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A Tribute to Gerrit Komrij

by Martin Maassen in Films & Books , 22 september 2017

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar


The literary magazine “De Parelduiker” has dedicated a double issue to Dutch columnist, author and poet Gerrit Komrij (1944-2012). Gerrit Komrij may rightly be seen as a homo universalis. He was gifted in many forms of art. Most people know him as an anthologist, as a poet, a writer, or a columnist.

Komrij (right)The “Dikke Komrij” is a household name. He is, however, less well-known as a translator and a playwright. But was he a gay activist as well?

Very First National Poet

In 2000, the Dutch could choose their first national poet, the “Dichter des Vaderlands.” Poet Rutger Kopland received the most votes, but withdrew. The runner-up by only five votes, Komrij, however, did accept. Komrij became a passionate ambassador of poetry. He founded the Poëzieclub and the magazine “Awater,” a true pleasure for poetry lovers.

“Dressed in an ermine cloak, I organized poetry breakfasts in the presence of the queen during that period. We discussed the newly published collections, speaking in iambus and spondee. Afterwards, I went for a carriage ride throwing my latest poems as leaflets from the carriage. The people eagerly bent down to pick them up, and passed them on to each other. But not really!”

Komrij choosen as first National Poet

Komrij regularly made poems about current affairs. About the royal family (the death of Prince Claus, the birth of a princess, and the engagement of Willem-Alexander and Maxima), about the fireworks disaster in Enschede, but also about politics.

The poem “De zittende politicus” (The incumbent politician) written after the assassination of Pim Fortuyn, was the most controversial:

He has never danced. He knows his aim
Never on this vale clerk’s mouth
Did just a smile appear, but that night,
After the jester killed the fool,
Glowing with pleasure, he crawled out of bed,
And without being seen, made a pirouette.
Thank you, he shouted, the monster has fallen
He practised the word ‘shocked’ for the morrow
And slept the sleep of twenty oxen.
Later, in front of the camera, appalled
Of course, against violence he is.
And again his corny song is heard.
He walks the street, unbearably righteous,
And still does not the real monster see.


In most of his poems, Komrij switched between keeping his distance and making overtures. “I think the fatherland gets the poet it deserves, but the poet doesn’t get the homeland he deserves.”
Anthologist

“De Parelduiker” also pays much attention to Komrij’s other qualities, for example as an anthologist: “It is in my nature to create books from books.” Gerrit Komrij made his début as an anthologist choosing from Multatuli’s “Ideeën” (Ideas). According to poetry reviewer Ad Zuiderent, the anthology is considered a statement. “Komrij emphasizes that, as a controversialist and a critic (...), he is indebted to the nineteenth century author Multatuli.” Multatuli denounced the atrocities of colonialism in his time. Critical acclaim as an anthologist came with the “Dikke Komrij,” a household name in the world of poetry.

His anthologies are large ones, consisting of pages and poems from the seventeenth and eighteenth century, or the nineteenth and twentieth century, and carry titles as “De Nederlandse poëzie van de 17de en 18de eeuw in 1000 en enige gedichten” (The Dutch poetry from the 17th and 18th century in 1000 and some poems). “Thousands of books should produce another book (...). I do not know if human reproduction is a wise thing, but the reproduction of books certainly is a wonderful idea. I just saw three carts with books wheeled back to the repository. These old books will go back to sleep, after helping in the creation of a new book.”

Gay activist?

Komrij in Amsterdam (ca 1980)Gay studies professor Gert Hekma muses about whether or not Komrij was a gay activist. He recalls his first meeting with the author in the summer of 1978: “I remember his residence on the Jacob van Lennepkade and his huge library with a lot of ‘gay’ books. Young and ignorant, I asked him if he had read all those books, to which he replied that the milkman had asked him the same thing.” Hekma sees Komrij as a “one man movement” and not as an activist. Komrij saw homosexuality as a matter of history, literature and language. “I just think of everything I like as homosexual and everything I dislike as heterosexual.”

Komrij was opposed to the effeminate gay, for instance drag queens, and popular celebrity gays, such as Gordon and Gerard Joling: “I do not like effeminate men, I like men who are men. Most of these queens have an extremely anti-erotic effect on me.” He was also opposed to the yearly Gay Parade, and lamented “The disturbing absence of any fragile element, of any element of disobedience.” Komrij found it increasingly difficult to identify with other gay men. More and more, gay men were taking on the role of “police officers dictating what is and what is not correct.”

His encounter with the popular comic duo Gordon and Gerard Joling was hilarious. They were all guests in the RTL talk show “Barend en Van Dorp” on March 9, 2006. Joling and Gordon showed interest, but Komrij did not. Joling asked if Komrij had any idea who they were, to which Komrij responded: “Uhm, yes, something queer, I suppose.” Komrij was “astounded that the gay movement in the Netherlands had been able to make homosexuality so popular.” Gert Hekma concludes that for Komrij the acceptance of homosexuality went deeper than Gay Pride, and dancing on the canal one day a year. But it remains a mystery to Hekma what form Komrij’s acceptance would have taken.

Gerrit Komrij went head-on against the grain. “De Parelduiker” paints a picture of Komrij’s active life. The explorers of the world of Gerrit Komrij and other lovers of culture should embrace this tribute.



 “De Parelduiker” on Gerrit Komrij is available in book stores or can be ordered via www.parelduiker.nl.

“Het fabeldier dat Komrij heet” (Biographical Picture Book 51) by Onno Blom was released by Bezige Bij publishers and is a beautiful photo biography of the life of Gerrit Komrij (up to 2004) and his life partner Charles Hofman.

There is also the Komrijk, the world of Gerrit Komrij: http://komrijk.org/ Here, Charles Hofman keeps the work and legacy of Gerrit Komrij alive.



 







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