Maintenant #77 – Maarten Inghels
An interview with Maarten Inghels by SJ Fowler.
It is no exaggeration to say Maarten Inghels’ impact on the Belgian poetry scene has been nothing short of sensational. At an age where poets are just beginning to find their voice, he has become one of the most recognisable and bombastic presences in the entire country and it’s considerable Flemish poetical tradition. Iconoclastic, immediate and passionate, his work has firmly put him at the forefront of a new generation of Belgian poets who will continue to emerge as major writers across central Europe by effortlessly speaking in and about his own time, in his own language. For the 77th edition of Maintenant, we are pleased to introduce Maarten Inghels. with thanks to Jan Pollet
image copyright Koen Broos, De Bezige Bij Antwerpen
3:AM: You have been held up as one of the most exciting new Belgian poets in years, enjoying a lot of success after your first collection. How have the public and the literary press received you, in your opinion?
Maarten Inghels: A weekly magazine called my debut ‘the most outstanding newcomer in years, seen as the flemish literature is normally rather quiet’. When another magazine lauded me as the future talent, with my head on the cover and in the street, it started to get a bit scary. It’s rare that a debutant receives so much attention, and certainly for a beginner in poetry. I was overwhelmed by the chorus of praise, especially because I didn’t expect to make my debut at such a young age. But afterwards, when you’re sitting back at your writing table, it means nothing when the doubt returns. The praise is only temporary, you have to prove your worth with every new book.
3:AM: Could you outline the content of your first collection Tumult?
MI: When Gerrit Komrij asked me to make my debut in his famous Sandwich series, I took all the poems I had written before I was 20 years old. Immediately I saw in the poems a thematic line of longing and unrest, the tumultuous life. In all the wordly poems and love poems, the uncertainty came forward. Uncertainty about my own life but also about the world that went into a new century in a disturbing way. In the poems I was looking for a balance between rest and the irresistible desire for dynamics. The bundle is about impressions of the world, about smells and sounds of noise and tumult that we need to filter out. Messages have become uninteresting and dissapear into the background. How we deal with the noise that covers the content of those messages, I found maybe more interesting.
3:AM: How has your work evolved into your second collection Vigilant?
MI: The idea of Vigilant was quickly realized. When I was listening to a catchphrase from a politician “we must always remain vigilant”, I was wondering what he meant. The word ‘vigilant’ always came back in the media: for nine eleven, for a harsh winter, for revolutions, for Facebook. I wanted to get a closer look for a word that is repeated, usually by politicians or government agencies, but that actually few meant. Usually they say that they are aware of the problem but do nothing. Vigilance is a kind of cover for not acting.
And secondly, I wondered whether poetry could take a certain position in a world that is out of control, if the poet should be vigilant in a precarious juncture. For example, I organise The Lonely Funeral in Antwerp, a literary and social project that was started by two poets from the Netherlands: F. Starik and Bart FM Droog. With six other poets we write a personal poem for lonely deaths and read it aloud at their funeral. It is a final salute to those who usually fell by the wayside during their lifetime and therefore are buried without the presence of family or friends. It’s the first time I realised that poetry could mean something in society.
Oddly enough, Vigilant has become at times a collection of sour poems, radiating the same aggression as the events around us. There are a lot of prose poems, questioning the fear of men and their deeds. Where Tumult had a searching tone, Vigilant is clearer, more straightforward. Vigilant has turned out differently from Tumult in all respects, wich I am really happy about.
3:AM: What are your feelings towards poetry in Belgium at the moment? Is there a sense new and exciting work is being produced by new generations of poets?
MI: There is definitely a new breed of poets, or at least: suddenly published their first book. Unlike the past, and completely normal in a highly individualized world, everyone does his own thing. Of course their work is exciting and new; you have Lies Van Gasse with more mysterious and physical poems or Andy Fierens with his unique type of performance poetry.
3:AM: Tell me about the literary culture of Antwerp, are there many poets, many readings?
MI: Definitely yes. You can pave streets here with poets. Maybe it is a coincidence, but there seems to be a new poetic culture since Antwerp was World Book Capital in 2004. And now also, you have Felix Poetry Festival, an international poetry festival wich I was lucky enough to curate for the last two editions. And there is also no other city in Flanders where the City Poet Laureate is so embraced.
3:AM: Do Belgian poets and the reading public in Belgium follow their own more closely than poets from different nations? Or is there a tendency to look abroad? Are there continuities from the iconoclastic Belgian poets of the past into the work being produced by new poets today? For example is the work of Michaux, Vaes, Dannemark, Chavee still being read widely by younger poets?
MI: Mainly we read the poets of Flanders or the Netherlands. But though our language is practically the same, the poetry of the Netherlands still has a different style. Unfortunately, we know that poetry better than those of the French speaking in Belgium. There is a divide between the poets utilising the two different languages, related to the political situation. The French culture in Belgium isn’t quiet known by the Flemish speaking part, and vice versa. For example Henri Michaux, Guy Vaes, Francis Dannemark and Achille Chavée are mostly unknown by the Flemish public, mostly because there work isn’t translated. But some poets refer extensively to the French poetry, for example Michaël Vandebril with his first book of poetry in november 2011: “The exile of Maeterlinck”, with his poems in Dutch and French. Hopefully interest in the francophone culture is in an upward movement.
But for now, we read the iconoclastic poets as Hugo Claus, Leonard Nolens and H.C. Pernath. It think that they have influenced the current generation of Flemisch poets greatly.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
SJ Fowler is the author of three poetry collections, Red Museum (Knives Forks and Spoons Press 2011), Fights (Veer books 2011) and Minimum Security Prison Dentistry (AAA 2011). He is the UK poetry editor of Lyrikline and 3:AM. He is a full time employee of the British Museum and a postgraduate student at the Contemporary Centre for Poetic Research, University of London.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, October 23rd, 2011.