Archive for June, 2014


One unsung comedy character I have long thought, must be BATAVUS DROOGSTOPPEL.

The Dutch novel MAX HAVELAAR by Matatuli, is mostly known, famous, for exposing the iniquities of the Dutch East Indies/Java coffee trade. Published in 1860 it found an uncomfortable welcome in the colony-based wealth and comfort of Dutch culture.



Indonesian novelist Pramoedva Ananta Toer has put forward the argument that this book started educational reforms, and by extension firing the Javanese nationalist movement against the Dutch colonists. His point is that the book was instrumental in killing colonialism. Indonesian President Sukarno cited the book as an inspiration in his struggle.

The name Max Havelaar is now synonymous with Dutch Fair Trade


It is an uncomfortable read, even now.

Matatuli’s (Eduard Douews Dekker, 1820-1887) framing of the central episodes of fictionalised reportage was with the creation of the comfortable world of Dutch coffee traders. They lived far away and wholly ignorant and disinterested in the horrible realities their trade was based on. This world of coffee traders he depicted was not direct realism, but exaggerated and made droll and ridiculous.

His master stroke was the creation of narrator Batavus Droogstoppel.


The name, suggesting dry as dust, introduces us to a solid citizen. He is a coffee trader – Last and Co, 37 Lauriergracht – husband, and father. In that order.

Batavus Droogstoppel – Last and Co, 37 Lauriergracht – is so honest and upright, and true in his Faith that he cannot tell a lie. Truth and common sense – that’s what I say, and I’m sticking to it. And so when he comes across culture he cannot see anything but lies there. And this he goes on to describe at great length.

The trouble starts, he tells us, as far back as children’s books (Van Alphin). Those ‘dear little mites’. What on earth made that old gentleman want to pass himself off as an adorer of my little sister Gertie, who had sore eyes, or my brother Gerard, who was always picking his nose?

Droogstoppel’s character is not malicious or criminal. He is reasonable, sensible and oh so dull. It is his sheer dullness Multatuli renders so well.

His dullness and grey sensibility does have a sinister shade which only goes to further point up his ridiculousness by being ever-so-slightly over the top.

We have to talk about Luke.
There are always 13 at the office – Last and Co, 37 Lauriergracht –  but Luke was the warehouseman. He was always punctual, honest to a fault, and dependable. Droogstoppel was discussing the concept of Virtue with us, the reader: regular churchgoer, teetotal, Luke became old. Now he’s old and rheumatic, and can’t work any more. So now he starves, for we deal in business, and we need young people. Well, then … I consider Luke very virtuous; but is he rewarded?….. Not on your life! He is poor and stays poor, and that is how it should be.

Where would virtue be, he says, if he could have an easy time in his old age? Then every warehouseman would become virtuous, and every one else too, which can’t be God’s intention, because in that case no special reward could remain for the good in the hereafter.

The ‘good’ of course, are the Droogstoppel’s of the world.

Droogstoppel is, as I stated above, coffee trader- Last and Co, 37 Lauriergracht – , husband, and father. In that order.
We get a sense of this order when he tells us of his ingenious plan to prevent life-long German customer Ludwig Stern from being lured away by competition, who are trying to undercut Last and Co (- 37 Lauriergracht – ).
His plan was to write to Stern  – and, by the way did he and we know this competitor’s young daughter had just run away with a young German trader-trainee? And Droogstoppel’s daughter only 13, too. So he wrote to Stern to invite his young son to stay with him and his… family, to learn the trade.
A master-stroke, thinks Droogstoppel, tying the Sterns’ ever closer.

The man could come across as an absolute scoundrel, but the author balances his character so well, skillfully, that we become more deeply aware of ridiculousness than villainy.

