“Menno Wigman is not only one of today’s most interesting young Dutch poets, he also seems to speak for a whole new generation,” wrote Dutch critic Rob Schouten in 2002 when Wigman was performing at the Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam. The poet had published just two official collections at that time, and already fellow poet Ingmar Heytze was declaring him “the best poet of our generation”. Three poetry collections and one prose volume followed.
According to Schouten, Wigman is a poet with clearly identifiable literary roots: “As a poet, and also as a translator, he is steeped in the tradition of nineteenth-century dark romanticism, including that period’s mix of posture and authenticity. The existence he describes has all the hallmarks of a lost generation in the style of the French Poètes Maudits. There is also a link with certain trends in pop music; Wigman has played in punk rock bands. His poetry is on the whole melancholy, sombre in tone. He is, in fact, a modern-day practitioner of Weltschmerz and Spleen: love is consummated but doomed to fail; paradise is forever sought but never found, young people indulge in loose and licentious living, but gloom persists.”
After Wigman’s first collection ’s Zomers stinken alle steden (In the Summer All Cities Stink, 1997), his next one, Zwart als kaviaar (Black as Caviar, 2001), though retaining some of his illusionless outlook, sounded somewhat less bitter. Schouten: “The ugliness of the world and the failures of life continue to set the mood, but there may be some merit in this (…). With increasing subtlety and effectiveness, Wigman succeeds in translating personal and up-to-date impressions into universal and timeless terms and images. A punk rocker on his way to becoming a classic.”
The word ‘classic’ also comes to mind when one tries to describe Wigman’s style and formal technique which show a conscious and masterful use of (half) rhymes, metre and rhythm. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he remains loyal to classical verse forms, or creates poems that at least have the looks and sound of timeless pieces by long diseased ancestors. But he manages to revitalize these forms, give them an unmistakably personal and modern touch and thus write poems that are both transparent and edgy. This certainly goes for his third collection, Dit is mijn dag (This is my Day, 2004), which confirmed Wigman’s status as one of the most talented and popular poets among his generation. To find out how some of his colleagues, editors and friends reflected on him as a poet and as a person by that time, check out the article added to this page, ‘Menno Wigman: poet with a drum set in his head’, written for poetry magazine Awater in 2005, just after Dit is mijn dag appeared.
In 2006, Wigman was the youngest poet to write the ‘Gedichtendagbundel’: a small collection with a print run of 15,000 copies, published to celebrate the Dutch and Flemish National Poetry Day, and one year later he made his debut as a prose writer with Het gesticht (The Mental Institution), a lively and fascinating report of the three months he spent as a writer-in-residence at a mental institution near the Dutch village Den Dolder.
A collection of Wigman’s essays on poetry, Red ons van de dichters (Save Us from the Poets), was published in 2010. His most recent collection of poems, Mijn naam is Legioen (My Name is Legion), is shortlisted for the prestigious VSB Poetry Award 2013.
’s Zomers stinken alle steden (In the Summer All Cities Stink), Prometheus/Bert Bakker, Amsterdam, 1997.
Zwart als kaviaar (Black as Caviar), Prometheus/Bert Bakker, Amsterdam, 2001.
Dit is mijn dag (This is my Day), Prometheus, Amsterdam, 2004.
De wereld bij avond (The World at Night; Gedichtendagbundel), Prometheus/Poetry International, Amsterdam/Rotterdam, 2006.
Het gesticht (The Mental Institution; prose), Prometheus, Amsterdam, 2006.
De droefenis van copyrettes (The Sadness of Copy Shops; Selected Poems), Prometheus, Amsterdam, 2009.
Red ons van de dichters (Save Us from the Poets; essays), Prometheus, Amsterdam, 2010.
Mijn naam is Legioen (My Name is Legion), Prometheus, Amsterdam, 2012.
Translations by Menno Wigman
Charles Baudelaire, De bloemen van het kwaad, Nachtschade, Amsterdam 1986.
Gérard de Nerval, Aurélia, of de droom en het leven, Voetnoot, Amsterdam 1994.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Wie nu alleen is. Twintig liefdesgedichten, Prometheus/Bert Bakker, Amsterdam 1996.
Thomas Bernhard, In een tapijt van water. Gedichten, Atlas, Amsterdam 1997.
Wees altijd dronken! Franse prozagedichten uit het fin de siècle, Voetnoot, Amsterdam 1998.
Leopold Andrian, De tuin van inzicht, met een nawoord van Gerrit Komrij, L.J. Veen, Amsterdam 1999.
Else Lasker-Schüler, Altijd kleurt je bloed mijn wangen rood, Prometheus/Bert Bakkker, Amsterdam 2002.
Anthologies by Menno Wigman
Nico Slothouwer, Liefdesstratenplan. Verzameld werk, Nijgh & van Ditmar, Amsterdam 1994.
Hans Andreus, Vertel hoeveel ik van je hou. Vijfendertig liefdesgedichten, Bert Bakker, Amsterdam 1998.
Familie duurt een mensenleven lang. De honderd mooiste Nederlandse gedichten over vaders, moeders, dochters en zonen, Bert Bakker, Amsterdam 1999.
Wat blijft. De mooiste gedichten van de eeuw, Bert Bakker, Amsterdam 1999.
Published collections in translation
Black as caviar (English), translated by Stephen Frech. Midwest Writing Center, Davenport, Iowa 2012.
L'Affliction des copyrettes (French), translated by Jan H. Mysjkin and Pierre Gallissaires. Cheyne, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon 2010.
Wigman’s poems have also been translated and published in reviews and anthologies in China, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Macedonia, , Portugal, Rumania, Spain, Switzerland and the USA.
Aan een man
Animation film based on Wigman’s poem ‘Aan een man’ (animation: Rosie Heinrich; voice over: Menno Wigman)
Dutch translation by Menno Wigman of one poem by German poet, Else Lasker-Schüler.
Wigman at the Dutch Royal Library, The Hague
Wigman at VPRO, including audio and video
Animation films based on several poems, including two poems by Wigman: ‘Bijna dertig’ (animation: Liesbeth Worm) and ‘Misverstand’ (animation: Laurie Kramer)