If there’s one word that defines the poetry and prose of Vrouwkje Tuinman, it is clarity. She describes the sensations and emotions of a woman in a sober and compact way, without exaggerated gestures. The lives of her protagonists are ordinary and introverted, whether they are shy girls that feel detached from the world, like the narrator of her debut Vitrine (Showcase, 2004) or that clean up the house of someone who has passed away, like the protagonist in Wat ik met de sleutel moet (What I have to do with the key, 2011). There is a similar undertone throughout.
It is remarkable how her inquisitive gaze is accompanied by a personal modesty: she prefers seeing over being seen. Tuinman even writes about the contrast between the drive for control and the desire for intimacy. The first line of her debut collection is: ‘In Brussels you show me your cunt’; this might sound harsh and imperious, but one who reads the rest of her work understands that it is a forced breakthrough to get the speaker to talking.
Her poems are the report of someone who experiences daily life as a funny but primarily amazing mystery: ‘There has to be a country where you’re not required / to sit around in circles holding plates of whipped cream’. It’s not just her feelings that color the events but her way of using language. A light irony, interspersed with hesitant ellipses, gives Tuinman’s poems a sensitive and yearning tone. On the one hand she tries to delineate her territory; on the other hand she attempts to break through it. This makes her poetry a journey through everyday life but also a psychological quest of someone who constantly tries to bring herself into focus.
Vrouwkje Tuinman was born in 1974 and has studied literature and musicology. She was awarded the C.C.S. Crone Prize (a biennial prize for writers living in the province of Utrecht) and the Halewijn Prize (awarded by the city Roermond). She also works as a freelance journalist.
Sanatorium. Cossee, Amsterdam, 2014
Wat ik met de sleutel moet. Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Amsterdam, 2011
Intensive care. Poems and photography. With Andrea Stultiens. WBOOKS, Amsterdam, 2010
Receptie. Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Amsterdam, 2007
Vitrine. Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Amsterdam, 2004
De Rouwclub. Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Amsterdam, 2013
Buurvrouw. Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Amsterdam, 2008
Grote acht. Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Amsterdam, 2005
Tuinman’s website, including videos and three poems from Intensive Care translated into English by Astrid van Baalen