The last point in his support as a great comic character is in Droogstoppel’s encounter at last with ex-school friend Max Havelaar. Havelaar we learn in due course has just returned almost destitute from the East Indies, the Trade grounds, with young a family, but also a document he has authored, which becomes the substance of this book. Trying to shake off this man, because he is poor, and the poor should not be encouraged, he leaves him his card. The card reads, you guessed it – Last and Co, 37 Lauriergracht – . But, says Havelaar, I took you for Droogstoppel; your card says Last.
The reality is that Droogstoppel for all his indispensability, purposely marrying into the old firm, supporting it, working all hours, his name is not even on the card. It is still his father-in-laws’ name.
Do we get a moment here of old Luke’s fate being Droogstoppel’s?

Droogstoppel is pompous, narrow, limited but he is also a great comic creation. Multatuli (the name refers to ‘one who has borne much’ for like Max Havelaar, Dekker witnessed the Javanese trade) has so finely observed, detailed and balanced this character that he is capable of holding the weight and strain of the book together. He is larger than life in a book exposing iniquities that are larger than one man’s blame or fault.

Droogstoppel could have gone on and on. He could have had his own series of books; it is a loss to Dutch literature he did not. He could have opened up the unknown, enclosed, 19th Century Dutch world to world literature.






And she took down her pants on the dark dance floor

a shimmer of white in the ultraviolet

around her ankles, hobbling her dance

and glide. Then the other girls did also:

provocative, yes; but nothing more.

Boys with their blood up, watched from the side

dangerous, brimful of what just might

happen. And if the girls faltered, and if by chance

one ran, then the pack would also.

The boys all grab and want on the dance floor.


But the girls took the rhythm down, slow.

For the boys Cool was to hold back, play

the brag and swagger right up to the line,

pushy for more. The frontier of tease.

The dance rhythm was blood rhythm, touch and go.

How that night it would be easy. Or maybe not so:

the week was played out there, the weight of each day,

its frustrations, insults,  and the blind

confusion of it all. The night on its knees

in the beat of the moment: break it, or let it go.




Pina Baush (1940-2009):








Do you have an app for melancholy?
I asked the store guy,
Or a Rap? the DJ

– I want to get back what I lost
being contemporary.


Do you know the turning on the ring-road,
I asked the bus, the taxi driver,
That looks the most familiar
in the evening light?
They didn’t, though.




Internet poet and tweet-sexting pioneer, and as Wiki has it, comedian.

Patricia Lockwood is making it onto the big stage. Her new book MOTHERLAND FATHERLAND HOMELANDSEXUALS (Penguin Books) is just out, following on her last big seller, BALLOON POP OUTLAW BLACK (Octopus Books, 2012).



Her biog is as famous as her writing. Born in early 80s.
Her father was a Lutheran pastor, who woke up one morning and realised that is what he was. He married, had kids, then he realised he was really a Catholic priest. He is a Catholic priest who goes around in a cassock, but lives with his wife and family.

Patricia left school and wanted to go on to train as a journalist. The family had no money. She left home and supported herself working in bookshops etc. She had met online a man who was to be her rock. They married young; he worked his way up on local newspapers. They were managing. He thought her writing was tops, supported her in every way, sent her work off to magazine, and she started getting published. More than this though, she had built up a following on Twitter with her rude and surreal humour texts/sexts. The internet loved her.

Then her husband came down with serious eye problems. They had no money for the medical treatment. An online buddy suggested she try crowd-funding. Within 12 hours she had more than enough for the eye ops. They have lived many places in the South of USA.


What is especially important about her success is her lack of full academic training.

That is not to say she is not well read – she is probably better read than I am – but has missed out on all the structured and admit it, limiting avenues that academia gives people.

In consequence she writes in a language that is accessible to anyone and everyone; her references are as much to up-to-date politics and culture, as to general educational sources.
She writes a language that people can understand, and don’t need to be clued into academic theories and concepts to understand. Which modern writers do not have the back-up of the academy now!

That is not to say her work is artless – far from it. She has a very astute mind, and thinks about what and how she writes. A poem can traverse many domains of knowledge, can use many tones of voice from sarcastic to satiric to impassioned.

