Yannick Dangre (1987) is a Belgian poet and writer. He was born in Brussels and lives in Antwerp, where he studied French and Dutch literature. He made his debut at age twenty-two with the novel Daughter of the volcano, a story that explores childhood and family relations. As youngest laureate ever, he was awarded the Flemish prize for best first novel. In 2011, he published his first poetry book Girl I still like, which won him the Herman De Coninck prize. Later followed the much-lauded March rooms, a tender portrait about an older gay couple. His most recent work is Gazing into the navel and the night, a collection which combines individual love poems with poetry about present day global terrorism. His work is known for its musicality, elaborate style and psychological insights. He has performed it onstage at numerous venues throughout Belgium and the Netherlands.
Despite his still youthful age, Yannick Dangre (1987) can already look back on a fine list of achievements. He made his debut at the age of 22 with the novel Vulkaanvrucht (Daughter of the volcano) which was received with acclaim and with which he was also awarded the Debut Prize. In 2012, he published his second novel, Maartse kamers (March rooms), and in 2016, his third novel De idioot en de tederheid (The idiot and the tenderness) made its appearance. Yet as Dangre himself says, he feels himself to be first and foremost a poet. His debut collection Meisje dat ik nog moet (Girl I still like, 2011) was nominated for the C. Buddingh’ Prize and won the Herman de Coninck prize in the Debut category. In 2014, the second collection Met terugwerkende kracht (With retroactive effect) appeared and in 2017, there was the collection Nacht en navel (Gazing into the navel and the night). In between, he also won the Melopee poetry prize with the poem ‘Vader’ (‘Father’).
From around the time of his poetry debut, the young Dangre was positioned in the neo-romantic tradition. His own appearance – with abundant locks of hair and a certain dandyish dress style – was certainly to blame for a part of that, but in terms of content, he was also quick to flirt with that romantic tradition. In interviews, he often referred to Oscar Wilde, Thomas Mann and his first literary feats consisted of a number of pastiches of French symbolists. Also in his debut collection, Meisje dat ik nog moet, that influence is clearly present. The critic Jeroen Dera sees that romantic aspect of Dangre’s poetry debut primarily in “his wrestling with the divine muse [...] The poetry in Meisje dat ik nog moet gives evidence of a constant longing for a muse that can hide the flaws of the poet” (Ons Erfdeel 2013, 1). The critic Erik Menkveld voices it more expressively in the daily newspaper De Volkskrant (11 June 2011): “Lyrically and drunk on words, his dark erotic longing flows over the pages towards the age-old idealised beloved”.
Whilst in his debut collection Dangre primarily focused his concentration on himself and his own emotions, in his second collection, he widens his themes to human relationships (man-woman, parents-child...). Dangre doesn’t display himself as an optimist and the collection is rather characterised by disenchantment. The poet describes a loss of innocence, decline and disappointment. Human relationships seem doomed and old age brings no consolation, just loss. A theme, in short, that still fits within the romantic tradition of his first collection.
In his third collection Nacht en navel (2017) as well, Dangre is still talking about his own emotions and about interpersonal relations. The cycles Toi tu t'appelles Lolita, Stairway to hell and Settimana Santa still connect in terms of themes and feel for life with his previous collections. In the two other cycles of the collection, however, Dangre lets the world in. Dangre’s world is not beautiful, but a place where attacks are carried out, where people flee. In Moi je m’appelle, he portrays a number of figures who have figured in the world news in the past few years in the context of terrorism, streams of refugees and civil wars (Bashar al-Assad, Salah Abdeslam, Ibrahim El Bakraoui…). The last cycle focuses on locations that have featured in the world news over the past few years because of attacks (Paris), civil war (Aleppo) or because other events took place there that put the world into a new perspective (Washington D.C., Vatican City).
A VERY LITTLE WAR / (Untitled)
For years we’ve lived in this marriage,
amid these slamming doors and tenderness
in the evening by the fireside of our thoughts
of wanting to be somewhere else, everywhere
and always someone other than ourselves,
who push each other ever deeper, head in
the sand of years lived too joyfully.
When we meet now we conjure from silence
this house, this furniture, all the silences
with which we have constructed ourselves
in front of the television, in bed and bath
and copulation more and more soundless,
in which we scratched and bit each time
into all that must be bit back:
our skin and our present dates.
