Peer Wittenbols made his debut as a poet in 2000 with the collection Slaapschuld (Sleep Guilt) after having been active for half a dozen years as a dramatist and having gained fame with such plays as Doodrijp (Dead-ripe), Zog (Mother’s Milk), Noordeloos (Northless) and De erfdragers (The Lot-bearers).
In Slaapschuld, as in Wittenbols’s second collection of poems Kop van het hoofd. Een Brabants continuüm (Top of the Head. A Brabant Continuum, 2004), the boundary between poetry and drama is often crossed. The poems occasionally have the quality of short scenes, are interspersed with stage-direction-like pieces of text – in some poems there is even dialogue.
Wittenbols goes in for short snappy sentences, staccato and full of elisions. He pays scant respect to traditional verse forms. Here and there, he would seem to have been inspired by the later ‘organic-expressionistic’ Van Ostaijen: some poems have something of the nursery rhyme about them and are close to sound poetry, with many repetitions, rhyme and a strong rhythm. The poem ‘Cancan’ from Kop van het hoofd is an obvious example of this. The influence of Hugo Claus is also sometimes noticeable in the candid vocabulary that links higher and lower spheres to each other. Despite the short sentences, frugal is the last word that could be applied to this poet. Characteristic of Wittenbols’s approach is the mixing of various voices – which is also something that is reminiscent of the theatre. The collection Slaapschuld consists of a stream of memories, associations, ditties and quotations, placed in the mouth of a narrator and a dying woman.
Wittenbols’s plays have gained the following awards: the Taalunie Toneelschrijfprijs, the Albert van Dalsum aanmoedigingsprijs and the Van der Vies prijs. His debut collection Slaapschuld was nominated for the C. Buddingh’ Prize for new Dutch poetry.