With her 2006 debut, Er hangt een hoge lucht boven ons (There is a tall sky above us), Els Moors, the first young Flemish poet for a long time, received a warm welcome from both Flemish and Dutch critics. The book was nominated for the C. Buddingh’-prize and was awarded the Herman de Coninck prize for best first poetry collection, with the jury describing the volume as ‘a debut of one’s dreams’.
In the poems of There is a tall sky above us, a rather peculiar ‘I’ communicates ongoing amazement about a rather peculiar world. Men are important within this world, men who are constantly coming and going. In ‘the white shagging rabbits’, the cycle at the heart of the volume, Moors convincingly shows that the sexual urge is omnipresent and all-consuming, revealing man’s inner beast. As a result, some might say the collection harbours a good dose of Sex and the City within its pages, but this comparison is inaccurate. Moors’ humour is actually quite bitter and there are no witty one-liners. More often than not, humour stems from the absurd nature of the situation or the disruptive gaze of the observer; small, everyday scenes are taken apart by the eye and screwed back together again. There is a constant menace at work, and so the simple act of cutting a cake at a garden party can seem as violent as the shower scene in Psycho.
In ‘the water floating by is the water’ loneliness and paranoia rule. The narrator can only look at the – perhaps deceptive – beauty of the façades that float past her. She cannot go behind the house fronts that will both reflect her voice and hide the people nearby her, the people that appear to have conspired to make her lose her sense of direction. In the final poem the protagonist does attain a certain sense of domesticity and happiness. Her homecoming is something of a relief. Yet while the inevitability of the other is confirmed in the final verses, it seems at the same time part of the course that this other will disappear.
These somewhat sadomasochistic poems in a way resemble Expressionist paintings. While they sometimes look quite jumpy, Moors’ work shows evidence of a strong sense of composition, both in content and in form. Note, for example, the continual play between vitality and stasis, horizontality and verticality. The latter is already expressed in the title of the book, in which a ‘tall sky’ – might we interpret this as a deep blue sky, or the column of smoke in the Book of Exodus, or a whirlwind? – hangs threateningly above us. Undoubtedly this strong compositional aspect and the equally strong, provocative nature of her work are partly why these poems have already been deemed classics of the twenty-first century and Els Moors one of the rising stars of Flemish poetry.
In 2008 Els Moors made her debut as a prose writer with Het verlangen naar een eiland (Longing For An Island), a novel about love, sex and the yearning for the other.
Er hangt een hoge lucht boven ons (There is a tall sky above us), Nieuw Amsterdam, Amsterdam, 2006
Het verlangen naar een eiland (Longing For An Island), Nieuw Amsterdam, Amsterdam, 2008
C. Buddingh’-prize (nomination, 2007)
Herman de Coninck prize (2007)
An interview with Els Moors
Actor Matthias Schoenaerst reading Els Moors' poetry
Nieuw Amsterdam, the publisher of Els Moors