Posts Tagged ‘Rutger Kopland’

On poems by Rutger Kopland and Kathleen Jamie

What follows is a brief discussion of use of interruptive image and of modes of address, in two seemingly disparate writers. There is much to be found in common between them.

Under the Apple Tree/Onder de appelboom

http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/4514/auto/UNDER-THE-APPLE-TREE

I came home, it was about
eight and remarkably
close for the time of year,
……………………………………………..

 

…………………….. once again became
too beautiful to be true, …………….
………………………………………………….

and later I heard the wings
of wild geese in the sky
heard how still and empty
it was becoming
……………………………………………..

Rutger Kopland, Under the Apple Tree/Onder de appleboom (Among Cattle/Onder het vee, 1966)

We scarcely notice the ballad-like repetitions of key phrases, or the manipulation of mood-buttons. He earns our trust, and the trust of the ordinary reader by foisting no great ideas of redemption on us, by insinuating no Political awkwardness. We get the ‘feel’: the surburbanism of life lived by the ordinary person, with a job, family… in fact, do we recognise in ourselves: nostalgia for the past? The past of a secure economy, of safe jobs, a stable society? This is a claim that plagued Rutger Kopland from these early books.

See how he builds the tension from stanza two: the juxtaposing of details of the neighbour (for which read, everyman/the identifier of self as ordinary: the classic Dutch sense of communalness), the change in light: the dark that identifies colours, blues…. Having keyed up the emotions at this point: the ‘…too beautiful to be true…’ (those last three qualifying words communicate so much, particularly in combination with preceding, ‘…once again…’), he immediately disengages and redirects. The emotional response is channelled via the toys in the grass, via sound, to the house, and identified as the laughter of children. The emotions are stirred but not settled, their direction may have been channelled but in consequence the mind is made open, the imagination engaged, by this ‘mental event’, so that when the geese fly they are identified immediately as ‘wild’, the sky is emptied by their presence, a sense of immanence is apparent.

Once again this keying-up of emotions is channelled to the ‘…precisely you…’: an anchoring, grounding in the here and now.

Now I want to look at Flashing Green Man by Kathleen Jamie: my apologies for the long excerpts, the text of the poem occurs nowhere online

Flashing Green Man

I regret the little time I make to consider
these adult days, …………………
…………………………………………………..
……………………………………… Under the multi’s

walking tall and bejewelled
across our dark land, I wait with the others:
thinking about supper and the grocer’s wife,
……………………………………………………..
………………………………. But these days I don’t much consider.

The green man flashed – he too refuged in cities –
and the traffic stilled for the shouting
news-vendor in his cap and scarf, for us
blethering people; and a sound
in the orange glow: a high kronk-honk
………………………………………………………..
…………………………….. But I stopped

on the rush hour pavement to watch
the skein’s arrow
cross the traffic-choked Marketgait,
and head for the glittering multi’s
tenth or twelth floor, where they banked
in the wind of these pivotal buildings
to pull themselves North to the Sidlaws:
and brash light from windows
……………………………………………………..

………………………………………………………
…… a pale-faced woman peeling potatoes

as her husband climbed the long stairs,
listened, smiled, and wiping the window
cupped her hands around her eyes
to acknowledge a sign
truer than the flashing green man
or directional arrows seen at a junction
where I watched the geese tilt
to make their turn, their beating wings
more precious than angels’ in the city lights.

Kathleen Jamie, The Queen of Sheba, Bloodaxe, 1994

Both poems employ long sentences that take up almost a whole long stanza; both do not employ much by way of commas, colons, semi-colons. The Kathleen Jamie much more than the Rutger Kopland. Why is this? What does the long sentence express in the poem? Because it is used for a reason. What, the lack of punctuation?

Rutger Kopland only uses the comma; this allows a sense of flow, of ongoing thought, of feeling uninterrupted by analysis, discursive thought, consideration.

