John Leefmans
(Surinam, 1933–2012)   
John Leefmans

John Leefmans was born in Nieuw-Nickerie, Surinam, into a Jewish family whose ancestors in the 18th century left Dantzig in East Prussia for the Netherlands, and from there dispersed to different continents. The branch that settled in Surinam converted to Catholicism. Leefman’s mother was Dutch Reformed.

At age five, John Leefmans went to live in the capital Paramaribo, spending only school vacations with his parents, his father being an officer in the Dutch colonial administration who was continually being transferred between district offices. After finishing junior high school in 1948, John went to the Netherlands to study. In 1951 he finished high school and went on to read law at Leiden university. He then trained to become a foreign attaché and after joining the Dutch Foreign Office served on diplomatic posts in Madrid, Brussels, Abidjan, Santiago de Chile, Oslo, Port of Spain and Harare. As a retired ambassador he settled in Rijswijk, near The Hague.

John Leefmans published his first poems in the Leiden student paper Minerva and the magazine Kaft. In 1961 he co-founded the magazine Mamjo, published by the Surinam Student Society, of which he was president. He became the magazine’s first chief editor and contributed poetry, essays and criticism. His debut collection, Intro, was published by Orchid Press in the Netherlands and Surinam in 1981. Orchid Press also published his second collection, Terugblikken zonder blozen (Looking back without blushing), three years later. For both collections he used the pseudonym Jo Löffel, after the Surinam corruption of his family name. Leefmans then fell silent until the middle 1990s, when he made his come-back with poems in the anthology Spiegel van de Surinaamse poëzie (1995) and in magazines such as De Gids, Dietsche Warande & Belfort, and Armada.

© Michiel van Kempen (Translated by Ko Kooman)

[John Leefmans took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2000. This text was written on that occasion.]

Publications (selection):
Intro (1981);
Terugblikken zonder blozen (1984);
Retro (2001);
Op' a batra/Open die fles (2009)


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