Maarten van der Graaff

The Netherlands

Maarten van der Graaff is a writer. He published Vluchtautogedichten in 2013. A year later, this book was awarded the C. Buddingh’ Prize for best debut collection. Dood werk, his second collection, was published in 2015. This book was awarded the J.C. Bloem Poetry Prize. Van der Graaff is an editor and co-founder of Samplekanon, an online literary magazine. In 2017, Wormen en engelen, his first novel, was published to great acclaim.

When Maarten was awarded the C. Buddingh’ Prize for best poetry debut, the jury expressed their praise as follows: “The jury was impressed by the expansiveness of Van der Graaff’s poems, in terms of composition, vocabulary and themes. With Vluchtautogedichten, he shows evidence of a great poetic and meta-poetic consciousness. As the end point of a poetic development, that can be fatal, but as a starting point it seems quite promising to the jury.” In his piece about Van der Graaff in the essay collection Dichters van het nieuwe millennium (Poets of the new millennium) (Vantilt, 2016), Jos Joosten points out the influence that the prize has had on the reception of Van der Graaff’s work. Not only was his debut discussed in numerous print and digital media, but it also gave Van der Graaff the opportunity to position himself clearly in the literary field in a noted piece in the literary magazine Tirade. Joosten sees that self-positioning not only in the piece in Tirade, but it is also one of the important (meta-poetic) themes in Van der Graaff’s poetry itself. In his poems, Van der Graaff frequently mentions names of other poets with whom he feels related or against whom he sets himself off. That self-positioning is not only a way to gain a place in the literary field, but for Van der Graaff it is also a way to give shape to the ‘autobiographical I’ in his poems in a contemporary manner. The subject in Van der Graaff’s poetry represents not only itself, but also the entire open and hybrid society where social media play an important role in image formation.

In his second collection Dood werk (Dead work) (2015) which was awarded the J.C. Bloem Prize, Van der Graaff continues on the same road. In that respect, one of the mottos of that collection is already revealing: ‘I want to make the world more interesting than my problems. Therefore I have to make my problems social’ (Chris Kraus). In an interview in the literary magazine Poëziekrant (2015, 5), Van der Graaff adds: ‘I try to read my own life in a social way’. Even the poetry itself gets a separate interpretation as a result: ‘The collective, the community, search for what poetry may have to do with the community, that is something that interests me. I therefore seek times when language comes into being socially. [...] Poetry is not an expression of your unique individuality, it is something that passes you by. Something comes from outside and that goes right through you. That is not a divine inspiration, it is the pressure of the world. The world that, like a wind, moves through you in language, image, sound.’

Given the ‘social’ dimension in Van der Graaff’s work, calling him a ‘political poet’ is obvious. The critic Chrétien Breukers described the group of poets to which Van der Graaff is attributed (Hannah Van Binsbergen, Jeroen Mettes, Samuel Vriezen, Obe Alkema, Frank Keizer…) somewhat derisively as ‘the New Politicals’. Although that political dimension is clearly present in Van der Graaff’s work, it would be selling his work short to describe it in terms of ‘engagement’ or in any case it would be necessary to recalibrate that term. After all, the engagement of Van der Graaff’s poetry focuses not so much on social criticism, but more on an investigation of the prevailing discourse.

In 2017, Van der Graaff published his debut novel ‘Wormen en engelen’ (‘Worms and angels’), that was received to great acclaim. Critics praised its ‘authentic quest’ and his ‘sparkling language’.