In his poem ‘Veurbie laans Raitdaip’ (Passing Each Other Along the Reitdiep) Jan Glas describes a cycle path that is so narrow that one has to avoid oncoming cyclists. ‘Hail kort krigt ien dizze engte t bestoan / van n vremde n rol ien joen leven’ (For a very short moment in this narrow place /the existence of a stranger plays a role in your life). This combination of the fleeting and the inevitable seems to work as a leitmotif in Glas’s poetry.
Jan Glas, born in Uithuizen in 1958, is a photographer, writer, singer, artist and poet. His first books – recently collected in Dubbel Glas (Double Glazing) – were all written in the Groningen dialect. In Autumn 2012 he published his first book in standard Dutch, Als was zij mijn vrouw (As If She Were My Wife).
Glas's poetry is that of an observant outsider. Genuine contact is difficult and occurs seldom. In the poem just mentioned, 'Veurbie laans Raitdaip', he writes:
A greeting is on the tip of the tongue, but timidity
of the situation. For a moment speed is reduced
and then again we go our separate ways.
Glas's poems often occur in an outdoors context. Nature is a palpable presence. It is a constant source of wonder, but also an unrelenting power that imposes its rhythm on everything. Against this awesome and panoramic background humans seem small and their activities soon turn out to be a muddle without any logic. Glas describes this failure with compassion but also with a mild but sardonic humour. Human beings have little control over their lives; they exist in constant uncertainty, while making the best of things. Of all strategies, the best is possibly to stay relaxed and to obey your natural impulses:
and she told us that at the end believers
are often more frightened than those without any religion
It is a very upsetting thing to witness.
You try and calm them down.
but they will not be calmed down.
Glas proposes love, and especially the gruff awkward love of men for men, as a counterweight to the irrationality of nature. That the course of love also doesn't run smoothly should come as no surprise. Glas is a poet who seems to cherish everything that is awkward. Intimacy is difficult if not the exception. One good-looking man looks on submissively, remaining unbearably passive; another, a baker, gets cancer of the knee before his friend has had time to confess his love. What Glas is concerned with is drudgery and vain effort and the near certainty that it probably won't happen or work out.