Seven Dutch Poets: Maria Barnas, Hagar Peeters, Ester Naomi Perquin, Alfred Schaffer, Mustafa Stitou, M. Vasalis, and Menno Wigman




            The current Dutch poetry scene is a vibrant one. Holland is a country of poetry slams and festivals, Rotterdam’s Poetry International being the most famous and influential festival. Holland also offers many opportunities for poets to perform their work at smaller venues. There are in-house positions in public institutions, and poets are on occasion invited to participate in public events, such as Remembrance Day. In addition to the position of Poet Laureate, each city has its own City Poet, and some cities even have a Child City Poet.

            As a small country at the heart of Europe, Holland has always been cosmopolitan in its outlook (hopefully it will never develop tunnel vision), as is reflected in the work of its poets. Insofar as one can generalise, one might say that the last few decades have produced risk-taking poets, in whose work much is at stake. If the poets in this selection have something in common, it is that they are not tied to literary coteries or manifestos and have a strong individual voice.

            The first poet in this selection, M. Vasalis (1909-1998), is one of Holland’s best-known poets. In her avoidance of overblown rhetoric and her emotional precision, she introduced a new sound, unknown before the war. In sparing, unsentimental language she addresses big themes like the fragility of life and the passing of time. Her lyrical poems are never easily mellifluous, but often evoke a moment in time that is more than a moment: in effect the essence of a struggle. In her delicate snapshots of nature she tentatively opens up questions for the reader.

            Menno Wigman, born in 1966, is known for his intensity, his incisive scrutiny of urban life and his technical finesse. He is both a public poet and a very personal one, and his poems effortlessly combine classical elegance and contemporary subject matter. An intense restlessness informs his poems, their tone frequently shifting from self-mocking to decisive, from tender to scathing. ‘At the Council Coffin of Mrs. P.’ was commissioned by the municipality of Amsterdam as part of a project that commemorates the funerals of those who die unmourned, such as the elderly or the homeless.

            Hagar Peeters was born in 1972. Her poetry is passionate, with a strong physicality shaping her language, a language often marked by halting rhythms and playful shifts in perspective. Many of her poems examine the subtleties of human motivation, without ever losing their immediacy and concreteness. The poems included here are loosely based on the biblical story of Hagar, the slave who bore Abraham a son and was later banished to the desert. In these poems Hagar, never a simple victim, becomes a mouthpiece for all outcasts and outsiders.

            Maria Barnas was born in 1973. Her questioning, anecdotal poetry grapples with everyday situations. Her language is highly visual, but avoids elaborate description. The tone can seem detached, even matter-of-fact, but the detachment is constantly and wittily undercut, and this coolly phrased ambivalence energises her work. Often, the speaker falls prey to uncertainty, and mundane events are viewed with suspicion. What is safe and familiar is pitted against all that is immense and strange, and imagination and reality become curiously entangled.

            Alfred Schaffer, born in 1973, shot to fame with the publication of his extraordinary collection Mens dier ding (‘Man Animal Thing’), in which he delved deep into South African history. In this long sequence of poems, based on the life of Shaka Zulu, he explores the psychology of a despot. In language both haunting and absurdist, a complex portrait emerges of a potentate who is by turns abomination and hero, asylum-seeker and poet. Many of the poems reflect Shaka’s daydreams and enact the gradual unravelling of a disturbed mind. The poems presented here are from the last part of the collection.

            Mustafa Stitou was born in 1974. His concentrated, carefully composed poems are marked by vivid twists and turns. The poems included here are from his powerful sequence Relieken (‘Relics’), which focuses on various contemporary relics displayed in galleries and museums: a preserved dragonfly and a stuffed chimpanzee that is meant to represent Christ. Stitou has said of these poems that they explore the tension between nature and culture, the meaningful and the meaningless, the sacred and the profane – themes that can be found in much of his work.