Consider this, from GOVERNMENT SPENDING, 2013:

The government spent a Patricia on me,

“a huge waste,” it lamented, “when we could

have been spending it on another Nixon,”


the government spent all its beauty



           “Is there none left? Print more,”


Straight away here you can hear the stand-up’s rolling rhetoric, as well as an enviable ability to encapsulate present-day mores and a grasp of economics. She goes on:


 you are born, you barely contain yourself,

you grow, inside you, …………


then oh god, you feel wonderful,

                         you must be on welfare,


The tonal range here is admirable, as well as the tight control of material.




And then we have the RAPE JOKE POEM.

The Rape Joke was, unbelievably, popular not so long ago.
What makes these things happen? Was this before, or after the horrendous India Rape Incident? Is it a way of trying to deal with terrible events? Or just crass people jumping onto the idea of offense and controversy? Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, Richard Prior could carry it off, but then they had this dialectic: the injustices of the system, and its consequences.
Here, though, I suspect such refinements have been forgotten or junked for the sake of controversy for controversy’s sake. Shock value as the only value.


And so we have the Rape Joke Poem. It is full of variations of voice, it says one thing and turns around to look at what its’ said. Its tone is light. It relates an actual experienced rape, but sardonically, ironically (- it’s called survival). She writes:


Like the dude was completely in love with The Rock. He thought it was so great what he could do with his eyebrow.
The rape joke is he called wrestling “a soap opera for men.” Men love drama too, he assured you.


It is the ordinariness, the banality, of people who do terrible things:

The rape joke is that the next day he gave you Pet Sounds. No really. Pet Sounds. He said he was sorry and then he gave you Pet Sounds. Come on, that’s a little bit funny.


And yet I suspect there are people out there who cannot read the voice in this, who cannot hear the acid and bite:

Can rape jokes be funny at all, is the question.
Can any part of the rape joke be funny. The part where it ends—haha, just kidding! Though you did dream of killing the rape joke for years, spilling all of its blood out, and telling it that way.


And, previously:

The rape joke is that you were crazy for the next five years, and had to move cities, and had to move states, and whole days went down into the sinkhole of thinking about why it happened. Like you went to look at your backyard and suddenly it wasn’t there, and you were looking down into the center of the earth, which played the same red event perpetually.




One of Patricia Lockwood’s many abilities in her work is to be able to personify. Here the Rape Joke is a current stand-up fad, an attitude of mind, a state of being, an actual person, and a way of dealing with the experience.
She thinks naturally, she says in an interview, in metaphors.

She writes about Popeye, Dan Draper, but I think one of my current favourites must be THE ARCHl:

Of all living monuments has the fewest

facts attached to it, they slide right off

its surface, ……………….




…………………………………….its sadness it gives

        away a great door in the air. Well

        a city cannot except for Paris, who puts

on a hat styled with pigeon wings and walks

through the streets of another city ………….



        Or am I mixing it up I think I am

with another famous female statue? …




…………………………………………..What an underhand

        gift for an elsewhere to give, a door

that reminds you you can leave it. She raises

        her arm to brush my hair. Oh no female

armpit lovelier than the armpit of the Arch.

I love particularly how that last image raises the crass depilated advertising image of woman into something of a concept of classical beauty. The mother relationship is also finely delineated, and touchingly so.


One thing to notice about these works is that they are long pieces: the RAPE JOKE POEM is about 80 lines of prose poetry; THE ARCH, above, is the standard 30, but most others are lengthy.
In the UK most platforms and outlets for poetry tend to specify SHORT poems only.
Also in the UK metaphor is on the way down; people have a problem identifying it, and what its referents are. The changing parameters of cultural identifiers are throwing traditional tropes, motifs and methods into flux.

Patricia Lockwood’s work is very heartening, though: as doyen of internet and tweeting she quite appreciably uses a wide range of voices and sophisticated palette of techniques. She enriches writing and plays with its selfie-mentality, its over-seriousness, its self-importance. Most importantly she attracts readers and helps them recognise in the diminishing field of poetry-reading there is a wealth of writing to be enjoyed.

She gives ordinary people back a sense of themselves, their autonomy, their inherent sophistication. In the face of academic writing and its self-justifications she presents a writing that can be about life and how it is lived outside the realms of overthink.