The long sentence can be seen as a rhythmic device, except that my term ‘device’ devalues the way the writer orders his work in this instance. Both writers contribute to the effect of on-going life in the poems, of on-going life in tandem with reflection; that is, although the poem instances a brief period of time, the minutes of the event, it encapsulates a life period. The point being that life and reflection are portrayed as part and parcel of the same event, the event that that the poem enacts, and that is the poem. It is all thrown against a much bigger, wider screen where times passes and is enacted.

Try to imagine what each poem would be without the interruption of geese.

For Rutger Kopland the geese can be seen as a device for expressing (or discovering?) an emotional state beyond that posited by the poem to that point. Admittedly, tiredness combined with a sense of fulfilment/achievement, had brought Rutger Kopland to a delicate state where he found his cognisance of the evening as too beautiful to be true. I use the term ‘cognisance’ here because I think it is necessary to know something of the man to know the range of the poem.

The late Rudi H van den Hoofdakker was a neuroscientist, who specialized in sleep disorders, and the aging process in the elderly. He was, it has been said, ‘the least metaphysical of men’; he was also a pioneer of the use of ‘ordinary language’ in poetry. By this I mean he did not use terms, express concepts that were not available to common language use. And yet he strove continually to express deeper and deeper insights into the human condition using this limited palate. To read his (translated) poetry aloud is to never stumble over an overwrought, or extravagant image, never to sense any awkwardness due to incursion by uncharacteristic content. I have cited negative attributes; for the positive I would state the poems recommend themselves to us as owning an integrity, honesty even.

In Kathleen Jamie the geese are an interruption into the closed state the city represents, of the wilderness, the ‘natural’ world, from the world that covers major parts of the earth’s surface. Kathleen Jamie has travelled these places, remote, difficult, almost inaccessible. Her books bear this out.

In this poem we are prepared for this special interpretation of the geese, by the Green Man image, a rural image of the essence of wildness in this case translated into the city as an icon for Walk, that is, movement, vitality, if you will.

Without the geese the poem would still have been a very potent expression of the urban life. For some writers this would have been enough. For Kathleen Jamie, though, she has at least a dual vision. Like her fellow Scot, Norman MacCaig with his ‘binocular vision’ who identifies the smell of herring on an Edinburgh high street, or the incursion of Highland (Lochinver/Assynt) experience, memories, into city experience, Kathleen Jamie is aware of the importance to her of those outside places.

She identifies herself as a city dweller in the poem, and this, it could be argued, precipitates the crisis that the incursion of geese engenders. The geese in this case become for her agents of a wider life-experience. Yet it seems to be a gendered life-experience: the clerks tugging on their street clothes are set against the pale-faced woman peeling potatoes: the clerks are oblivious to the geese, although just as trammelled and trapped, whilst the woman, and there is no hint of an unhappy relationship, smiles and recognises something of an extra adjunct to life in the incursion and activity of the geese.

For Rutger Kopland the geese are the vehicle for acknowledging a greater intensity of feeling. In the poem he writes how the sound of the geese precipitated a sense of how still and empty/ it was becoming.

If we compare this stillness and emptiness with the immediately preceding sense of fullness we get a quick switch from full to emptiness, itself symptomatic of emotion without outlet, looping in itself, until anchored by the presence of the other person.

If we compare this sense of emptiness with the following by Kathleen Jamie we maybe can get a handle on the emotion.

Skeins o geese

http://www.versedaily.org/skeinogeese.shtml

Skeins o geese write a word
across the sky. …..
……………………………
The sky moves like cattle, lowin.

I’m as empty as stane, as fields
ploo’d but not sown, naked
an blin as a stane. …..
…………………………………
blin

tae a’ soon but geese ca’ing.

Wire twists lik archaic script
roon a gate. …………………
…………………………………..
………………………  The word whustles

ower high for ma senses. Awa.

…………………………………………………..
…………………………………………………..
………………………………………..

Whit dae birds write in the dark?
A word niver spoken or read.
the skeins turn hame,
on the wind’s dumb moan, a soun,
maybe human, bereft.

