‘I was born in Belgium, I’m Belgian. / But Belgium was never born in me.’ So writes Leonard Nolens in ‘Place and Date’, which captures a mood of political and social disillusionment amid a generation of Dutch-speaking Belgians. And throughout this selection we encounter a poet engaged with the question of national identity.
Frequently the poet moves into that risky terrain, the firstperson plural, in which he speaks as and for a generation of Flemings, embodying an attitude towards artistic and political commitment that he considers its defining mark. ‘We curled up dejectedly in the spare wheel of May sixtyeight’, he writes in the selection’s central sequence ‘Breach’.
Nolens’ poetry is haunted by giants of twentieth-century European lyricism, by Rilke, Valéry, Neruda, Mandelstam and Celan, with whom he has arguably more affinity than with much poetry from the Dutch-language canon.