Elmar Kuiper, born in Sneek, lives and works in the small Friesian village of Huins. He is a trained psychiatric nurse, visual artist and poet, but also makes appearances as a performer, often with Marc Kooij, under the name ‘De Zoete Hanen’. He has so far published one collection of poems, Hertbyt (2004), which earned him a nomination for the Fedde Schurerprijs, a prize for Friesian debut writers. His second collection is due to appear at the end of 2006: Ut namme fan mysels. In 2003 and 2005, he won the Rely Jorritsmaprijs, on both occasions for one of his poems. In spring 2006, a selection of his Friesian poems appeared in Dutch translation, under the title Roep de rottweiler op!/Call the rottweiler! Several of his poems were also included in the dual language collection Dream yn blauwe reinjas/Dream in a blue raincoat.
Kuiper’s work is characterised from the outset by its original use of poetic perspective. His poems seldom have as their point of departure an I-figure using lyrical means to form personal experiences. Often he seeks the opposite, the objective tone, or reflective position. In the poem ‘Does the shot stop the man who falls’ he adopts the point of view of the rifle shot and the bullet that hits a man. Even so, this is a highly sensitive poem and the sensitivity arises precisely because the poem wishes to animate dead objects. In so doing it almost succeeds in turning the bullet into a compassionate being.
In the poem ‘Scene’ something similar happens. An existential drama – we are dealing with a ‘broken-hearted lover’ – is apparently observed with a cool, filmic eye: “he bites down on a capsule of blood / to create a dramatic effect.” But the camera-eye view does not remove the dramatic element; it observes it in a veiled and alienated form that raises questions in the reader’s mind. Does the observer – the poet? the person filming? – thus cover up the pain that the drama causes him? Does he perhaps feel guilty because of what he sees? With this technique, Kuiper quickly wrongfoots the reader.
In his recent work Kuiper seems more often to use an I-figure as a home base. But even here he allows the perspective to shift constantly. For example, in the poem ‘I don’t want to spoil the mood’, he introduces a dialogue between an I-figure and a you-figure. The I, who has a pencil, cuts out a bird and sticks it in a ‘red sky’. Clearly, we are dealing with a visual art process here. Then the ‘I’ asks if the ‘you’ is the bird that has been stuck up and the reply is affirmative. Something else strange happens with the pencil: not only has it originally come from a ‘sick tree’, the following is also said about it: “I sharpen the point / the point sharpens you”. We are looking at images placed in a flashing, associative pattern that in some subtle way says something about the dubious position of the artist. That is utterly typical of Elmar Kuiper: in his writing everything is susceptible to doubt, nothing is rooted to the one spot. “that reply sends me back to the drawing board”, he playfully ends the poem. In that case, I would dare to hazard, we are looking at a drawing where the interplay of lines never assumes fixed contours.
Translated by John Irons
Does the shot stop the man who falls
I don’t want to spoil the mood
Hertbyt., Bornmeer, Leeuwarden 2004.
Roep de rottweiler op! / Rop de rottweiler op! Bilingual edition: Friesian poems, with Dutch translations by Jabik Veenbaas, BnM Uitgevers, Nijmegen 2005.
Ut namme fan mysels, Bornmeer, Leeuwarden 2006.
Hechtzwaluwen, Augustus, Amsterdam 2010.
Elmar Kuiper’s poem ‘Hertbyt’
De Zoete Hanen
Performances and art by ‘De Zoete Hanen’
More on Elmar Kuiper at Tresoar, the Frisian Historical and Literary Centre