            Ester Naomi Perquin was born in 1980 and is Holland’s current Poet Laureate. She has been praised for her versatility as a poet and for the clarity and generosity of her vision. The poems presented here are from her collection Celinspecties (‘Cell Inspections’). Perquin worked for a time as a prison guard, and in this collection she homes in on different characters, offering sharply observed, unjudgmental portraits of prisoners. Steering clear of sensationalism or sentimentality, she gives the anonymous prisoners a voice, allowing the reader to enter their strangely claustrophobic world.

            In compiling this selection I was partly dependent on what the translators had on offer, but I feel it turned out to be a strong gathering. Translations editor Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka and I are grateful to all the contributors, some of whom translated poems specially for this issue, and to the Dutch Foundation for Literature for generously providing a grant. This selection of poets is of course not much more than a handful taken from the deep pockets of Dutch literature, but I hope it will entice the reader to explore more of the work coming out of Holland today.

                                                            Judith Wilkinson, Guest Co-Editor

 This publication has been made possible with financial support from the Dutch Foundation for Literature.

Nederlands letterenfonds - dutch foundation for literature




M. Vasalis

Translated from the Dutch by David McKay


Each day I claw my way up over stone.
The blue of evening comes but not the end.
And now, approaching the volcano’s edge—
the plants, the birds, the song all left behind—
I’m out of grace again, again alone
and sore afraid of dreams that cannot be undone.


Iedere dag omhooggeklauwd langs steen
de blauwe avond is er, maar het einde niet.
De rand van de vulkaan is dichterbij gekomen
geen vegetatie meer, geen vogel en geen lied.
En ongezegend ben ik weer, en weer alleen
en zeer bevreesd voor onherroepelijke dromen.


Birds at the window once –
now, butterflies with brittle wings,
noiseless, their fleeting bodies nearly gone.
The time has come the time for moving on.

Vroeger vogels bij het raam
nu vliederdunne vlinders
zonder gerucht en van materie haast ontdaan.
Het is wel tijd wel tijd om weg te gaan.



Calm, as if on a raft of clarity
and stillness, lying on my back,
I drifted into morning, into morning light
where water, land, and sky were one, and even so
as much themselves as ever—not a thing was lost.


Zo kalm als op een vlot van helderheid
en rust, gelegen op mijn rug
dreef ik de ochtend in, het ochtendlicht,
land, lucht en water waren één en zonder dat
er van hun eigenheid maar iets verloren ging.



Menno Wigman

Translated from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson

At the Council Coffin of Mrs. P.

Is she asleep? She is. After eighty-three years –
…..the sum of more than thirty-thousand mornings –
of combing her hair, running her errands
… I don’t know how many pairs of shoes
and all those endless laces, forks and spoons,
…..people, what people, where are they, she sleeps.

She sleeps and I, morbid as I am, think of
…..her comb, nail clippers, eyebrow pencil,
how everything, her night cream, bank card, life time,
… thrown away, erased. And this, is this
embarrassed lugging meant to be a funeral?
…..As if a coin’s been lost or a newspaper forgotten

at a weary station. Something like that.
…..Call it tragic, call it rhythm, time,
that dirty carnivore, always makes sure that the end
…..stinks. But she’s asleep now, she’s asleep.
So tuck her in and make sure her tired feet
…..will never have to tread the streets again.

This poem was commissioned for the Lonely Funeral of Klaaske Pen (1920-2003)

Bij de gemeentekist van mevrouw P.

Slaapt ze? Ze slaapt. Na drieëntachtig jaar,
…..driehonderdvijfenzestig keer per jaar,
haar haar gekamd te hebben, op ik weet niet hoeveel
…..schoenen door de stad te zijn gelopen,
steeds maar weer die veters, vorken, lepels,
…..mensen, wat voor mensen, waar dan, slaapt ze.

