Carmien Michels

Belgium

Carmien Michels (Belgium, 1990) is always on the go. Between trains and travels, she resides in Antwerp. She holds a Master’s degree in Drama (Media, Writing and Performance Art) and a Postgraduate qualification in Drama Teaching and Multilingualism from the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp. Her first novel, We zijn water (We are water, 2013) was shortlisted for several Debut Prizes. Her second novel Vraag het aan de bliksem (Lightning Never Lies) followed in 2015. Dancing between the urban and the classic, her passion for rhythm and poetry came to a boiling point on the spoken word scene. In 2016, she won both the Dutch and the European Championship Poetry Slam and came in third at the World Cup in Paris. Collaborating with various artists, she has been touring around ever since. In 2017-2019, she was selected for the European programme Connecting Emerging Literary Artists. Fragments of her novels, short stories and poems from her poetry debut We komen van ver (Where We Came From, 2017) have been published in eight languages. In 2019-2020, she is one of the literary ambassadors of the five-month long Europalia Romania Festival, bridging Belgian and Romanian culture. In faraway lands she practises new languages, yoga and martial arts, whilst writing new prose and poetry.


Carmien Michels (Leuven, 1990) studied Drama (Media, Writing and Performance Art) at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp. During her studies she already won numerous prizes. At the end of her bachelor’s studies, she won the Dutch NTR Radio Prize (2011) for her intimate radio documentary Een stofje in de eeuwigheid (A Speck of Dust in Eternity). In 2013, De Bezige Bij published the young writer’s master’s thesis and a year later, this debut novel We zijn water (We Are Water) made the shortlists for De Bronzen Uil (2014) and the Vlaamse Debuutprijs (2014). After her studies, Michels attended the Master in Drama Education at the same conservatory – where she teaches herself nowadays – and in 2014, she began researching Multilingualism, Storytelling and Language stimulation in young children. She used the findings of that research in her lessons at several postgraduate courses and in her practices with foreign newcomers and children with difficult backgrounds.

In the meantime, Polis Books published her second novel Vraag het aan de Bliksem (Lightning Never Lies, 2015) and her poetry debut We komen van ver (Where We Came From, 2017). Michels’ work is praised by critics for its versatility: her prose and poetry are described as witty and urgent, cinematic and subtle, tender and alienating at the same time.

 

In addition to paper, Carmien Michels also presents her words on stage in a surprising way. In the community of Mama’s Open Mic, an organisation that offers open stages for young people and adults, her love for rhythm, spoken word and slam poetry developed. In 2016, she won both the Dutch and European Championship Poetry Slam and came in third at the World Cup in Paris. These international triumphs ensured that she appeared on stage worldwide and that a number of translations of her work already appeared abroad.


In between travelling with solo performances, Michels regularly collaborated with other artists and with cultural institutions of all sorts. Among other things, she wrote audio stories for the Rubens House and in 2016-2017 she was the resident storyteller of M Museum Leuven. During this period, she was also selected for The Leuven Hundreds, which highlights 100 professionals and institutions that contribute towards making the city what it is today.

In Antwerp, where Michels resides, the non-profit organisation ARType was set up in collaboration with fellow poet and performer Max Greyson, a platform to support spoken word and its fusion with other disciplines. In 2016, they went on tour with their first music theatre production BARTóK, followed by Voyeurs in BXL (Voyeurs in Brussels, 2019). 

 

International literary projects such as Citybooks (2016) and the UK Collaborative Translation Project (2017) encouraged the young artist to focus on her own authorship through international connections. From 2017 to 2019 she was selected as one of the upcoming Belgian writers for the European programme CELA (Connecting Emerging Literary Artists). In 2019-2020 she is one of the literary ambassadors for the five-month long Europalia Romania Festival, bridging Belgian and Romanian culture. Meanwhile, she engages herself in strengthening local communities, by being a board member of the Flemish Author’s Assocation (VAV) and such.

 

In the Dutch newspaper Het Parool, reviewer Mertens describes the poetry collection Where We Came From (2017) as ‘a multi-faceted debut with anecdotal poems with which Michels achieved success on stage’ (Mertens, 2018). The poems often bear traces of the oral situation they were written for in the first place, but her writing is equally strong on paper. The collection consists of ten series of poems that are carefully assembled and contain a great diversity of subjects, such as friendship, (failed) love, journeys, but also current events. However, the poems share a longing to look back at where things start – the opening series reflects on birth as the beginning – and at how they develop, mostly in a rather devastating way. In the series ‘Vacuümbaby’ (‘Vacuum baby’), the ‘I-figure places its own genesis in an unusual perspective’ by reversing the ‘mother-child relationship’ (De Maesschalck, 2018). Poet and reviewer Maria Barnas writes: ‘Michels always sees herself as part of a larger whole’ (Barnas, 2018). Michels' verses show a political and social engagement that is more often than not ‘right in your face’, although there is also plenty of room for personal and loving irony, doubt and self-criticism. Poems on the migrant crisis and (neo)colonialism are combined with harsh love poems inspired by Pablo Neruda: this debut shows all the skills needed for a promising poetic career. Or, as the internationally acclaimed Flemish writer and poet Stefan Hertmans puts it: ‘Michels is a female Johnny Cash, powerful, deeply personal and with a political commitment that you don’t hear often.’

 

 

SOURCES:

Mertens, D. (10 February 2018). Gevoel voor ritme, timing en drama (A feel for rhythm, timing and drama). Het Parool.

 

De Maesschalck, Y. (January 2018). “Het klopt niet de Middellandse zee als massagraf” (“It isn’t true the Mediterranean as mass grave”). Poëziekrant, 34–35.

 

Barnas, M. (3 February 2018). Dichter Carmien Michels observeert scherp en schept een duistere, vaak gefragmenteerde wereld (Poet Carmien Michels observes sharply and creates a dark, often fragmented world). De Volkskrant.