At an early age the Dutch poet Erik Lindner had already decided to devote his life to poetry. Born 1968 in The Hague, he left school at the age of fourteen and continued his education along practical lines. Almost just as soon he began his mediating work. Whether as a performer, editor, literary critic, or reader: Lindner, long considered one of the most outstanding poets of his generation, advocates spreading poetry using all available means and media, and does so not only in his own homeland, but abroad as well: in France, for example, where he lived two years, worked for the Institut Néerlandais in Paris, and organized, in particular, the exchange between French and Dutch poets, or at international literature festivals in Great Britain, Canada, Taiwan, Albania, and Berlin. He regularly publishes his poems in renowned international literary magazines such as Poetry Review (England), Manuskripte (Austria), Interim (USA), Action poétique (France), and Luvina (Mexico), which has even led to translations of his work into Chinese and Macedonian. Aside from his own volumes of poetry – “Tramontane” (1996), “Tong en trede” (Tongue and Step, 2000), “Tafel” (Table, 2004), and “Terrein” (Terrain, 2010) – and a book on the art of poetry published in 2009, Erik Lindner published a French anthology with contemporary Dutch poetry, “Le verre est un liquide lent” (Glass is a Lazy Liquid, 2003), presenting 33 of his poetry colleagues. No wonder this tireless patron has received so much sponsorship and many honours, enabling him to apply his efforts worldwide in the interest of cultural exchange.
Many recognize in Erik Lindner’s poetry and poetics an affinity with Walter Benjamin’s notion of perception. In fact, in “Tramontane”, his first book of poems, whose title designates the merciless, fall wind in the highlands of southern France, the poem “18 September 1994” makes a direct allusion to the art philosopher’s tragic end: “In Port Bou nothing dies willingly.” What Lindner describes here is a sweltering day in the shade of olive trees on an ancient, river bank made of stone, with a view of the windswept sea whirling its blue and yellow tones in the light of a lazy sun. While in every respect the tremendous beauty of the natural spectacle is timeless, the actual setting – with the Walter Benjamin Memorial made of rusted steel and erected in 1994 – points to one of the darkest chapters of European history. Despite the boon of sunlight brandished by wind, the interplay of all the elements causes a chill. Unusually remarkable about this is the poet’s sovereign, restrained handling of such thorny subject matter, a restraint that seems to grow stronger over time and unfold an even greater expressiveness.
Nature is continually present in his work and always related to the viewer, to mankind, without forfeiting its autonomy. What stands out most is how active it is, and the amount of creative (and destructive) power it possesses. From the tempestuous blasts of wind in the aforementioned poem, which nearly treats sea and field in the same manner artistically, to the poem published ten years later, “A Man Eats an Apple in the Park”, in which the trees bend around the protagonist, the grass crowds round his feet, and the pond pushes plants up the bank, what shows itself is a sense of nature much closer to mankind than modern, western city-dwellers like ourselves are aware of. At the same time, this surpasses the limits of human perception and human existence, without Lindner’s work addressing an explicitly religious or metaphysical figure. This puts readers on the track of the secret: that inherent in these often brightly illuminated, at times crystal clear, at others seemingly austere poems, lies an aura perhaps best associated with Benjamin’s perceptual aura.
Lindner’s poetic universe contains not only landscapes (whether in the south or north, on the beach of Marseille, Piraeus, or Ostend), but also rooms and objects capable of developing a life of their own, like the closet with the mirrored door, which, in the poem “This Layout Fits Somehow”, falls on the protagonist and causes her own reflection to bend over her. In Lindner’s poetry everything is set in motion and suddenly changes its perspective, while constantly triggering new associations. Critic Paul Demets compares Lindner’s approach with a film camera alternating between a full-screen and close-up shot, as though depicting movement in and of itself and therefore impossible to capture in words. Lindner’s oeuvre indeed addresses a belief in the power of vision and the thought-provoking power of the word, yet here and there he questions them, either when speaking of “small errors, of a simple optical illusion” or as stated in the first line of the poem “Pastille de menthe”: “It’s the word that lies, not me, you know.”
Text: Patricia Klobusiczky / English translation: Karl Edward Johnson