Koenraad Kuiper was taught traditional grammar by Kendrick Smithyman, did not attend creative writing courses since these didn’t exist, has had significant support from Michael Harlow, Alistair Paterson and the muse, and writes other than poetry in his day job. (He is particularly pleased with some of his his memos during his memo writing period.) He is fond of Henry Fielding, William Carlos Williams, Ian Wedde, Boris Pasternak, Giuseppi Di Lampedusa, Thomas Wyatt and others.
Koenraad Kuiper’s poetry has been published in New Zealand, Canada and The Netherlands. In New Zealand his poems have appeared in Islands, Landfall, Poetry New Zealand, Sport and Takahe. He has published four books of poetry at ten-year intervals: Signs of Life, Mikrokosmos, Timepieces and Bounty. (Signs of Life sold originally for $3 and is now fetching $50 on the second hand market, in line with inflation.)
I think of my work as modernist but what do I mean by that? Looking at the Barcelona Pavilion, the following analogues are important to me. Foremost a respect for materials. You have to know what your materials do. You have to appreciate their history and the strengths of those materials. In poetry they are linguistic materials and you must respect every aspect of them. Particularly words. Words are not to be used lightly or ill-advisedly. I need to think of their history (they were here before me) and their chains of association to other images and the way these have been used in other work I know to ensure, in so far as I can, that as little as possible disturbs the use to which I put the word. Words have rhythms and sound patterns. Poems are inter-penetrations of rhythm, sound and image, as Paul Hoffman used to say. My poems must have sound patterns that are right for the imagery. The rhythms must be taut. The tension of the lines must not become the lesser tension of prose so that, if you iron out the lines into prose lines you can’t tell that they are not prose. If your words are to count, then you have to watch for clichés. They are easy to write. They make it easy to read but it is not the task of the poet to make reading a poem easy.
The Barcelona Pavilion has a wonderfully fulfilling balance. Its planes intersect at the right places. That is not done by engineering but by insight. A good poem also has a balance. The last line is where it aught to be. The Barcelona Pavilion is unostentatious. It does not try to be clever or draw attention to itself. It is a still presence. The Barcelona Pavilion has no extraneous ornamentation. It is neither Romantic or Classical. There are no Doric columns. In that way I write modernist poems. I write few poems. I am pleased when a poem appears and am not concerned when one does not appear. They are a privilege, not a right. I am a poor marketer.
In the baker’s dozen I have selected, some of the poems share themes of my immigrant past. Being an immigrant stays with you. Such experiences must be, as they say in Dutch, ‘verwerkt’. Verwerken has ‘work’ as its root. Verwerken is to assimilate, to cope with, to transform. The poems are in the order of their appearance either in print or not.
Cheques is how
they got Al Capone.
If he hadn't signed cheques
he'd've been OK.
It makes you wonder,
a guy like that
with a great big limo
and a dark coat,
a white hat
smoking a cigar
like the photo of Mussolini by the sea
who could walk in anywhere
and be respected
knock off guys who wouldn't play ball
like those who were peacefully having a shave
the razor not making the faintest nick
the cordite smell crisp
and the scent of sweet blood on the floor;
don't it make you wonder
he couldn't resist the temptation
to slide his fine fountain pen
out from his black coat
and with its gold plated nib sign
his gold plated
Every week day morning Henry Himmler
kissed his Frau und Kinder,
walked through his garden
and went to work
where the typewriters
cackled one to another.
A fat little peasant
who wore round glasses
and almost no chin,
kissed his wife and children
and went to work.
His secretary, Erika,
always had coffee,
and the shining heels of his officers thudded
while the typewriters chattered over
Henry’s plans for an orderly Reich.
He kissed his children
as he thought of cattle trucks.
He kissed his wife as he thought of mental defectives.
In the back of his Mercedes he thought about communists
and the typewriters chuckled over his solutions to problems.
But the final solution silenced the typewriters.
Though Henry Himmler didn’t like messes
and gave orders each day to his chiefs of the SS
which the typewriters copied in triplicate
they slowly seized up from droplets of blood.
Like every other Adam
he is finishing his apple
cutting the skin with his incisors
crushing it for juice with his molars.
His partner, Lucy,
slight, 20’s, stooping gait
is already trotting off digging for roots
finding nuts in the nut groves.
He is waiting now,
eyes scanning the horizon
for game. They are all
waiting for game.
The bones tell
she had arthritis
but, insofar as dead bones speak,
was otherwise fit.
We know nothing more of him
but that he ate this one apple
When the two ambulance men
he was lying on a small rock outcrop
They moved him carefully onto a stretcher,
strapped him in firmly
and brought him down to the road.
As the ambulance drove through the Cretan nightscape
Icarus gently breathed oxygen from his face mask.
The surgeon quickly noted the many fractures
the slivers of bone like icicles on the X-ray
and began the long repair.