Kathleen Jamie, as above

Line 15 – that Awa’., should it be read as The word whustles/ ower high for ma senses and awa? Or is it a direct address: Awa with all that! In the latter case it could be said to serve a similar purpose to the retreat from the intensity of emotion in the Rutger Kopland poem. And as in the Rutger Kopland poem the emotive power of the piece is re-directed, first by disentangling from the past and then by calling upon the standard image for the going beyond language, custom, culture, into a common heritage of human experience, that of the human predicament of being faced with the ultimate full stop, our inevitable deaths.

Both writers have particular takes on use of language. I have mentioned Rutger Kopland’s ‘common language’; Kathleen Jamie intersperses standard English with lowland Scots, a lived language rather than a dictionary-enhanced language such as lallans. Kathleen Jamie’s lived Scots, particularly evident in Skeins o Geese, is also and emphatically a ‘common language’. Elsewhere in the book this poem is from, The Queen of Sheba, we have poems of recognition between people, of a (re-)discovered fellowship. This is at times wholly a gendered recognition, at others a recognition of common humanity. The identifying of herself as a city dweller, as in Flashing Green Man, is a part of this. The book also broadens out into the ‘other’ lands Kathleen Jamie constantly references. There we find recognition and fellowship amongst, and with, nomads and widely different cultural groups.

And where do the poems end, in relation to these interruptions of geese?

In Rutger Kopland the becoming is in the arrival of the partner, remarkably close, that is, it is a treasured relationship. With Rutger Kopland we never move beyond the self. This is what has contributed to his being called essentially a sane writer: he recognises that all our knowledge is the self’s knowledge, that we are always just people on the earth, amongst its variousness. In a later poem Self-portrait as a Horse the writer does not become the horse but is always aware that he is human, and can never enter the being of another, whether person, or creature. We can only know the world other than from the position of our self. In this we are all alike.

In Kathleen Jamie we become aware of the close proximity of the Sidlaw Hills to the city. This is a key feature of much Scottish writing, that city and ‘mountain’ are cheek by jowl. One is never without a glimpse, sighting, of ‘wilderness’ in one form or another. This dual vision, cited above, becomes a means for investigating the common bond in the variousness of human lives, in whatever terrain.

Rutger Kopland investigates a similar connection, but by emphasising the common humanity inherent in all, but from within.

Both poems chart a journey; in Kathleen Jamie this has the added resonance through her experience of nomadic peoples, and the apparently nomadic migrating geese in the city. The journey in Rutger Kopland is an entirely self-referential journey; maybe here we see the impact and legacy of the Calvinist tradition, the sole reliance on the self naked before God, without intercession from priest or saint. This is very much what we now take to be Martin Luther’s great vision. Historically it took many generations, twist and turns, interpretations etc to get to this, but the vision is strong enough for us in our unreligious time to glimpse: it is the existential moment. But in Rutger Kopland’s case brought back from the brink by the bonds of common humanity, of love for family, of duty, of responsibility to one’s community. And all accepted with varying degrees of willingness.

Rutger Kopland (1934-2012):

rk

Kathleen Jamie:
kj

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from my kindle book, Parameters:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Parameters-Michael-Murray-ebook/dp/B07893LB8Z/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1513428648&sr=1-1&keywords=parameters

 

A World Beyond Myself, Enitharmon, 1991

Memories of the Unknown, Harvill Press, 2001

RK1

Part 1: Beginnings

In 1996, New York’s Vintage Press brought out ‘The Vintage Book of World Poetry’; the book settled many reputations, but also introduced many more.

The Dutch writer Rutger Kopland woke up one morning to find himself a world-class poet. Ok, he was already a top-selling author in his own country. But that is the point, as Martinus Nijhoff lamented in 1936, it is a country whose literary appreciation is limited to a small range by its language.

We are very lucky to have the masterful translations of the late James Brockway. He preferred the description of ‘collaborations’, it reflected more the close work with the author to render as near a syllabic and tonal copy as possible.

“…what I am presenting,” he wrote, “…is a Dutch poem by a Dutch mind, but now in the English language”.

James Brockway was made ‘Knight of the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands’ in 1997, for his services to Dutch literature. He died in 2000.

