‘The poet is the surveyor of the invisible,’ writes André Schmitz, who was born on 17 August 1929 in Erneuville in the Belgian Ardennes. The poet seems to have at his disposal a sixth sense for things that are hidden in other things and for the meanings concealed in words. Because of that, in the gaze of the poet everyday happenings acquire something strange. Even the title of his main work, Les prodiges ordinaires (The Ordinary Marvels, 1991), indicates that he goes looking for the marvellous in the daily grind. Schmitz sets down in a few lines a completely ordinary situation, and a few lines further on confronts the reader with existential nothingness. The point is to dislocate the obvious so as to compel us to notice our surroundings to such an extent that we are in no danger of slipping into the ridiculous and the trivial. The object is to catch or retrieve a variable, transitory, meaning.
The Ordinary Marvels is the volume in which André Schmitz has brought his concise, bombast-free style to new heights – a style that through a deceptive use of understatement comes across so much more sharply and strikingly. André Schmitz has gradually achieved that style for himself. In his debut, Pour l’amour du feu (For the Love of Fire, 1961), Schmitz is still controlling his tone by means of metre and rhyme. A decade later with his third collection Soleils rauques (Raucous Suns, 1973) he arrived at the poem as a plain and direct snapshot that on a close reading is full of allusions to what remains unsaid and is perhaps also unsayable in any way except with an image.
‘I talk about the sorrows of life with a self-confident voice’, André Schmitz writes. Whatever marvels the poet investigates, desperation and doubt are inherent in the human condition.
André Schmitz took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2007. This text was written on that occasion.
Les prodigues ordinaires (1991)
Les cerfs-volants (1994)
Lettres a l’illetrée (2000)
Dans la prose des jours. Poésie 1961-2001 (2002)