Thursday, April 5, 2012
A Jan de Roek Poem
In Hoc Signo
In this world of listed buildings
of comics, singers, couturiers, travel agencies and novelists
not of poets, in this world, this laundry
of civil servants, in this world of meetings,
of meetings with the same, the eternal speakers and writers
in this silk-lined time of minks and furs, in this dolled-up
cautious time, this paper time of paper
people, this time of insurances and shrieking popes
in this dulling time, not of poets,
of copywriters, of journalists and advertising
tonight, as a poet, I lend this occasional poem – as you will see.
In this time of rubber stamps and counters, of forms,
not of hands, in this disinfected, prefabricated
time, I read you these, my credentials.
In this time of plush, this sticky time
in this faltering time. In this ritual time
of capital letters. In this raging time.
In this time when only brothels flourish.
In this time of wigs and whining
I stand with you defending myself.
I want them to listen. I want to speak to someone
in this soundproof time, in this grave,
polite, impersonal time. In this world suffering
from chronic prosperity, this contagious world of prestige
and ambition. In this world of photocopies,
of enlargements, in these lowlands where homage
is grown in rows, where they like to hold commemorations.
In this quenching land, in this land of bend or break
this grinding land, in this land of nail-biters
where the priests are surly judges. In this humanist
land from before the Renaissance. In these late middle ages.
In this time of euphemisms, in this, the time
of subjunctive moods, in this belle époque
in this fin-de-siècle, in this time garnished with whipped cream
and with mayonnaise, this time of ice-cream parlours
and afternoon concerts, I am attempting to write a poem
with words that are familiar to me. In this land of
thirteen thousand nine hundred and seventy-three parishes
where the church catches the rats with jukeboxes.
In this land of giving and taking and of grabbing
of grabbing. In the midst of this pastoral people,
in the midst of the sheep, in this, the applauding time.
In this time of open doors, in which the generals
undress in public. In this hygienic time.
In this time of nude culture. With a minister of scouting.
In this time of nickel, in this chrome-plated, silver-plated,
gold-plated time of sports trophies and medals.
In this time of immortals. In this time of mediation
and of house calls. In this time they still speak Dutch,
even the animals speak Dutch,
but there are no poets left.
In this, the parboiled, plodding, passive time.
In this time of indirect speeches, in this, the timid time,
this time of excuses, this time of lack of time for
lack of time. In this posing, plumaged time. In the sleeping cars
of this, the yawning age, the yawning age
I am trying to speak.
See how we are snowed under with rubbish,
with avalanches of newspapers. The drool of news reports
sticking to our faces. We know our beauty queens.
Sometimes we wake up in the middle of a film.
Sometimes we say I’ve read that before: an eye for an eye
and a tooth for a tooth then back to sleep. In this, the obscene time,
in this, the neutral time. In this time,
in which the poets no longer swear.
In this, the bitter time.
Here, nothing is lost. Here everything is useful,
to somebody or other. In this, the competitive time,
this time of for or against. In this world of storeys
and towers, in this, the steep world, on each
floor the world becomes smaller for these, the surviving Babylonians
(Nieuwenhuys, you should know) and the fear grows
amongst the Quakers. In this world of enclosures
a poet knows only shame.
And he is equally ashamed of the Vienna Boys’ Choir
and the inevitable ice show.
In this, the idyllic time, in this time of pastorals
and ballads. He is ill at ease in the saunas of politics,
in the ready-to-wear off-the-peg behind the scenes in the parties’ compartments
in the foaming future. In this time of imitation,
of curves and axes, of averages. In this literal
time, in this close-cropped time, in this time of tinned food,
in this sterilised time, this museum time,
in this shadow of old masters, beside the gloss
of the oils a poet can no longer speak.
Here everything is diluted, adulterated, cut and
shut away in the remote refinery of authority.
Here, in this deep-frozen time, every breath is broken off,
frozen to death. Here, only the barracks stand open.
In this, the world of glasshouses, only the shares
and forget-me-nots flourish, not the poems,
and a poem is every necessary word that needs to be said
in this, the grim time.
For believe me, poetry serves not for trade
but for discussion, in this, the one-sided,
the superstitious time. And it is no revolutionary
floor show, either, no international rock or beat, but
it holds the attention in this, the time of headlong
and hurrah and hosanna. In this, the time of Geiger counters
and the atom. In this time of false teeth and teeth whiter
than white. In this time of make-up, this time of
radar screens, documents and archives. In this time
where stop is a swearword. Defenceless, the poet looks on
with a lump in his throat. In this time of
polyester, in this, the plastics time and sings out of tune.
And still living and pressing patience on the lotteries. In this, the thrilling
time. In this, the paper time. This written time,
this sung time. From behind their armoured glass
the showrooms of politics still beckon
to the rat-catchers and believers. The poet, he looks on
he watches it with his underground friends
if needs be he can undermine it.
13 February 1970
Tr. Rosland Buck, 2012