‘Rutger Kopland’ is the pen name of Professor of Psychiatry (retired) Rudi H van den Hoofdakker. He was born in 1934, and has won many prestigious prizes, one of which is the Dutch highest award for literary achievement, the P C Hooft Prize.

Kopland’s first book, Among Cattle, appeared in 1966. The date is important in a number of ways.

In the nineteen fifties Dutch art and literature woke up to experiment; it was a time of cataclysmic experiment in all forms, only paralleled in Dutch poetry by the exuberance of the medieval Rederijker rhetorical guilds.

Of course, as with many such movements, they also carry and help generate the seeds of their successors. Out of the foment of imagistic, lexical experiment a strong realistic note was beginning to be detectable.

Kopland, along with Judith Herzberg are now readily identified as the best representatives of this tone: of a sane, nonrhetorical, everyday language and subject matter.

In this first book are to be found all the tonal keys of his later work. An instant favourite was the first poem of the book, now a much anthologised piece

A PSALM

                     The green pastures the still waters
on the wallpaper in my room –
                     as a frightened child I believed
in wall paper

                   ……………………………………………………………………….

 

The first thing to notice here is the almost total lack of punctuation. In the original there is only the final full stop, even the commas, lines 8 and 14 of the translatioon, do not appear.

We catch the tone of slow, almost ruminative, can we call it, ‘thinking aloud’? Are we overhearing a sotto voce between intimate friends? Husband and wife, perhaps, or is it between father and child, as maybe becomes apparent in the last stanza? I wonder, does it matter: the drama of a listening audience is of less importance, than the manner and intent of the narration.

Also notice the slow accumulation of details that reveal-but-not-reveal the narration: what was it he had, or had been, forgiven? The biblical references (note lowercase ‘god’) and Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd…”) set a tone, particularly in the traditionally Calvinist/Lutheran Netherlands, for solitary meditative discourse, whose  heavy and responsible purpose: to converse with God, without intercessors, is offset by the witty, chatty aside: ‘as a … child I believed in wall paper…’.

Psalm 23 becomes a constant reference point in his writing.

The setting of the poem: the home, night, childhood, segue into the author’s own fatherhood; the meditative tone; the rural setting : an image of continuity, perhaps.

This may seem a little dated to those only familiar with the great urban sweep from Rotterdam, east and south; it is, however, deeply ingrained in the Dutch cultural model.

Kopland has lived all his working life in a village outside Groningen. This is where many still refer to as the real ‘rural’ Netherlands. These are the heartlands of the Dutch, the green ore that runs through the urban stonework.

What we read with Rutger Kopland, especially with these earlier books, are the books of the Dutch interior: the soul-lands. The irony is, Kopland is the least metaphysical of men; his insights are, I suspect, very much coloured by his profession as clinical neuroscientist.

Kopland was born in 1934; by the time of that terrible winter of German reprisals 1944/5, he would have 10 years old. 10, 1000 died that winter.

Consider the following poem in the book:

UNDER THE APPLE TREE

 

                                         I came home, it was about
                                         eight and remarkable
                                         close for the time of year,

                                        ……………………………………

                                         under the apple tree

                                        ……………………………………………..

                                         watching how my neighbour
                                         was still digging in his garden,

                                         …………………………………………………………….

                                         then slowly it once again became
                                         too beautiful to be true, …………

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

                                         and later I heard the wings
                                         of wild geese in the sky
                                         heard how still and empty
it was becoming

                 …………………………………………………………

                                         under the apple tree,
remarkably close

for our time of life.

Masterly; we scarcely even notice the ‘literaryness’: the ballad-like repetitions of key phrases, the manipulation of mood-buttons. He earns our trust, and the trust of the ordinary reader by foisting no great ideas of redemption on us, by insinuating no Political awkwardness. We get the ‘feel’: the surburbanism of life lived by the ordinary person, with a job, family… in fact, do we recognise in ourselves: nostalgia for the past? This is a claim that plagued Kopland from these early books.

