote baggerboek. De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 2004
Het ware leven. De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 2006
Harde feiten. De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 2010
La Superba. De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 2013
Rupert: A Confession. Trans. Michele Hutchison. Open Letter, Rochester, 2009
La Superba. Trans. Michele Hutchison. Deep Vellum, Dallas, 2015
De eeuw van mijn dochter. 2007
Pjeiffer's author page at De Arbeiderspers
Forthcoming English translation/publication of La Superba by Deep Vellum