And yet, from the sofa again
and again we look back into each other
and see the steadfast weariness
of two veterans, still make on the floor
of our house that has stopped burning
a very little war and peace.From Girl I Still Like (2011); translated by Paul Vincent
OLD RECIPE / (Untitled)
In the evenings, after all the work and loving
of other people’s houses, we come home in
each other again, walking on tiptoe
in each other’s voices, both more deaf and
more afraid of being spoken.
Entrenched in our kitchens and armchairs
and unfinished recipes for lovers,
we await the hour, our stroke of the bell
when with frayed gestures we invite
each other to table, are silent and go on
eating what is suppressed.
Thus supper dies each day
our silent death and we gradually
become this table, the wooden
cups of happiness, blind to our
splinters and stains, since for ages we have not
covered each other.From Girl I Still Like (2011); translated by Paul Vincent
VONDELPARK / (Untitled)
Sunday morning. People jog
through your head, but you don’t know them. You see
only their poker face, the kilos
of lost joy that have wormed their way
into their hips.
Sometimes you laugh at it. At other times you bite back
the music and impotence that pound through their ears.
Loss of face splits the park.
You’re well aware, you too should do something
about your health, about the fattening
of memories and old lovers
who sing through your joints like arthrosis.
You ignore it. You prefer to play poker in a book
or pub for a better future. You lose
and even your most tender ex guffaws as she
repeats her parting song.
Stairway to heaven. Vondelpark. For years
a broken iPod has murmured in your heart.
He is nine and still wants to be a lion.
You try to tell him
about inventors, Porsches, poets
who sold their hero’s death years
in advance, but he wants none of it.
So you’re walking here again and watch
your son dreaming his way through
the bars. ‘Look, Daddy, look,’ he coos
and you nod. Long ago you too heated
your attic room with pure lust for life.
Each night you’d creep through girl’s hearts and
with pen or patent slink away
from your contemporaries. It didn’t work. No fame
or dough or Porsche. Just a wage slip
that mocks your pride and a son
who just won’t become a king.From Retroactive (2014); translated by Paul Vincent
Something hangs over
our heads, new days,
an ancient sword, scraps of love
kept back in our sleep.
Hesitantly we look at them
from our chairs, stuck fast,
still consume the time
when we were turned on like rabbits
by the light of life and the women
who were not yet under our skin.
Something hangs over our heads
and we exchange philosophical looks,
affection that flickers
like a burnt-out bulb.
From needle to thread
we are wrapped up
No machine was
needed, only decade-
long hands, precision
and the daily load
of worn patches in our body language.
Each evening we still consist of little holes.
eternal stitching, mellow happiness
sewn into our waistcoats.
Only at night do we go naked
to bed in order
from needle to thread
to sew our sex shut.
Wrapped up like that
we fall apart.From Retroactive (2014); translated by Paul Vincent
FATHER / (Untitled)
Father, gnashing his teeth in all languages,
eats his glass thoughts
through which we stare at him
like a dying fire.
He is a torch
of windy talk
and more and more often he sleeps
in his patched words,
in the mumbling bed
of sentences that he stretches
and the children he wants.
The warmth of his mouth cools
down. Father blurs in frame
narratives, in rhymes
about how things once were,
when we didn’t yet dwell
in his going to sleep.
He yawns and listens
to himself. In his tongue
there’s a century, in his body
half at most.
Father doesn’t hear us
and sleeplessly piles up children
in his head.From Retroactive (2014); translated by Paul Vincent
HOLY WEEK - Monday / (Untitled)
It is that week again in which men
rake up their heavenly father, miss their mothers,
feel how immortality late at night
starts pissing on their thoughts.
It is that week again in which humanity
folds its hands, chews daintily on silence
and on Sunday tosses in the sheets
It will last seven days, the lack of God
and his tantrums, while I think only of her,
of the umpteenth beginning I shall weave
into her braids, the buttocks for which I
will risk my second youth.
It is that week again in which she
crackles in my bushes.From Night and Navel (2017); translated by Paul Vincent
HOLY WEEK - Sunday / (Untitled)
At last they’re there then, the church bells
and the children who collect their expectations
in a bucket and then look back at me,
the father who has invested himself in them.
I smile at their golden hands, their later
that hangs ever lower in the hedgerows. Nonchalantly
they run after it and as they go eagerly mow
time down at my feet.