Ze slaapt en ik, morbide als ik ben, denk aan
…..haar kam, haar nagelschaar en wenkbrauwstift,
hoe alles, nachtcrème, bankpas, tijdsgewricht,
…..wordt weggeworpen, uitgewist. En dit,
is dit beschaamde slepen een begrafenis?
…..Alsof je ongemerkt een munt verliest,

op een verveeld station je krant vergeet. Zoiets.
…..Noem het tragiek, noem het ritme, de tijd,
die vuile carnivoor, zorgt steevast voor een eind
…..dat stinkt. Maar ze slaapt nu, ze slaapt.
Dus dek haar toe en zorg dat haar vermoeide voeten
…..nooit meer de straat op hoeven.


My Half

Her body is a sign, the evidence
that everything in this world points to us.
But at night a grey swordfish
inches across the rafters and I wake up
with a start on my half. I am cold

and quietly weigh up my chances: to be one
just one more time, two blind animals, a god
in bed and deep and true, a lifetime long
of rising daily from her cavern of fur,

how would that feel? The swordfish is silent.
In every language men have dreamt of lust
and of dead loves whose spectres still roam free.

And I? I lie here blinded by the evidence
that everything points to her and me.

Mijn helft

Haar lichaam is een teken, een bewijs
dat alles op de wereld wijst naar ons.
Maar ‘s nachts schuift er een grijze
zwaardvis over het plafond en schrik
ik wakker op mijn helft. Ik heb het koud

en teken stil mijn kansen uit: nog één
keer één te zijn, twee blinde dieren, god
in bed en diep en echt, een leven lang
uit haar spelonk van bont opstaan,

hoe zou dat zijn? De zwaardvis zwijgt.
In alle talen dromen mannen van genot
en dode liefdes die geen graven kregen.

En ik? Ik lig verblind naast het bewijs
dat alles wijst naar haar en mij.



Hagar Peeters

Translated from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson


In the Desert

I was considered too impudent
an eternity ago
banished to the desert
and here

– do you see that Arabian steed
that horse of iron wire
that bellowing Guernica?
That’s me.

By the time the sand
that flies up from under my feet
and blinds you
as I pass
drifts down before your eyes,
I’ll be gone.

The dromedary unfolds itself
vertebra by vertebra
rises in jolts to its feet and undulates
clunkily from sight.

A black sun
rises above my eye.
This blurred lens seems to ensure
that everything’s a mirage.

Stiffly nothing stretches
fully yet but lingers before the furthest
point is reached a beat or two behind
until the caravan of limbs
is ready to accept the journey.

What is heard has been banished from the ear,
roams the furthest passageways of the vault
and flows out in echoes of memory.

There it soars like a bird, too high
to hear the beating of the wings
and yet a whirling sound
and the protesting wind
still strike a chord, somewhere.

Then the sense of touch grows numb
as if the living had become the dead,
even this child I caress
and place beside a stump
that casts no hint of shadow.

As far as the eye stretches –
a child, a cry and nothing but this wilderness.

In de woestijn

Te brutaal bevonden ben ik
een eeuwigheid geleden
verbannen naar de woestijn
en hier

– zie je dat Arabisch ros
dat paard van ijzerdraad
die loeiende Guernica?
Dat ben ik.

Dwarrelt het zand
dat onder mijn voeten opstuift
en wanneer ik voorbij ga
je het zicht beneemt
voor je ogen neer,
dan ben ik er niet meer.

De dromedaris vouwt zich
wervel voor wervel uit
komt schokkend overeind en deint
gewrichtsgewijs uit zicht.

Een zwarte zon
komt op boven mijn oog.
Deze ontscherpte lens maakt zeker
alles gezichtsbedrog.

Stram strekt niets zich nog
volledig maar blijft voor het verste
punt is bereikt een paar tellen achter
tot de karavaan van ledematen
klaar is om de tocht te aanvaarden.

Het gehoorde is uit het oor verdreven
doolt door de uiterste gangen van het gewelf
en vloeit in echo’s van geheugen uit.