See how he builds the tension from stanza two: the juxtaposing of details of the neighbour (for which read, everyman/the identifier of self as ordinary: the classic Dutch sense of communalness), the change in light: the dark that identifies colours, blues…. Having keyed up the emotions at this point: the ‘…too beautiful to be true…’ (those last three qualifying words communicate so much, particularly in combination with preceding, ‘…once again…’), he immediately disengages and redirects; the emotional response is channelled via the toys in the grass to the house, the laughter of children. The emotions are stirred but not settled, their direction may have been channelled but the mind is made open, the imagination engaged by this “mental event”, so that when the geese fly they are identified immediately as ‘wild’, the sky is emptied by their presence, a sense of immanence is apparent. Once again this keying-up of emotions is channelled to the ‘…precisely you…’. An anchoring, grounding in the here and now.

Kopland displays here a willingness to be honest about feelings, a willingness to be open about his experience of them, of their place in his life and world.

And yes, he is privileged: he has a satisfying though demanding job, he has happy children, he has a close relationship with his partner. Is it Kopland, here? Or is it the ‘ordinary person’? Is it the person glad to be alive, having survived that last terrible winter of the War; like his neighbour he goes through the daily affirmation of survival.

RK2

Following a sequence of poems on his father’s death, we have:

                             MISS A

                            On September 19, a misty

                            nineteenth, Miss A ………….

………………………………………………………………………………..

                           …………………………………………….

……………………………………………. God and the

                            DHSS seemed out of reach.

                            She disembarked.

An altogether different piece. We have here, I think, irony used as a stylistic device; there is no longer the personalizing, intimate nature of the experience, but a distancing. A tragic event; but almost, in this retailing, a news item; the details of particulars: date, boat name, area of mooring.

The domestic details are all laid out for us to see, like the effects of a dead person, to be collected by relatives (us: readers-as-community?), or the unknowns who will come later when our attention is caught by other news. Whichever way it is read we, the reader, or, shall I qualify that: we, the ones amongst the readers who actually care what happened to her – are involved: her fate impinges upon us. We may not be responsible, but we are made witnesses. To be able to remain open, to witness, and not close-off is maybe one of the things makes a workable community.

This poem appeared in print in 1968. This is significant: 1968, and The Netherlands were as much caught up in social upheaval as we were in England. It may be this poem can be read as a response to the student protests, the extreme political factions.

Another, more significant poem of his poems of the period was :

                           YOUNG LETTUCE                        

                           I can stand anything,
the shrivelling of beans

                         …………………………………………………………….

                            But young lettuce in September,
                            just planted, still tender,
in moist little beds, no.                                         

Literary friends would repeat this poem when latest news came through of some new social upheaval, or political upset. Why? It is the understatement; the masterly irony; it is also a poem of great benevolence. The weary retort to old problems presenting themselves in new clothes, of seemingly insurmountable social problems… and yet the response is of a wry gentleness.

Maybe this poem can be read as an attempt at affirming communal responsibilities.

The ironic yet engaged tone of the times, the response of an older generation.

Kopland’s sharper mode was prompted to some extent by what he saw as misreadings of his work. After the anecdotal style a greater dissatisfaction with accepted things became apparent. There emerged a ‘stern’ period of disillusionment.

 Reposted from 2012

WHAT IS HAPPINESS/ Wat Is Geluk?

Because happiness is a memory
it exists because at the same time
the reverse is also true
……………………………………………………………

 ………………… I mean this: happiness
must exist somewhere at some time because
 we remember it and it reminds us. 

Rutger Kopland (Until It Lets Us Go, 1997)

1

A circling argument, circular reasoning; he is attempting to capture here the processes of actual experience. It is a meld between learnt things ie the particular blends that give the sense of well-being, and the sense of already existing well-being within the person.

And notice that it is one long sentence. Is it a sentence? It’s more properly described as a gestalt, a knot of argument.

Maybe we have a harking back here to something like R D Laing’s collections of problems in his book Knots:

They are playing a game. They are playing at not
playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I
shall break the rules and they will punish me.
I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.

