Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer

Netherlands

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer (1968) writes novels, stories, poetry, columns, essays, criticism, plays and song lyrics. He lives and works in Genoa. Until 2004, Pfeijffer worked as a classicist at the University of Leiden. He is specialised in the works of the classical poet Pindar. In 1998, he won the C. Buddingh’ Prize for his poetry collection Van de vierkante man (Of the square man). For Book Week 2000, he put together the volume De Antieken: Een korte literatuurgeschiedenis.

In 2003, he won the Gerard Walschap-Londerzeel or Seghers Literature Prize for Rupert. He has been nominated many times for the major literary awards, including for De vierkante man, the VSB Poetry Prize in 1999, and for both Het Baggerboek and La Superba he was shortlisted for the Gouden Uil (Golden Owl) and the AKO Literature Prize.

In 2014, he won the Libris Literature Prize with his novel La Superba (2013). Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer also received the Tzum prize for the most beautiful sentence in 2014 for the second time. The sentence also came from his novel La Superba


Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer (1968) writes poetry, novels, stories, columns, essays, criticism, plays and song lyrics. He made his debut as a poet in 1998 with the collection Van de vierkante man. He was thereupon nominated for the Paul Snoek Prize and the VSB Poetry Prize and won the C. Buddingh' Prize for the best poetry debut of the previous year. His second collection Het glimpen van de welkwiek (2001) was nominated for the J.C. Bloem Prize and for the Hugues C. Pernath Prize. Later Dolores (2002) and In de naam van de hond (2005) appeared. In 2008, his poems published up until that time were collected in De man van vele manieren. In 2015, for the occasion of the Dutch and Flemish poetry week, he is writing the Poëzieweekgeschenk (a newly composed cycle of love poems).

 

As a polemicist, Pfeijffer has a sharp pen and in 2000 unleashed a small riot with his plea against intelligible poetry. His provocative stance was: “Incomprehensible poetry is always better than easy poetry.” Some of his poetry reviews were collected in Het geheim van het vermoorde geneuzel (2003).

 

He writes poetry, novels, stories, columns, essays, criticism, plays and song lyrics. He made his debut as a poet in 1998 with the collection Van de vierkante man. He was thereupon nominated for the Paul Snoek Prize and the VSB Poetry Prize and won the C. Buddingh' Prize for the best poetry debut of the previous year.

 

As a born polemicist, already early on in his literary career, Pfeijffer was arousing considerable controversy. In the literary magazine Bzzllettin, his article “De mythe van de verstaanbaarheid” (2000) hit out fiercely against ‘intelligible poems’, poems intended and suitable to be performed on stage, but that don’t hold up on paper. He preferred “bold metaphors, innovative combinations of words, unusual words or disturbing syntax". With this argument, he antagonised a large part of the young generation of Dutch poets who, on the contrary, were very stage-oriented. In 2003, his poetry reviews written up until that time were collected in Het geheim van het vermoorde geneuzel.

 

His second collection, Het glimpen van de welkwiek (2001), also contained quite a lot of poetical statements about what poetry should, and especially should not, be: “no intelligible report submitted in simplicity”, “pimply provocation on a pop podium is not poetry.” He also fights against the language itself, as used in the anonymous commercial context of advertisements. He protests against hollow rhetoric and meaningless slogans. He contrasts this with the authenticity of the poetic use of language, which sings and enchants. With this collection, Pfeijffer was nominated for the J.C. Bloem Prize and for the Hugues C. Pernath Prize.

 

The central theme in the poetry collection Dolores (2002) and the novel Rupert (2003), which were presented as two parts (the first and last) of a ‘Steppoli tetralogy’, is love. No happy-go-lucky, carefree love, but poems about pain, despair and failure. The two books seem to herald a sea change in Pfeijffer’s attitudes. Whereas in his first collections, language seems to be all-powerful and has the potential to change the world, now the poems are grouped together under the heading of ‘elegies’. Lamentations that sing not only of the fate of unhappy love, but also of the inadequacy of the linguistic universe.

 

In 2005, the volume In de naam van de hond was published which, with the necessary swagger and self-deprecation was subtitled, “De grote gedichten”. In 2008, De man van vele manieren was published, a volume of his poems already published along with new poems. Notable in this anthology are the song lyrics that he wrote for the Dutch singer Ellen ten Damme. The songs are based on the love life of Ten Damme, but as to content are also in line with Pfeijffer’s love poems. In form, however, they differ greatly from those. Whereas his own poems are bursting with neologisms and rich, meandering turns of phrase, the use of language in the songs is much more direct. That difference, of course, is inherent in the medium, but in interviews, Pfeijffer indicated that he also wanted to use this to illustrate the wide register of the poet as a ‘language magician’.

 

Each year, during the last week of January, the Poetry Week is organised in Flanders and in the Netherlands. During that week, much attention is devoted to poetry in the media and numerous activities are organised by libraries and associations. On each occasion, one author is also asked to write a series of poems that are in line with the theme of the poetry week. Pfeijffer is writing the poetry week publication for 2015. What he is writing is a cycle of sonnets about love that will have the title Giro Giro Tondo.