Daar vliegt het als een vogel, te hoog
om het slaan van de vleugels
te vernemen, maar wervelgeluiden
en tegensputterende wind
vinden nog weerklank, ergens.

Dan vervlakt de tast
alsof de levende een dode werd
die ik streel
neerleg aan een stronk
die nog geen greintje schaduw werpt.

Zo ver het oog reikt –
een kind, een schrei en niets dan deze woestenij.


Even the Wind Has an Opinion

The wind thinks
it’s seen just about enough
of all this living on air
and asks the earth for help
but the earth refuses.

It already belongs, says the earth,
to someone or other
whereas the wind is still free.

The wind is free, the wind answers,
because it has nothing to offer.

Ook de wind heeft een mening

De wind vindt
dat er zo langzamerhand
genoeg van hem geleefd is
en vraagt de aarde om hulp
maar de aarde weigert.

Ze behoort al, zegt ze,
aan deze of gene
terwijl de wind nog vrij is.

De wind is vrij, antwoordt de wind,
omdat hij niets te bieden heeft.



Maria Barnas

Translated from the Dutch by Donald Gardner

Why I Am Not a Painter

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not.
– Frank O’ Hara

Through a chink in the door my eyes take in the room
at the level of a receding horizon.

Loops and lines sprout through vanishing points
to trace what escapes.

Make sure that considerations are measurable: weigh them
in a hand that you clench like a fist

and strike a table. Listen to its sound
echoing in the room next door.

Close a door to make something happen –
a form of certainty in the faded

house that has shifted slightly. The floors
are buckling and the windows and doors

show cracks. These are the hinges
of an existence I call my own.

Why I am not a painter

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not.
– Frank O’ Hara

Mijn blik door een kier schat de ruimte in
ter hoogte van een trekkende horizon.

Lussen en lijnen schieten door verdwijnpunten
langszij om wat wegvlucht te beschrijven.

Zie dat overwegingen meetbaar zijn: weeg ze
in een hand die je toeknijpt en sla ermee

op tafel als met een vuist. Hoor de klap
in de aangrenzende kamer dreunen.

Sluit een deur om iets teweeg te brengen –
een vorm van zekerheid in het verkleurde

huis dat licht is verschoven. De vloeren
zijn verbogen en de vensters en de deuren

kieren. Dit zijn de scharnieren
van een bestaan dat ik het mijne noem.


Goodbye, Amsterdam

When I look along the embankment I see a night
entering the city like a long sloop
searching for cover in the grime of a shallow
river. The Amstel flares up and then fades

in my memory while the water sloshes
against the banks. I don’t have to stay.
I can bear all names. Cross all rivers.
What else do they convey but the deepest gravel

the most stifling past so densely packed
that flawless moments may arise.
Happiness any old day. When it gets grey

and almost light there is a wavering name on the horizon.
A city. Time without shores and I.

Dag Amsterdam

Wanneer ik langs de kade kijk zie ik een nacht
de stad in trekken als de langgerekte sloep
die dekking zoekt in het slijk van een ondiepe
rivier. De Amstel schittert en wordt dof

in mijn geheugen terwijl het water klotst
tegen de kaderand. Ik hoef hier niet te blijven.
Ik kan alle namen dragen. Alle rivieren doorkruisen.
Wat vervoeren ze anders dan het diepste gruis

de meeste verstikkende verledens zo dicht opeen
dat er loepzuivere momenten uit ontstaan.
Geluk op zomaar een dag. Wanneer het grijs wordt

en haast licht hapert aan de horizon een naam.
Een stad. De oeverloze tijd en ik.



