“Miracles hang slack with laughter off the table, not even properly unfolded.” (‘Meaning’ from Spamfighter, 2007)
Ever since her very first poetry collection, Het veerde (It Rebounded; 1991), Anne Vegter’s style has been characterised as ‘springy’. This was not her first book – it was preceded by the children’s books De dame en de neushoorn (The Lady and the Rhinoceros; 1989) and Verse bekken (Fresh Mouths; 1990), which were also written in a noticeably free and lively style. Anne Vegter writes whimsical poetry that has often been called surrealistic and dreamlike, disturbing and puzzling in equal measure. All of these qualifications are made in a positive sense, however. Some critics find the mystery and unpredictability of Vegter’s poetry too much, but most praise the sense of adventure and surprise that accompany it.
What people rarely comment on is that the way Anne Vegter formulates and structures her poetry (and her theatre work and children’s books) reveals habitual ways of thinking, i.e. the way we think while we’re busy doing everyday things, like doing the dishes, shopping for groceries, working out at the gym, travelling or having dinner. These casual acts of thought are not expressed literally, because Vegter is a poet and knows exactly how to stylize her sentences and add dramatic accents. However elaborate and laden the sentences might be, the incongruous thoughts always remain recognisable.
Not only is this ‘thinking aloud’ quirky and playful, but in almost all of her poems it leads to concise statements about life. These statements show the impossibility of making definite remarks about the important facts of life, because understanding these facts is beyond us: how should I live, how do I react to others, where will I find love, what hurts us and gives us pleasure, am I alone or not?
“I was really thinking of four situations, preferably painful ones of course
or local discomforts as well as: how she did that.”
(Translated by the poet in ‘Local discomforts’, from Aandelen en obligaties, 2002)
“Just beyond the fence we kept a sharp eye on each other
but everyone was silent, as the dead often are.”
(‘Moratorium’ from Spamfighter, 2007)
“If the coordinates at which you find yourself are mutable,
try to travel less capriciously.”
(‘Alternating Positions’ from Spamfighter, 2007)
These are all aspects of the question of how we can live in the face of certain unresolved questions, as Ilja Pfijfer wrote in response to Vegter’s collection Spamfighter. Whatever a poet does with these questions, few will have the courage to write about them so plainly and directly. Many of these questions are painful, incomprehensible, but they demand to be contested (and sometimes to be cherished), and Anne Vegter makes this unequivocally clear. She shows herself to be a courageous and vulnerable poet: courageous because she chooses to write poems that are not merely neat, tidy and decorative, and vulnerable because the directness of her language can be dismissed as banal. Everything she writes can be viewed as a confessional statement from Anne Vegter the person, rather than as words and sentences chosen by Anne Vegter the poet.
When Anne Vegter ends her poem ‘Meten & wegen’ (Measuring & weighing; from her most recent collection Eiland berg gletsjer) with the sentence “Readers are looking for someone in whom they can rest”, she shows that she is aware of these two roles, and of how readers of poetry might react to this double position. With her (or Anne Vegter) readers are probably always looking in the wrong place, wrote Piet Gerbrandy in response to that sentence, because Anne Vegter (or she) is a poet who prefers to rudely awaken the reader than to encourage rest. However true that may be, everything evoked by shaking the reader holds true, and though it doesn’t help the reader to find rest, it gives us a poetic truth on the basis of which we can move forward every day anew. "Yesterday someone said it fits or whistles forward," wrote Anne Vegter in the same poem. And that’s exactly how it is.