One ought to be able to say of a poem: it begins well but by line seven it becomes a false claim – according to Nachoem M. Wijnberg, one of the Netherlands’ preeminent living poets. He also once said that a child of twelve could understand his poems. Correspondingly, in his phrasing, he seeks clarity and validity. Perhaps this evokes ideas of simplicity and straightforwardness, but that is not the case: opinions are seldom as diverse as those concerning this oeuvre. The vast majority of poetry lovers agree that Wijnberg writes brilliant, powerful poems, but what are they actually about?
Some readers refuse to believe that Wijnberg’s poems contain a ‘deeper’ significance, and enjoy the directly apparent as much as possible. They praise the simplicity, tragedy and beauty of the situations he sketches. They applaud his lack of metaphor. Others put his work through a post-modern filter and maintain that Wijnberg questions language, reason, and unambiguousness.
Yet others refer to the poets Jewish roots and point to traces of the Talmud. Or they perceive references to the Holocaust in unsuspected corners of the oeuvre. Others again wish to regard him purely as a ‘classical’ poet who creates his own visual imagery: averse to trains of thought and artistic movements but full of respect for tradition.
If it were not such a cliché, one might say: a Wijnberg poem captures the reader instantly but does not reveal itself easily. However, this cliché is not truly applicable: Wijnberg’s poems expose themselves immediately, it is only during re-reading that they appear to comprise unexpected aspects. One of the great issues in this oeuvre is probably: what is worthwhile? This question fragments into all kinds of other questions. Where to sleep? What to sing? What to buy? What should you spend time on? Where should you travel? How should you act? Et cetera.
Wijnberg does not suffer from lack of recognition. His debut De simulatie van de schepping (The Simulation of Creation, 1989) was nominated for the Buddingh’ Prize, the most important prize for Dutch-language debut collections. He has won several other awards including, in 2009, for his collection Het leven van (The Life of), the VSB Poetry Prize, the greatest honour a Dutch-language poetry collection can receive.
Several poems from his collection Liedjes (Songs) have been translated for this issue of PIW. A poem from his previous compilation Eerst dit dan dat (First This Then That) has also been included.
De simulatie van de schepping, Holland, Haarlem, 1989
De voorstelling in de nachtclub, Holland, Haarlem, 1990
De expeditie naar Cathay, Holland, Haarlem, 1991
Langzaam en zacht, Holland, Haarlem, 1993
Is het dan goed, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 1994
Geschenken, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 1996
Alvast, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 1998
Vogels, Contact, Amsterdam, 2001
Uit 7 (a selection from Wijnberg’s first seven collections), Contact, Amsterdam, 2003.
Eerst dit dan dat, Contact, Amsterdam, 2004
Liedjes, Contact, Amsterdam, 2006
Uit tien (a selection from ten collections), Contact, Amsterdam, 2008
Het leven van, Contact, Amsterdam, 2008
Landschapsseks, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 1997
De joden, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 1999
Politiek en liefde, Contact, Amsterdam, 2002
De opvolging, Contact, Amsterdam, 2005
Published translations (selection)
In: The Iowa Review, Vol. 30, No. 1, Spring 2000
In: Le verre est un liquide lent: 33 poètes néerlandais (French, anthology), translated by Jan H. Mysjkin and Pierre Gallissaires, Farrago, Tours, 2003
In: Vika moreto vo sepijata: antologija na sovremenata cholandska poesija (Macedonian, anthology), translated by Suzanna Rensburg-Dapcevska, Struga PE, Skopje 2004
In: Modern Dutch Poetry (Chinese, anthology), translated by Ma Gaoming and Maghiel van Crevel, Guangxi Normal University Press, Guangxi, 2005
In: Poésie néerlandaise d'aujourd'hui (French, special issue of Electron libre: revue de poésie, No. 2, 2005), translated by Jan H. Mysjkin and Pierre Gallissaires
Wijnberg’s poems have also been translated into Farsi and German.
Four poems in English translation by Alissa Leigh, published in Modern Poetry in Translation in 2000 (scroll down)
A number of poems in English translation by Karlien van den Beukel and Andrew Duncan
VSB Poetry Prize 2009
Article about Wijnberg winning the VSB Poetry Prize
Website dedicated to Wijnberg’s collection Liedjes, including video recording of 25 poems
Wijnberg at the Dutch Royal Library, The Hague
Audio recordings of a live public interview and reading in 2006
Video interview and reading by Gielissen TV / Lezen.tv