The long bones were pinned with rods,
the joints wired,
plates placed and screwed round the larger fractures.
Under the harsh glare of the lamps
the anaesthetist tends the pale, godlike face.
Icarus breathes in unconsciousness.
He was allowed to return home,
so the legend tells,
to his people. They greeted him and said,
Sorry to hear about your accident.
He grew a black beard
and with his powerful shoulders
would push the wheelchair up to the highest point of the village,
hoist himself onto the stone wall
and stare for hours out over the storm-tossed wine-dark sea.
5 (for Riemke Ensing)
At the white funeral in Marken
your shoes are full of snow,
Peter van der Velden,
but you stay out
of the picture
(At home on the hearth
water is singing in the kettle.)
You left the anonymous villagers
to warm your feet.
In their black mourning.
they strain into the wind.
They carry the rectangular wooden box
to a dark hole sheathed in white
out of the picture
while you paint your bold name
under their grief.
How could you have left them there?
How could you have come here
and sat for hours
at the base of Otira,
One of the pilgrim mothers was lost overboard; that's what they call it,
'Lost over board'; when the ship was at anchor in Provincetown Harbour.
She looked out at the land and saw on the back of her eyes
that it was not good
for her pilgrim children who spoke quietly in Dutch about her, who prayed, 'mijn God’.
Without a sound she slipped over the side and into the dark water.
Other pilgrim mothers planted seeds in the soil until their hands
froze into the ground, and they died, bent over the unyielding earth.
When the moon is blue once
I go shopping;
saunter along streets
searching for sales
followed in my imagination
by the next bank statement.
I look in windows
just long enough
to long for something like
a Raymond Weil watch
made in Genève.
Only the case is really worth having.
Don’t buy one with a leather strap.
It’s like that with shopping.
The chip is made in a chip factory in maybe Japan.
Im blauen Mond September
still unter einem jungen Pflaumenbaum
da hielt ich sie, die stille bleiche Liebe.
shopping is like love really,
It’s when you take it home.
After our brief
led me through the mud
baked gates to where
a train of camels stood and chewed
imperiously eyeing clusters of
Fulani cattle bony from their long, dry wanderings
before the tall, dry herdsmen of the North.
The bronze rings twinkle in your ears
You scent the network of oases
ephemeral in an ether of sand and Marrakech beyond
the blue Atlas Mountains and the sea where we would
Mediterranean, soft wearer of the mind, etching
our journey, day after day
rocking in the saddle, until
all days are one day, the sea its end
and our so brief a sojourn in Tombouctou
On the old Vecht
pleasure boats pass one another.
On the bank
Elles Macpherson are standing
in the afternoon sun
on the gangplank
of a houseboat,
They are advertising:
bra, knickers, suspender belt and,
you know, the old style of stockings.
On the tow path
sit the buyers:
a black BMW,
a red Alfa.
Careful measurement would detect
the slight rocking of the boat.
10 (for Jandy)
I was driving the country lanes in the dark
(it being night).
A passenger said – “cat!”
so I slowed;
I even went round.
It watched me pass
and then launched itself
in a show of slow white wings.
What do you think?’
‘I think there are times
when one has to watch,
in the old world
(Here we have only carnations).
There is also the possibility
that inbreeding has done for cats
what it has done
for some other species,
created instabilities of various kinds.’
You are already,
with your hair in a bun
in the nape of your neck
maternal, bent slightly
waiting for the angel
you know will come
to the Italian door
decked with grapes.
Retired he will make wooden toys
while you bottle preserves and think
about the darkness in the garden
and of the one light-blue morning
you stood in a scallop shell
and were washed ashore.
I had a risk watch and time on the back of my left hand.
So I went to Mr Sinclair and he anaesthetized the tight skin,
neatly excised the little volcano and inserted six stitches
like a ladder while we spoke of other things.
So I have now become timeless (except for my risk watch).
To be timeless is to be like the Lord Buddha.
I think of making a stand for my spectacles with a face like Dr Goebbels
which would be in bad taste, or like Groucho Marx, which would not be.
I try to focus on what there is to do
which is always tomorrow so that the past remains
like an excised little volcano.
Tomorrow remains too but it is different.
It has nothing yet, which makes it attractive
when you have no time on the back of your left hand.
In my village the snow is everywhere. It muffles
the chiming of the clock on the stone tower in the square.
It lies with glistening crusts over the cobbles so that
the idiot who walks constantly talking to himself crackles.
In my village snowstorms have heaped the roads
with hillocks of pearls so that the horses are blanketed
in their paddock, and the carts are unmovable in the yard.
There is no way out.
In my village the old cat with his torn ear
sits waiting for the mice whom he hears under the hay in the barn
where the cows are smoking grass and the scent of their dung
is on offer to Van Cleef and Arpels.
The train tracks have been torn up
but you can follow the line into the invisible distance.