But this seems to be a different order, similar, but different. Unless, the difference is in the ambience that translation gives. James Brockway’s translation of the poem here is more a kind of, what he called, a collaboration: both writer and translator find the most appropriate new terms with which to convey the original poem.

What Kopland is doing here is expressing the thinking processes of emotion. That is, emotion in a broad sense.

2

There have been times in my own life I have forgotten what various things look like. One of them has been happiness. Many of us know this – if you haven’t you most probably will. Wait, especially until some loved one dies.

What was it Brecht said? The Happy man has not heard the bad news yet.
I quoted that to a colleague once and they asked in all seriousness what the bad news was.  What can you say!

To forget happiness. We all assume it is our right as a human being. That we are entitled to it, and to go to extraordinary lengths to gain, retain, or find it.
And yet it can be lost.

That last stanza in particular of the poem makes perfect sense: we have a capacity for it, or have developed one, therefore it is something we must need.
And let’s admit a life without happiness is not much of a life.
But is this just because we feel we are no longer getting our usual quota, whether it is necessary for us or not? Can we live a full life without  it?
To have ring-fenced what is necessary for a life; how narrow is that space? Or how over-big?

And then if we look back to, say, St Augustine, and his Confessions, we come across… someone overfond of describing themselves, of wallowing in their own specialness. But we also come across Chapter Ten.
What is Chapter ten? It is where he contemplates Memory.

Subsection 8 of chapter 10 begins: So I must also go beyond this natural faculty of mine… The next stage is memory, which is like a great field or a spacious palace, a storehouse for countless images of all kinds….

And if that isn’t a description of a memory system, then I don’t know what is! Those of us familiar with Patrick Jane from The Mentalist, will recognise the reference to the ‘memory palace’ in this, that he constantly goes on about.

Memory contains, says Augustine, amongst everything else we know, what we know as happiness. The chapter description reads –  Since all men long for happiness, they must know in some way what it is…

Even the phrasing seems to be echoed in the Kopland poem. Augustine’s reasoning in the chapter, subsection 20, runs:
Am I to seek it in memory, as though I had forgotten it but still remembered that I had forgotten it?

It seems what is being considered in all this is whether happiness is a constant presence in our psyches, or a memory of, say, well-being, that we had once, and constantly refer to when we mean ‘happiness’.

This last bit reminds me of so many things we value, that in actuality were singular and temporary, limited occurances.

We constantly hark back to happier times in our lives, which we then project onto our environment, society, history, culture. These were probably a few days/months/at most a few years when certain pleasure chemicals took precedence in our lives, and we were able to live almost blissfully.

I’ve heard people in the UK recall the 1950’s as ‘good times’, yet when we look at those times they were pitifully bad in most respects.

A general loss of energy and with it the capacity to take on the multiplicity of thought and experience, leaves a simplified, narrowed and shallow picture: a ring-fenced concept .

3

I am interested in moving forward, or, as a ‘forward’ probably doesn’t exist, opening up the present more and more.

Against this is a constant reference to what are thought to be past glories (: Jerusalem – see last posting); someone’s glory is someone else’s defeat. But also there is the meld between the victor and the defeated, that accounts for some of the sense of difference that victory brings.

I still maintain that what Kopland was investigating, especially in his later work, was a Phenomenological stance.
Phenomenology kind of grew out of european existentialism, the work of Husserl.

You find with modern Phenomenolgy this constant vacillating between one’s idea of one’s body in the world, that we get from sensory feedback, and the brain’s sense of  self’s existence, that is maybe generated from sheer sense of itself functioning.
This can lead to a looped vacillation; but there is this extra ingredient, and that is our being’s sense of… curiosity, for want of a better term. It is this keeps us going on.

One thing that seems to move us on better than most, is a sense of fun, play.

Bring on the fun!

I would have dearly loved a picture of Snoopy from Charlie Brown here, you know the skipping, gleeful ones?Copyright.