Alfred Schaffer

Translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison


day(dream) #37

Rocky mountains, rocky fields.
A blinding white sky, a rusty can at my feet.
Six, seven metres away a clean bleached carcass
collapsed beside a weathered wall.
The heat burned my innards to shreds
until all I could do was grin stupidly –
if I were alive I’d kill for a beer
or something edible but hunger is far behind me!
I have changed along the way
into a quivering dot on the horizon, world’s end
where the Saviour paces day and night.
I kick the can and it shoots away
until it disappears completely.
The proverbial eye of the hurricane.
A stupid joke by the powers that be.
But horror at the thought that I could suddenly just disappear
luckily isn’t horror anymore
all I know is that I’ve never been this calm
before, so calm it’s driving me mad.

dag(droom) #37

Stenen bergen, stenen velden.
Een helwitte hemel, een roestend blikje bij mijn voeten.
Zes, zeven meter verderop een schoon gebleekt karkas
naast een verweerde muur ineengeklapt.
De hitte heeft mijn ingewanden stuk gekookt
tot ik alleen nog stom kon grijnzen –
ik zou in leven zijn ik zou een moord doen voor een biertje
of iets eetbaars maar de honger ligt ver achter me!
Gaandeweg ben ik veranderd
in een trillend stipje aan de horizon, eindstreep van de wereld
waar de Heiland ijsbeert dag en nacht.
Ik trap tegen het blikje dat hard wegrolt
tot het helemaal verdwenen is.
Het spreekwoordelijke oog van een orkaan.
Een domme grap van hogerhand.
Maar de verschrikking dat ik zomaar kon verdwijnen
is gelukkig geen verschrikking meer
ik weet niet beter of ik was nog nooit zo kalm
als nu, om gek van te worden.


day(dream) #0

I can’t sleep frosty night light is keeping me awake.
I rock back and forth like the leaf of a tree
this rocking brings no repose.
My paws shoot out in a gluttonous reflex
but I’m sated, I’ve been abandoned in this primeval forest
with its sunburned trees –
drunk with tiredness after all that I have destroyed.
It was like plodding along an endless dirt track
in noxious heat.
Dotted about between the tree trunks and bushes
bits of humans, fractured or melted.
People say there are ghosts here people say
the things that don’t move must be frozen in terror.
But I only feel love
like in an ancient fairy tale.
I get up and pray, I pray and so I pray
and I pray that someone will hear my prayer.
Sirens swell beyond the horizon.
I searched for You but found no resistance.


dag(droom) #0

Ik kan niet slapen ijzig nachtlicht houdt mij wakker.
Als een boomblad wieg ik heen en weer
dit wiegen brengt geen rust.
In een reflex van vraatzucht schieten mijn poten naar voren
maar ik ben verzadigd, ik ben verlaten in dit oerbos
met zijn zonverbrande bomen –
dronken van vermoeidheid na alles wat ik heb vernietigd.
Het was als zwoegen op een eindeloze onverharde weg
in een verderfelijke hitte.
Her en der tussen de stammen en de struiken
brokken mens, gebarsten of gesmolten.
Men zegt dat het hier spookt men zegt
Wat niet beweegt moet wel bevroren zijn van angst.
Maar ik heb enkel lief
als in een heel oud sprookje.
Richt ik mij op dan bid ik, ik bid dan en zo bid ik
en ik bid dat iemand mijn gebed verhoort.
Sirenes zwellen aan voorbij de verte.
Ik zocht naar U maar vond geen tegenstand.



Mustafa Stitou

Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer

Patiently hunted,
discreetly suffocated,
skilfully spread

and mounted,
you hang here silently
behind glass;

sky-blue and black
the long slender

wings stunningly
veined, Siamese
eyes bulging

the green thorax
pierced by the pin.

In tiny letters
on the label,
as if you are knowable,

your name.
Anax imperator,
what do I see

when I look at you?
An imperial jewel,
a kind of crucifix,

an empty concept,
a fabulous corpse?
I cannot escape

the impression that you
are holding something back,

and waiting.