I still have to teach them everything: how you eat olives,
Elect a president, use your elbows,
With poignant patience lose a woman.
I still have to knock myself off a pedestal.
But not quite yet. Now I make them grab
for my field of vision, don’t demarcate my
contours. Seize the day and hide it
in the defenceless grass.From Night and Navel (2017); translated by Paul Vincent
TUESDAY / (Untitled)
Every first Tuesday in April my father strolls
into my head. He greets me with frost-bitten
flowers, granite in his lips and his hands
immediately shuffle the dates
Out with it, he says and like all the dead he waits
for the true-to-life months
of his absence.
I sigh. Spell out aloud to him my receding children
and hairline, my rust-proof job, the happy
tidings of my divorce, the soft
suicide of the photo albums.
My father nods, spreads a cold smile
through the room. I wait and see. Take his side. Count
our differences. But my father
keeps his memories on
like a coat.From Night and Navel (2017); translated by Paul Vincent
FRIDAY / (Untitled)
I too have a holy mother, a woman
with grit and steeled arms
in which for decades she has cradled emptiness.
I see her on Fridays sitting in her chair,
where staff feed her professionally,
nurture her, delouse her, silently clean up
the filthy remnants of her thoughts.
We don’t talk, but I read in her eyes
how she wants to do it all once more: clear
my homework, hear my dreams spring up
like a boy’s bed, measure with pen and compass
the circumference of my life.
There comes the nurse with her daily pills
and my mother nods, sees her future
plans dissolve in a glass. ‘Bye,’ she says
and I go, my shame knows the way, for always
I remain a son who walks hand in hand
with her loss.From Night and Navel (2017); translated by Paul Vincent
ALEPPO / (Untitled)
Each evening I stare at the bomb strikes
in your skin, at your open-legged rubble and daily lips
bursting in my living room.
For a moment it is quiet. Then I again change
into a horizon while you hide yourself
at home in your naked existence.
So I do not see how men stroke your ruined breasts,
all mothers sell their courage, soldiers steal the hope
from your coat pocket. And on the black market
children snatch each other’s distant future.
On no channel does it surprise me anymore
and you too say nothing. You’re just like a human:
you can’t look away from yourself.From Night and Navel (2017); translated by Paul Vincent
JERUSALEM / (Untitled)
For decades you’ve refused to budge,
I’ve carried you with silent ease
along with the speaking dead in my back pocket.
I’ve known you for so long: your proud eyes
of a jilted woman, your torn
lips, your sly caresses with fingers
of Bible paper. Here they don’t kill
without the right religion.
Every day I ask myself who forgets the first stone,
why the whole world has for years stood screaming
at your bedside and I too sit dividing you by cafés
into no place like home. And meanwhile
children daily smash the windows of their immortality.
For decades I’ve refused to budge
and while drops of blood fall from your fingers
I lay with a sigh a second wind in your hands.From Night and Navel (2017); translated by Paul Vincent
MUSEOLOGICAL / (Untitled)
Your body of grass. Your spirit of silver. And I
forget again how you hid my age
in the attic, among the sleeping dogs, feel only
how your muscles swell like accomplices in my bed.
Each time I wipe the melancholy from my forehead,
you bring my future back into circulation,
you lay your most naked facts on my skin.
And I bite you, make love to you, stroke with all your fingers
my loss of memory. I know: you’re gone
and present like a myth, and yet you’ll remain forever
my doctrine, my burning doll, my silence
in a mysterious attic.
Your body of grass. Your spirit of silver. Forget
the museum value of our love.From Night and Navel (2017); translated by Paul Vincent
POST COITUM / (Untitled)
Now, afterwards, time hangs still
on our lips and we lie
with wide-open bodies and wonder
how to preserve each other. You, who put
your youth back on like socks, think in lists:
Always breakfast together.
Be ahead of him.
Frame his softest wrinkles.
Copy the wisdom from his face.
I just smile, check off the distant vistas
in your voice. You, my love, don’t need yet to know
that love is a mountaineer
on a sheer window, and that every failing
one day falls out of the china shop.
Tenderly I stroke your mouth that sums me up,
Becomes a warm, unforgettable anecdote.
Time keeps tying knots in our bodies.From Night and Navel (2017); translated by Paul Vincent