A World Beyond Myself, Enitharmon, 1991

Memories of the Unknown, Harvill Press, 2001

Part 1: Beginnings

In 1996, New York’s Vintage Press brought out ‘The Vintage Book of World Poetry’; the book settled many reputations, but also introduced many more.

The Dutch writer Rutger Kopland woke up one morning to find himself a world-class poet. Ok, he was already a top-selling author in his own country. But that is the point, as Martinus Nijhoff lamented in 1936, it is a country whose literary appreciation is limited to a small range by its language.

We are very lucky to have the masterful translations of the late James Brockway. He preferred the description of ‘collaborations’, it reflected more the close work with the author to render as near a syllabic and tonal copy as possible.

“…what I am presenting,” he wrote, “…is a Dutch poem by a Dutch mind, but now in the English language”.

James Brockway was made ‘Knight of the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands’ in 1997, for his services to Dutch literature. He died in 2000.

‘Rutger Kopland’ is the pen name of Professor of Psychiatry (retired) Rudi H van den Hoofdakker. He was born in 1934, and has won many prestigious prizes, one of which is the Dutch highest award for literary achievement, the P C Hooft Prize.

Kopland’s first book, Among Cattle, appeared in 1966. The date is important in a number of ways.

In the nineteen fifties Dutch art and literature woke up to experiment; it was a time of cataclysmic experiment in all forms, only paralleled in Dutch poetry by the exuberance of the medieval Rederijker rhetorical guilds.

Of course, as with many such movements, they also carry and help generate the seeds of their successors. Out of the foment of imagistic, lexical experiment a strong realistic note was beginning to be detectable.

Kopland, along with Judith Herzberg are now readily identified as the best representatives of this tone: of a sane, nonrhetorical, everyday language and subject matter.

In this first book are to be found all the tonal keys of his later work. An instant favourite was the first poem of the book, A Psalm, now a much anthologised piece:

 

A Psalm

                     The green pastures the still waters

                    on the wallpaper in my room –

                    as a frightened child I believed

                    in wall paper

 

                   ……………………………………………………………………….

 

The first thing to notice here is the almost total lack of punctuation. In the original there is only the final full stop, even the commas, lines 8 and 14, do not appear.

We catch the tone of slow, almost ruminative… can we call it ‘thinking aloud’? Are we overhearing a sotto voce between intimate friends? Husband and wife, perhaps, or is it between father and child, as maybe becomes apparent in the last stanza? I wonder, does it matter: the drama of a listening audience is of less importance, than the manner and intent of the narration.

Also notice the slow accumulation of details that reveal-but-not-reveal the narration: what was it he had, or had been, forgiven? The biblical references (note lowercase ‘god’) and Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd…”) set a tone, particularly in the traditionally Calvinist/Lutheran Netherlands, for solitary meditative discourse, whose  heavy and responsible purpose: to converse with God, without intercessors, is offset by the witty, chatty aside: ‘as a … child I believed in wall paper…’.

Psalm 23 becomes a constant reference point in his writing.

The setting of the poem: the home, night, childhood, segue into the author’s own fatherhood; the meditative tone; the rural setting : an image of continuity, perhaps.

This may seem a little dated to those only familiar with the great urban sweep from Rotterdam, east and south; it is, however, deeply ingrained in the Dutch cultural model.

Kopland has lived all his working life in the villages outside Groningen. This is where many still refer to as the real ‘rural’ Netherlands. These are the heartlands of the Dutch, the green ore that runs through the urban stonework.

What we read with Rutger Kopland, especially with these earlier books, are the books of the Dutch interior: the soul-lands. The irony is, Kopland is the least metaphysical of men; his insights are, I suspect, very much coloured by his profession as clinical neuroscientist.

Kopland was born in 1934; by the time of that terrible winter of German reprisals 1944/5, he would have 10 years old. 10, 000 died that winter.

Consider the following poem in the book: Under the Apple Tree:

 

                                         I came home, it was about

                                         eight and remarkable

                                        close for the time of year,

                                        ……………………………………

                                         under the apple tree

 

                                        ……………………………………………..

