Leonard Nolens is a monumental figure in Flemish poetry. His poetry forms one of the most all-encompassing and uncompromising oeuvres in Dutch-language literature. He made his debut in 1969 with baroque, experimental poems, and in the mid 1980s his work became far more sober. His spellbinding style gave way to a spoken-language tone, while continuing to encompass profound thought. The collection De gedroomde figuur (The Dreamt Figure; 1986), was a major breakthrough, and one of his most important collections Liefdes verklaringen (Declarations of Love, 1990) was awarded the Jan Campert Prize and the Flemish Culture Prize for poetry.
With brilliance, Nolens addresses a number of classic themes in ever-varying modulations, as if haunted by them. Whether the poems deal with parents, the questioning child, youth, farewell parties, cities, friends, loneliness, alcohol, God, money, the dream woman or the dream book, they all form part of the construction of a self and the writing of a life. Nolens’ poetry is distinguished by the polyphonic ways of thinking and imaginary ways of acting that are contained within it. Each poem represents a reasoning, each cycle a solid yet explosive behavioural type.
Nolens received the Constantijn Huygens Prize for his oeuvre in 1997. In 2004, the fifth edition of his collected poems appeared, and in 2007 he finished the series Bres (Breach), which he had been working on for more than ten years. The book was awarded the VSB Poetry Prize, the most prestigious poetry award in the Low Countries, which offers a stipend of 25,000 euros to the recipient. Bres is generally not only acknowledged as a landmark in contemporary Dutch poetry, but also as an essential breakthrough in Nolens’ work. In verses that continually extend their reach, Leonard Nolens draws a fascinating and outspoken portrait of an era. Strikingly, in this volume, in contrast to his other collections, he exchanges the highly personal ‘I’ for an equally personal but communal ‘we’.
His most recent volume Zeg aan de kinderen dat wij niet deugen (Tell the Children We’re No Good) confirms that Leonard Nolens is now also able to depart from what seemed to be a preoccupied focus on the singular ‘I’ of the early poems and rather to alternate between the use of a specific ‘I’ and of a communal ‘we’, which in his latest collection also refers to a generation. The poet lovingly portrays this generation, but as a member of this group, also casts a critical eye on his and their lives.
Beginning in 1989, Nolens published four highly idiosyncratic volumes of a journal in which the relationship between poetry and identity was further fathomed. In 2009, Nolens decided to publish his complete journals as Dagboek van een dichter 1979–2007 (Diary of a Poet 1979–2007), which included a fifth volume, Verborgen agenda (Hidden Agenda), of writings composed while he worked on his poetry.
Twee vormen van zwijgen (Two Forms of Being Silent), Pink Editions & Productions, Antwerp, 1975
Incantatie (Incantation), Manteau, Brussels, 1977
Hommage (Homage), Manteau, Brussels, 1981
Vertigo, Manteau, Brussels, 1983
De gedroomde figuur (The Dreamt Figure), Querido, Amsterdam, 1986
Geboortebewijs (Birth Proof), Querido, Amsterdam, 1988
Liefdesverklaringen (Declarations of Love), Querido, Amsterdam, 1990
Tweedracht (Discord), Querido, Amsterdam, 1992
Honig en as (Honey and Ashes), Querido, Amsterdam, 1994
En verdwijn met mate (And Vanish in Moderation), Querido, Amsterdam, 1996
Voorbijganger (Passer-by), Querido, Amsterdam, 1999
Manieren van Leven (Ways of Living), Querido, Amsterdam, 2001
Derwisj (Dervish), Querido, Amsterdam, 2003
Laat alle deuren op een kier. Verzamelde gedichten (Leave All Doors Open: Collected Poems), Querido, Amsterdam, 2004
Een dichter in Antwerpen en andere gedichten (A Poet in Antwerp and other poems), Querido, Amsterdam, 2005
Een fractie van een kus (A fraction of a Kiss), Querido, Amsterdam, 2007
Bres (Breach), Querido, Amsterdam, 2007
Woestijnkunde (Desertology), Querido, Amsterdam, 2008
Woestijnkunde (Desertology), Querido, Amsterdam, 2008
Zeg aan de kinderen dat wij niet deugen (Tell the Children We’re No Good), Querido, Amsterdam, 2011
Opzichtige Stilte, Querido, Amsterdam, 2011
Manieren van leven, gedichten 1975-2011, Querido, Amsterdam, 2012
Stukken van mensen: dagboek 1979–1982, Querido, Amsterdam, 1989
Blijvend vertrek: dagboek 1983–1989, Querido, Amsterdam, 1993
Een lastig portret: dagboek 1994–1996, Querido, Amsterdam, 1998
De vrek van Missenburg:dagboek 1990–1993, Querido, Amsterdam, 1995
Dagboek van een dichter 1979–2007, Querido, Amsterdam, 2009
Acte de naissance (French), La Différence, Paris, 1994
Brèche (French), Le Castor Astral, Bordeaux, 2004 Also translated in German in Schreibheft, 2004, nr. 62
Geburtsschein (German), Klein Hienrich, Münster, 1997
Porte socchiuse (Italian), Mobydick, Faenza, 1995
Slowo jert uczciwym znalazca (Polish), Witryn Artystów, Klotzko, 1994.
English translations have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation (1997) and in In a different light: fourteen contemporary dutch-language poets (Poetry Wales Press, 2002).
Hugues C. Pernath prize (1985)
Jan Campert prize (1991)
Flemish Culture Prize for Poetry (1992)
Constantijn Huygens Prize (1997)
VSB Poetry Prize (2008)
Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren (2012)
The works of Leonard Nolens are published by Querido (in Dutch)
Leonard Nolens on Lyrikline (in English)