Geduldig geroofd,
discreet verstikt,
kundig opgezet

en opgeprikt
hang je hier, stil
achter glas;

en zwart het lange
ranke achterlijf,

de vleugels duizelend
geaderd, de Siamese
tweelingogen puilen

onbeschaamd uit;
door het groene borststuk
is de naald gestoken,

in kleine letters
op het etiket,
alsof je kenbaar bent,

je naam.
Anax imperator,
wat zie ik

als ik naar je kijk?
Een keizerlijk sieraad,
soort kruisbeeld,

wezenloos idee,
een fabelachtig lijk?
Het lukt mij niet mij

aan de indruk te onttrekken
dat je iets verzwijgt,

en wacht.


Through our taxidermist we purchased
a chimpanzee from a zoo,
stillborn, premature.

We measured the cadaver and
made a filling of polyurethane
foam, wire, wool and string.

The taxidermist had great difficulty
skinning it; it felt, he grumbled,
like cutting open a baby.

But nobody creates out of nothing.
Art is disassembly and transformation.
We only use the skin.

The stuffing was a devil of a job:
our little ape’s fingers were
as fragile as matchsticks.

We immortalised it as Jesus:
without a cross, but in the Biblical
pose, arms wide.

The theory of evolution mixed
with the Catholic faith
we were raised in;

both contain something plausible
that fails to fully convince us –
those who don’t see that duality

call it kitsch. Even as children
we never used toys the way
they were intended.


Via onze preparateur kochten we
van een dierentuin een chimpansee,
gestorven door vroeggeboorte.

We maten het kadaver op, maakten
een binnenwerk van purschuim,
ijzerdraad, wol en touw.

De preparateur had grote moeite
het te villen; het voelde, mopperde hij,
alsof je een baby opensnijdt.

Maar niemand schept uit het niets.
Kunst is demonteren en transformeren.
Wij gebruiken alleen de huid.

Het opzetten was een helse klus:
breekbaar als luciferstokjes waren
de vingers van ons aapje.

Als Jezus hebben we het vereeuwigd,
zonder kruis, maar wel in de Bijbelse
pose, de armen gespreid.

De evolutietheorie vermengd
met het katholieke geloof
waarmee we zijn opgevoed;

in beide zit iets dat aannemelijk is
maar ons niet volledig kan overtuigen –
wie die dubbele laag niet ziet,

noemt het kitsch. Als kind al
gebruikten we speelgoed nooit
waarvoor het was bedoeld.



Ester Naomi Perquin

Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer

Meanwhile Outside

My dream for us is never a room. Always a garden, wild,
a patch of land with scruffy trees, undergrowth,
flowering grass and a rusty barbecue.

I know that I am once again carrying out a cake because it was
your birthday. How old, I ask, what will you be blowing out
tonight, how long left, where are you going?

You laugh, you’re always laughing. Lying on the old rug again,
making a mess of eating one-handed. A cherry rolls away,
some cream’s stuck to your lips.

I nestle closer while you sleep. Listen, I tell you,
don’t wake with a start. Beyond the fence
bright lights flick on.

Ondertussen buiten

Wat ik voor ons droom is nooit een kamer. Steeds een tuin,
een wild stuk land met ordeloze bomen, struikgewas,
gras dat bloeit en een verroeste barbecue.

Ik weet dat ik opnieuw een taart naar buiten draag omdat
je jarig was. Hoe oud vraag ik, wat blaas je uit
vannacht, hoe lang nog, waarnaartoe?

Je lacht, steeds lach je. Je ligt weer op het oude kleed,
eet slordig, met één hand. Een kers rolt weg,
er kleeft nog slagroom om je lippen.

Ik kruip naast je als je slaapt. Luister, zeg ik, straks niet
wakker schrikken. Buiten de omheining
springen felle lampen aan.


Welcome Back

I know the way they come in through the gates at night.
Hands still cupped from holding children’s heads.
Backs crooked, sloping forward.

Smuggling outside in inside their clothes, the smell of cooking,
dog hair, beer, the scent of warm women and
last cigarettes together, grimy sheets.

I watch the men while they wash, soap, dust,
leaving homesickness behind.

I know that all women stop at the gates.
Coats buttoned high, hands
in pockets, heads bowed.

