The son of a rural hospital chaplain, Tonnus Oosterhoff studied at the University of Groningen. Recognized as a leading contemporary poet in the Netherlands, Oosterhoff lives in the remote northern flatlands where he writes with a view of ‘a dyke (7 cm), sky (155 cm)’.
Working from diverse sources – local anecdotes, newspaper articles, canonical poems – Oosterhoff’s innovative poetry is noted for its complex shifts in discursive register and for its exploration of mutability. Animal existence, from the life cycle of drosophila to the journey of Laika, the Soviet space dog, may be as important a poetic subject as human language and social life; the approach is earthy, tender, intelligibly hands-on.
In the early poems – awarded the C. Buddingh’ prize for outstanding debut collection in 1990 – the writing self may be given to urbane reflection. ‘It is a pleasure / to be Tonnus Oosterhoff. / “I wouldn’t mind being him either”’. More recently, the writing self evidences the body, where physically experienced aporia, ‘recently fell (I) fell/ a worn board gave way/ (I) landed well but wrongly/ rightly so,’ renders subjectivity closer to the bone, even as it is being destabilised.
A pioneer in digital poetry, Oosterhoff also has a body of onscreen poems called ‘bewegende gedichten’. These montage poems, worked directly into flash software, visualise the hesitant rhythms of spoken language or take recorded sources – birdsong, archival film footage, the haywire imprint of handwriting – as a ground layer for its poetics. Radically experimental, the poems are composed as discrete objects for reading; Oosterhoff launched his own website in 2001 to release this work.
His collected poems Hier drijft weg (Here drifts away), with the digital poems inserted into the book, was published in 2012, the year Oosterhoff was distinguished with the P.C. Hooft Prize, the major award for literature in the Netherlands.
Hier drijft weg: verzamelde gedichten (Here drifts away: collected poems), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 2012
Leegte lacht (Emptiness laughs), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 2011
Handschreeuwkoor (Hand scream choir), Druksel, Ghent 2008
Ware grootte (Full size), De bezige Bij, Amsterdam 2008
Hersenmutor. Gedichten 1990-2005 (Brain mutor. Poems 1990-2005), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2005
Wij zagen ons in een kleine groep mensen veranderen (We saw ourselves turning into a small group of people), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2002
(Robuuste tongwerken,) een stralend plenum ([Robust tongue works,] a shining plenum), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 1997
De ingeland (The landholder), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 1993
Boerentijger (Farm tiger), De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 1990
Dans zonder vloer (Dance without a floor), collection of stories, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 2003.
Ook de schapen dachten na (Also the sheep were reflecting), collection of essays on poetry and other subjects, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 2000.
Kan niet vernietigd worden (Cannot be destroyed), collection of stories, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 1996.
Het dikke hart (The thick heart), novel, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 1994.
Vogelzaken (Bird business), collection of stories, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 1991.
Prose and poetry by Oosterhoff has been translated and published in German, English, French, Russian, Servo-Croatian and Swedish.
Oosterhoff’s own website ‘Bewegende gedichten’
Oosterhoff on Lyrikline