Saturday, December 20, 2014



 Luxury means something different to different people. To inmates in the Antwerp jail it are poetry books in a language the prisoners can read as City Poet Laureate Stijn Vrancken found out when the he looked into what category of books were most borrowed from the jail's library. And yes, to his astonishment, it was poetry. So Stijn asked his fellow poets, writers and readers to bring their books to the 'Letteren huis' (House of letters) in as many languages as we had. I brought a stack consisting of Dutch, French, Cornish, German, English and Italian. Walking through the city with my the emptied caddy, I came upon a magnificent place, totally in period, tastefully restaurated. I asked whether I might take some pictures... I was, as I often do, wearing black. So the owner of the shop explained I shouldn't wear black, that doing so is cheap. One should only wear silk and real cashmere and color, and pattern... In other words to buy stunning clothing one can wear but few times on social occasions because otherwise people would say: Oh, there she is with that gorgeous dress, again and again... He then showed me some mindbogglingly beautiful dresses, one with a coat lined in the same silk pattern as the dress itself. I said: I obviously could never afford that lifestyle. His answer surprised me: I should find a sponsor... I can't figure out what he really means. Was he seeing Elisa Doolittle whom he could turn into a lady? Was he suggesting I should invest in one such dress and find a lover with good taste and money to burn?

So I have been wondering what my personal luxury would be: A pretty colorful, aging hippie hoody? Or is it rather being in the warm company of interesting people even if they are penniless, impecunious and without funds, had to flee their country for speaking out, for being at risk because of poems they wrote. My luxury is knowing, Tade, Déo and Hazim, and reading their work... Knowing Rollean and his always nonviolent stand for justice and peace.
May they all be safe. To them safety is luxury.

To me luxury is being with four people in a room and each one is from a different continent...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Abandoned by the muse by Bieke Stengos

Having moved in the same circles when young, the setting full of street musicians, painters and poets our lives took different paths. Bieke Stengos emigrated to Canada, studied some more and has a magnificent daughter. What is the same in our lives is that we both write. She just has a book out published by Vocamus Press, her second  book of poetry. Her inspiration is the land, the landscape, the changing season. her poetry is filled with the strange beauty of melancholy. She came back to Belgium for a brief time and thus salon 12b invited her and the other poets present for a reading: Lucienne Stassaerts, who read impressive poems from work in progress: Souvenirs part II, Frank De Vos, Silent Bear, myself.
One poem by Bieke: 
When I dream you into being
I find myself lost in a fog-invaded forest
Of glimmering naked trees
That rise
from the blue-white snow
cold like your body
Before heat devoured it

I search for a place to breathe freely
But I get lost
In the press of your lips
Against the stretched skin of time
And the memory of you fading
Like a melting negative
Of a city with no sun
Where streets run dead into low walls

When I open my eyes
To a black line of upright trees
I vanish from sight
Translation nto Dutch for whom needs it:

Als ik je tot leven droom
Verlies ik mezelf
In een nevel doordesemd bos
Van glimend naakte bomen
Die oprijzen
Uit blauwwitte sneeuw
Koud als je lichaam
Voor de hitte het verslond

Ik zoek een plek om vrij te ademen
Maar verlies mijzelf
In de druk van je lippen
Tegen de gespannen huid van de tijd
En de herinnering aan jou vervaagt
Als een smeltend negatief
Van een stad zonder zon
Waar straten dood lopen op lage muren

Wanneer ik mijn ogen open
Op een zwarte rij loodrechte bomen
Verdwijn ik uit het zicht

Monday, December 15, 2014

The movie 'Coming home'

Last night with a friend, in my festively lit town, we enjoyed a nice sashimi dinner: excellent raw fish, healthy and delicious. After green tea ice cream and white sesame ice cream, we saw in my preferred movie theater 'Cartoons' the movie Coming home. The story about love, guilt and grace is set in China. The father was a dissident and ended up for 30 years in jail. The daughter grew up under the so called "Cultural Revolution". She is a great and ambitious dancer and will do anything to secure the lead role, even betraying her father. The mother is a professor, loving and missing her husband. Finally a date is set for his return and then the movie turns into the sadness of dementia. She doesn't recognize her husband and for the betrayal by her daughter, she has chased her off. The husband, an intelligent, kind and compassionate man, comes up with ways to try and make his wife recognize him, which happens just one fleeting moment. He reads the letters he wrote but could send from jail to her... So he becomes the 'letter reader', he tunes the piano and he is the piano tuner. The daughter confesses it was her who betrayed him... He said I knew. It is all right... He knew what the cultural revolution did to people. He finally writes a letter asking the mother to let her daughter stay with her again... so that she can take care of her. The father becomes an accepted presence in whatever role it is that day. It is a beautiful and sad movie. I shed a few tears for my mother who passed away in February with dementia.

So with the beauty and understanding coming from art, I try to live my life to the fullest. I wish you all a beautiful end of year season.... May it be Hanukkah, Christmas, or a family fest... May there be peace, food, health and beauty for all.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Poetry has been an important factor in my life. I always read a lot, beginning with stories three book a week from the local library. When I had read everything in my age group for girls, the librarian refused to give me boys books or books above my age. I was devastated. Undaunted I roamed my mothers library, most were in Signet Pocketbooks, in English, whereas I had learned to read and write in Dutch. I felt hungry, actually starved all the time. I had Cinderella, a Disney book, the now politically incorrect, Little Black Sambo and a German book "Struwels Peter, an educational book with examples of what not to do... I was looking and looking for something else. I kept a slim notebook with quotes I came about or an occasional poem. I remember the first quote I noted was: No man is an island. "Man" then already meaning human to me and thus including my young self. And then one day at secondary school, there it was, a dark poem, I did not understand by the Dutch poet Hendrik Marsman:

Salto mortale
(‘Variété’, 6e acte)

 Ik zelf maakte, van trapeze
zwevend naar trapeze, den duizelingwekkenden
en in de ondeelbare eeuwigheid
dier seconde, bliksemde ergens

 - beneden mij? boven mij?
aan welken kant en in welk heelal?
de laatste regen der sterren voorbij

nu flikkert mijn leven mijn lichaam uit.
de eeuwigheid fluit in een kogel voorbij.

 (Kiriloff, Kiriloff in de Daemonen!)
 - ‘Vang!’ -
 het lijf vangt de ziel als een boemerang.

terwijl ik sidderend tusschen de sterren hang,
zit ik beneden - ‘hier is mijn hand’ -
de laatste acte is aan den gang.

As I said, I didn't understand the poem, yet I knew it was important to me, that it was a turning point. I had no idea Marsman had taken Kiriloff, Kiriloff in de Daemonen from Dostojevsky... Had never heard from Dostojevksy... And then I came upon this poem by the same poet:

Lex barbarorum

Geef mij een mes.
ik wil deze zwarte zieke plek
uit mijn lichaam wegsnijden.

ik heb mij langzaam recht overeind gezet.

ik heb gehoord, dat ik heb gezegd
in een huiverend, donker beven:
ik erken maar éen wet:

And that was the start of reading poetry, of writing poetry and translating poetry, and finally to the incredible Modern American Poetry course by Al Filreis: I found the course in 2013, took it again in 2014, am doing the 'modpoPLUS' and intend to do also modpo15. It is all about reading and wondering, close reading and wondering more deeply... So did poetry start for me.