                                         watching how my neighbour

                                         was still digging in his garden,

                                         …………………………………………………………….

 

                                         then slowly it once again became

                                         too beautiful to be true, …………

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

                                         and later I heard the wings

                                         of wild geese in the sky

                                         heard how still and empty

                                         it was becoming

 

                                       …………………………………………………………

                                         under the apple tree,

                                         remarkably close

                                         for our time of life.

Masterly; we scarcely even notice the ‘literaryness’: the ballad-like repetitions of key phrases, the manipulation of mood-buttons. He earns our trust, and the trust of the ordinary reader by foisting no great ideas of redemption on us, by insinuating no Political awkwardness. We get the ‘feel’: the surburbanism of life lived by the ordinary person, with a job, family… in fact, do we recognise in ourselves: nostalgia for the past? This is a claim that plagued Kopland from these early books.

See how he builds the tension from stanza two: the juxtaposing of details of the neighbour (for which read, everyman/the identifier of self as ordinary: the classic Dutch sense of communalness), the change in light: the dark that identifies colours, blues…. Having keyed up the emotions at this point: the ‘…too beautiful to be true…’ (those last three qualifying words communicate so much, particularly in combination with preceding, ‘…once again…’), he immediately disengages and redirects; the emotional response is channelled via the toys in the grass to the house, the laughter of children. The emotions are stirred but not settled, their direction may have been channelled but the mind is made open, the imagination engaged by this “mental event”, so that when the geese fly they are identified immediately as ‘wild’, the sky is emptied by their presence, a sense of immanence is apparent. Once again this keying-up of emotions is channelled to the ‘…precisely you…’. An anchoring, grounding in the here and now.

Kopland displays here a willingness to be honest about feelings, a willingness to be open about his experience of them, of their place in his life and world.

And yes, he is privileged: he has a satisfying though demanding job, he has happy children, he has a close relationship with his partner. Is it Kopland, here? Or is it the ‘ordinary person’? Is it the person glad to be alive, having survived that last terrible winter of the War; like his neighbour he goes through the daily affirmation of survival.

Following a sequence of poems on his father’s death, we have:

 

                             Miss A

 

                            On September 19, a misty

                            nineteenth, Miss A ………….

………………………………………………………………………………..

 

                           …………………………………………….

……………………………………………………the

                            DHSS seemed out of reach.

 

                            She disembarked.

An altogether different piece. We have here, I think, irony used as a stylistic device; there is no longer the personalizing, intimate nature of the experience, but a distancing. A tragic event; but almost, in this retailing, a news item; the details of particulars: date, boat name, area of mooring.

The domestic details are all laid out for us to see, like the effects of a dead person, to be collected by relatives (us: readers-as-community?), or the unknowns who will come later when our attention is caught by other news. Whichever way it is read we, the reader, or, shall I qualify that: we, the ones amongst the readers who actually care what happened to her – are involved: her fate impinges upon us. We may not be responsible, but we are made witnesses. To be able to remain open, to witness, and not close-off is maybe one of the things makes a workable community.

This poem appeared in print in 1968. This is significant: 1968, and The Netherlands were as much caught up in social upheaval as we were in England. It may be this poem can be read as a response to the student protests, the extreme political factions.

Another, more significant poem of his poems of the period was Young Lettuce:                        

                           I can stand anything,

                         …………………………………………………………….

 

                           But young lettuce in September,

                           just planted, still tender,

                           in moist little beds, no.                                         

Literary friends would repeat this poem when latest news came through of some new social upheaval, or political upset. Why? It is the understatement; the masterly irony; it is also a poem of great benevolence. The weary retort to old problems presenting themselves in new clothes, of seemingly unsurmountable social problems… and yet the response is of a wry gentleness.

Maybe this poem can be read as an attempt at affirming communal responsibilities.

The ironic yet engaged tone of the times, the response of an older generation.

Kopland’s sharper mode was prompted to some extent by what he saw as misreadings of his work. After the anecdotal style a greater dissatisfaction with accepted things became apparent. There emerged a ‘stern’ period of disillusionment.