Geert Buelens

Belgium

Geert Buelens (BE, 1971)  studied English and Dutch in Brussels and Antwerp, received his PhD in Dutch Literature in 2000 from Antwerp University and became full professor in Utrecht in 2005. He published three volume of poetry: 'Het is' [It is] (2002), awarded the Lucy C. & W. van der Hoogt Prize and shortlisted for the C. Buddingh' Prize; 'Verzeker U' (Be Insured] (2005), shortlisted for the H.C. Pernath Prize; and 'Thuis' [Home] (2014), shortlisted for the Herman de Coninck Prize. He has performed on international poetry festivals in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Berlin, Cambridge, Deventer and Groningen. He translated poetry of Walt Whitman and Peter Gizzi and published essays on Emily Dickinson, American LANGUAGE-poetry, Pierre Joris and the relationship between songwriting and modern poetry. His book on European First World War Poetry 'Europa Europa!' was published in German by Suhrkamp and will be published in English by Verso, Fall 2015. He lives in Utrecht.


Geert Buelens (1971) is a Flemish poet, opinion leader and professor of Dutch literature. He studied Dutch and English in Brussels and Antwerp, and obtained his doctorate in 2000 with a thesis entitled Van Ostaijen tot heden. Zijn invloed op de Vlaamse poëzie (From Ostaijen till today. His influence on Flemish poetry) about the literary legacy of the important Flemish modernist poet Paul van Ostaijen. That book earned him the Flemish Culture Prize for essays and the Province of Antwerp Prize for essays. He was editor of the magazine Yang and writes columns and opinion pieces for various Belgian newspapers (De Morgen, De Standaard, Le Soir) and Dutch newspapers (NRC and de Volkskrant). After obtaining his doctorate, Buelens worked as a lecturer at the University of Antwerp until he became a professor of modern Dutch literature at the University of Utrecht in 2005. In his academic research, he focuses mainly on the interaction between literature and society – a theme which is also important in his poetry. Since 2012, Buelens has been a member of the Royal Academy of Dutch Language and Literature. He is also a visiting professor at Stellenbosch.

As a poet, Buelens made his debut in 2002 with Het is (It is), a collection which was nominated for the foremost debut prize in the Netherlands, the C. Buddingh’ Prize, and was awarded the Lucy B. and C.W. van der Hoogt Prize. This was followed in 2005 by Verzeker u (Ensure yourself). In 2008, three books of his were published: Oneigenlijk gebruik (Improper use), a compilation of essays on poetry, the anthology of First World War poetry Het lijf in slijk geplant (The body planted in mud) and the paper Europa Europa! (Europe, Europe!), a cultural history of poets in the First World War. That book earned Buelens the ABN AMRO Bank Prize. For a series of articles about the state of the media, he was awarded the Ark Prize of the Free Word in 2010. In 2014, he published his third collection, Thuis (At home), which was nominated for the Herman de Coninck Prize.

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Geert Buelens (1971) is a Flemish poet, opinion leader and professor of Dutch literature at the University of Utrecht. He is known to a wider audience for his sharp media criticism and in the literary sphere, he made his name with his studies on Paul van Ostaijen and on the European poetry of the First World War. As a poet, he is less well known, but he is highly valued. He has won major awards and is published in the most prestigious journals.

Buelens’ poetry – certainly in his first two collections, Het is (It is) (2002) and Verzeker u (Ensure yourself) (2008) – is quite difficult. The collections are clearly inspired by post-structuralism, but at the same time the poet guards himself against falling into intellectualism or academicism. He advocates a poetry of our time which, on the technical plane, makes use of all the achievements of the poetic tradition and which, in terms of its content, is socially critical. In the poem which, as a hyper-aware language construct draws attention to the language itself, rhetoric and ideology are examined and dominant discourses are critically scrutinised. This is done by incorporating everyday language into the poem and allowing it to collide with the language of contemporary poetry, philosophy and politics. That turns the poetry of Buelens into an ambitious project. He wants to hold colloquial language under the magnifying glass and make readers aware of its manipulative power. This makes him one of the most important poets of the so-called post-postmodern generation in Flanders.

In Het is, a fundamental openness is pursued. What it is, is ostentatiously left open and is filled in within the collection in different, very diverse ways. Now it might be this and then again that, or to use a quote: ‘Het is / omdat / daarom / daarom’ (‘It is / because / that’s why / that’s why’) – it is always still possible to add a reservation or a reason to it. Of course, that illustrates the philosophical idea that nothing can be captured because of the fundamental instability of reality. The collection continuously attempts to determine what ‘is’ (that is to say: what is real, what is true), but never arrives at a conclusive definition. That open spot which it is impossible to fill in is not perceived as a loss but rather as a gain, as an opportunity for poetry. Every thought experiment is in fact possible in language, ‘Enkel het ondenkbare is / ondenkbaar’ (‘Only the unthinkable is / unthinkable’) is what it’s called in Boodschap (Message) and the opening poem in Verzeker u concludes as follows: ‘Alsof je straffeloos elk fundament in vraag kan stellen / Alsof een kruisboog wordt opgehangen / aan een kruis // Ja, dat kan’ (‘As if you could question every fundamental idea with impunity / As if a crossbow were strung up / from a cross // Yes, that’s possible’). In both of the collections, one of the main motifs is the relationship between body and spirit.

With his third collection, Thuis, Buelens partly changes tack. The poems become more directly accessible, the more so because they deal with and deconstruct a universal theme: the concept / the feeling of being ‘at home’ - the issue of refugees, the issue of homelessness, life in the big city, but also the craving for stability. Alongside that, the collection puts forward a sharp critique of the financial crisis.

Buelens writes a sonorous poetry that often has the effect of an incantation. He uses everyday language – fragments from certain discourses, truisms, ingrained formulas and platitudes – and organises these into poems using the typical treatment of language in poetry, whereby rhyme, rhythm, sound and a host of stylistic resources are put to use. That yields clever, at times funny and critical poetry.