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Maintenant #80 – Arnoud van Adrichem

An interview with Arnoud van Adrichem by SJ Fowler.

A poet whose inventiveness and incisiveness is architectural in its care – witty, adventurous, circuitous and at ease with its own intelligence, the work of Arnoud van Adrichem, one of the most remarkable poets and critics Holland has produced in the last decade, stands as an example of how international traditions, multiple languages and a shift in political culture, will not waylay a brilliant poet from writing brilliant poetry. If anything it will only add context to the work of a poet like van Adrichem, recognised across the Netherlands and beyond as one of the most considered and necessary agents for poetry currently at work, and with no sign of lagging. Editor of the international journal Parmentier and a specialist and translator of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, it is hard to look past Arnoud van Adrichem as a fundamental part of the future of Dutch letters. Another exceptional addition to the Maintenant series, edition #80, we are privileged to have his work translated into English for the very first time thanks to the generosity of the Nederlands Letterenfonds with thanks to Jan Pollet, Willem Groenewegen & Thomas Möhlmann

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Picture by Jan Zandbergen.

3:AM: Without wishing to overly simplify, the political situation in Holland in the last decade can be seen as a marker for what might happen across Europe as conservative support swells against immigration, Muslim communities residing in Europe and so forth. Has the political change been reflected in the discussions and work of the literary community?

Arnoud van Adrichem: Your question ties in with a recent critique of contemporary literature which suggests that authors are going beyond postmodern irony in order to focus on moral or political dilemma’s. Some scholars and critics argue that after 9/11 there is a revival of notions like sincerity, authenticity and genuineness. Even if we are moving beyond postmodernism, its concepts are still present in discussions about literature. These questions were asked in two issues of literary magazine Parmentier: ‘Right’ and ‘Left’. Here we examined the extent of the connection between politics and literature. How do writers respond to the rise to power of a radical right-wing populist party like the Party for Freedom? Do they feel more or less obliged to protest in their writings, or do they hold to a strictly autonomous notion of literature? These questions yielded some interesting essays on the complex and ambivalent relationship between literature and society, of course without making definitive statements about the impact of the political change on our literature.

3:AM: Would you consider Holland a conservative country now?

AvA: It’s true that our country is led by a center-right or conservative minority cabinet of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy and the Christian Democratic Appeal, which is supported in parliament by the Party for Freedom to obtain a majority. But that doesn’t make Holland necessarily a conservative country. For instance, with 30 seats in the parliament – just one less than the Party for Freedom – the Dutch Labour Party is still the largest opposition party in the country, even though nowadays their popularity is decreasing. And according to even more recent exit polls the Socialist Party is the second largest party.

3:AM: This conservatism seems now to extend to the literary world as well. Is it true that all financial support for literary reviews will stop as from 2013 onwards?

AvA: Yes, I’m afraid so. This immediate cessation of all financial support means the end of most of the literary magazines in Holland, at least in their traditional printed form. The editors of literary magazines wrote a protest letter, co-signed by many Dutch authors and scholars, to the secretary of state Halbe Zijlstra – who strongly believes that his lack of knowledge of art helps him to make decisions. Hopefully the Dutch Foundation For Literature will find new ways of supporting at least some of the magazines. They are willing to make an effort and are exploring digital opportunities.

3:AM: Are these changes economic or ideologically motivated?

AvA: Probably both. Due to the ongoing financial crisis, cutbacks are inevitable and there’s no reason that the arts should be an exception. But the cutbacks on arts are disproportional. An act of ignorance and barbary. Some politicians consider art as to be a ‘leftwing hobby’, financed by hard working taxpayers. That point of view is of course strongly ideologically and strategically motivated.

3:AM: Could you outline your editorship of the literary review De Reactor?

AvA: I am one of the founders and editors of this digital platform for literary critics. We started this website mainly because we were a bit disappointed by the way traditional printed media review literature. De Reactor wants to give a new impulse to literary criticism for an audience of interested readers and critics. It’s essential that literary criticism once again becomes an important and authoritative component of our literature. Not just for criticism’s sake, but to warrant the vitality and liveliness of the literary system. In-depth criticism is a source of permanent reflection and renewal that reaches further than the sales talk and human interest stories that you often find in the traditional printed media. It’s also important that critics review books in the light of moral or political discussions.

3:AM: Your first collection Vis [Fish], was extremely well received. Could you outline its content?

AvA: One of the themes of Vis is the exploration of the impact of commerce and marketing on the human behavior. How do commercials and advertisements influence our thinking and acting? How are we are defined by the products that we buy? To which voices do we listen?

3:AM: L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry seems to be a significant part of your expertise. How did this relationship begin for you?

AvA: With a mutual interest in theoretical concepts, politics, disjunction and the materiality of language. I’m not particularly interested in traditional expressive lyric sentiment, beautifully articulated by a ‘natural’ manifestation of a speaker behind the poem. I want to listen to language itself, which in a way functions as an organism. Second, for me it’s important that the reader plays an active role. I’m trying to make the reader participate in creating the meaning of the poem. For me reading poetry must be an event, a linguistic and rhythmic adventure which creates all kinds of new possibilities and opportunities.

3:AM: You have undertaken translations of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets too. How has this process affected your own work?

AvA: Yes, I translated work of poets like Ron Silliman, Leslie Scalapino, Tina Darragh, Lisa Robertson, sometimes in cooperation with the Dutch poet and translator Han van der Vegt. I don’t think these translations have a direct influence on my work, but making them sharpens me as a reader and hopefully as a writer as well.

3:AM: L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry seems still to be determined in the US, in no way a sealed off movement. Is this true in Holland too, and Europe in general? Certainly its resonance in the UK continues, through the influence of the work of Tom Raworth and Allen Fisher.

AvA: There are some traces of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry in Europe. But let me focus on Dutch literature. You can find some bits and pieces of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E in the poems of Samuel Vriezen, Jeroen Mettes, Alfred Schaffer and Ton van ‘t Hof. But it’s important to realize that there is no such thing as a typical or characteristic L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E-poem.

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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, November 27th, 2011.