The men walk on in silence.

Welkom terug

Ik weet hoe ze ’s avonds door de poorten binnenkomen.
Hun handen nog komvormig van de vastgehouden
kinderhoofden, hun rug geknakt naar voren.

Ze dragen in hun kleren buiten mee en etensluchtjes,
hondenharen, bier, de geur van warme vrouw en
laatste sigaretten samen, groezelige lakens.

Ik kijk naar de mannen als ze zich wassen,
zeep, stof, heimwee achterlaten.

Ik weet dat alle vrouwen bij de poorten blijven staan.
Hun jassen hoog geknoopt, de handen
in de zakken, hoofd gebogen.

Hoe mannen zwijgend verder lopen.



Maria Barnas, Jaja de oerknal, De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam 2013.
Hagar Peeters, Loper van licht, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 2008.
M. Vasalis, Verzamelde gedichten, Van Oorschot, Amsterdam 2006.
Ester Naomi Perquin, Celinspecties, Van Oorschot, Amsterdam 2012.
Alfred Schaffer, Mens dier ding, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 2014.
Mustafa Stitou,  Relieken, limited edition published by Van Eyck, 2015.
Menno Wigman, Zwart als kaviaar, Bert Bakker, Amsterdam 2001; Dit is mijn dag,
Prometheus, Amsterdam 2004; Mijn naam is Legioen, Prometheus, Amsterdam 2012.



Maria Barnas is a poet, artist, columnist and novelist. She has published four Dutch-language collections of poetry and one in English, UMBRA. Her first collection, Twee zonnen (‘Two Suns’) was awarded the C. Buddingh Prize for first collections, while her 2013 collection, Jaja de oerknal (‘Oh yes, the Big Bang’), was shortlisted for the VSB Poetry Prize. ‘Goodbye Amsterdam’ is from this book, while ‘Why I Am Not a Painter’ has yet to appear in a Dutch collection. A feature of Barnas’s work is its reckless gaiety and unnerving wit. Many of her poems are imbued with a sense of deep discomfort at everyday situations.

Hagar Peeters is one of Holland’s best-known poets. She frequently gives readings of her work. Peeters has written six collections of poetry, many of which have been awarded prizes. In 2008 she was shortlisted for Poet Laureate. She is also a critic, editor and columnist and has written one biography, Gerrit de stotteraar – biografie van een Boef (‘Gerrit the Stammerer – Biography of a Scoundrel’, originally her M.A. thesis). In 2016, her award-winning novel Malva appeared, inspired by the life of Neruda’s daughter. Her work is increasingly appearing in translation. In 2018, a selection of her poems, translated by Judith Wilkinson, will be published by Shoestring Press.

Ester Naomi Perquin is the current poet laureate of the Netherlands. She grew up in the Dutch province of Zeeland but has lived in Rotterdam for most of her adult life. Unusually, she put herself through writing school by working as a prison guard for four years and draws on this experience often in her work. Her four collections have been very well received and she has won several prizes, including the Netherlands’ most prestigious for a single collection, the VSB Poetry Prize, for Celinspecties (‘Cell Inspections’, 2012). A selection of her poetry, The Hunger in Plain View, was published in English in 2017 (White Pine Press, USA). Perquin also writes essays, short stories and articles for newspapers and magazines; gives workshops and master classes; presents and programmes at festivals; and co-hosts a national arts and culture radio show.

Alfred Schaffer grew up in The Hague, the son of a Limburger and an Aruban. In 1996, he moved to Cape Town, South Africa to continue his studies and met his future wife. He returned to the Netherlands in 2005 and worked as an editor in Dutch publishing before moving back to South Africa in 2011. He currently works as a lecturer at Stellenbosch University. Schaffer is the author of five poetry collections and has won prizes in both Belgium and the Netherlands. His most recent collection Mens dier ding (‘Man Animal Thing’) was nominated for the VSB Poetry Prize. 

Mustafa Stitou is generally counted as one of the leading Dutch poets of his generation. Born in Tetouan, Morocco, he moved to the Netherlands as an infant and grew up in the provincial city of Lelystad. Stitou now lives in Amsterdam, where he studied philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. His first collection of poetry was published in 1994 when he was just nineteen, to widespread critical acclaim, including praise from other Dutch poets. Thoughtful rather than prolific, Stitou has published three collections since, including Varkensroze ansichten (2004, ‘Pig-pink Picture Postcards’), winner of the prestigious VSB Poetry Prize, and Tempel (2013, ‘Temple’), winner of the Awater Poetry Prize. A collection of his poetry in English translation is currently in production with Phoneme Media (USA).

M. Vasalis (Margaretha Drooglever Fortuyn-Leenmans) is one of the best-loved Dutch poets of the twentieth century. She worked as a child psychiatrist and wrote poetry throughout her life, combining elements of free verse with traditional forms and metres. After 1954, she no longer shared her poetry with the public; much of her later work was published by her family after her death. Translations of other late Vasalis poems were recently published in the online magazine The High Window, and some of her early poems appeared in the July issue of Modern Poetry in Translation.

Menno Wigman is considered one of the finest poets of his generation. He has published six full-length collections to date, the most recent being Slordig met geluk (‘Squandering Happiness’) published in 2015. Wigman is also an editor, essayist and prolific translator; Baudelaire and Rilke are among the poets whose work he has translated into Dutch. In 2012 and 2013, Wigman was the city poet of Amsterdam (a two-year position). His work has been widely translated. A selection of his poems, Window-Cleaner Sees Paintings, translated by David Colmer, was published by Arc in 2016. Judith Wilkinson has recently completed another collection of his poems and is hoping to find a publisher in the near future.


David Colmer is an Australian writer and translator who lives in Amsterdam. His recent poetry translations include Paul van Ostaijen’s Occupied City (Smokestack) and Ester Naomi Perquin’s The Hunger in Plain View (White Pine). Colmer has won many prizes for his literary translations, including major Dutch and Australian awards for his body of work. Besides poetry, he also translates novels and children’s literature.

Donald Gardner is a poet and translator who has lived in the Netherlands since 1979. Recent collections of his own poetry are The Wolf Inside (Hearing Eye Books, UK, 2014) and Early Morning (Grey Suit Editions, UK, 2017). Originally a Spanish-language translator (Octavio Paz, The Sun Stone, Cosmos Books 1969), he has translated many Dutch and Flemish poets over the years. He published two collections of Remco Campert’s poetry, I Dreamed in the Cities at Night (Arc Publications, 2008) and In those Days (Shoestring Press, 2014), for which he received the prestigious Vondel Prize, a biennial award for Dutch-English literary translation.

Michele Hutchison was born in the UK and has lived in Amsterdam since 2004 with her Dutch husband and two children. She was educated at UEA, Cambridge and Lyon universities. She translates literary fiction and nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels and children’s books. Recent translations include La Superba by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, Roxy by Esther Gerritsen and Fortunate Slaves by Tom Lanoye.

David McKay works as a freelance translator in The Hague under the name of Open Book Translation. His recent literary translations include War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans and Multatuli’s classic Max Havelaar (a joint translation with Ina Rilke, to be published by NYRB Classics in 2018). His current projects include poetry and prose for an anthology of Frisian literature and the English translation of Stefan Hertmans’s latest novel The Convert. He hopes to find a publisher for an English edition of the complete published poems of Vasalis.

Judith Wilkinson is a poet and translator living in Groningen. She has published many collections to date, including Toon Tellegen’s Raptors (Carcanet, 2011), for which she won the Popescu Prize for European Poetry in Translation in 2011. In 2013, she won the Brockway Prize. Her translations of Hagar Peeters’s poems will be published in 2018 by Shoestring Press (Selected Poems). She is currently translating poetry by Toon Tellegen (a Selected Poems).

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