On how I lived and what I did – in these last ten years
by means of personal introduction; preliminary assignment for the round table discussions on Oct. 23rd in Jermuk, Armenia Literary Ark 2011
I was married to my Macedonian wife Anica, lived in Brussels – a few years happily. Then mainly worrisome. With lack of confidence, of money, of prospect. And reason slipping away, gradually.
Founded ARARAT FILMS AND MUSIC, together with David Matevossian. Went to the Rotterdam Film Festival to enhance our agency, but was entrapped by the complexity of trying to develop fresh and costly new cinema from the far end of Europe, while originally being a writer with no means but his good will, his alliance of friendship and his naive kind of faith in life.
I wrote a book called Bloodtest, a book about War photography, continued to make music with my band Poets Don’t Dance.
Asked myself why I wrote…. Why do we write? Why does one happen to be or become a writer, or poet? When I had just made my debut with the poetry collection Het Paleis van de slaap, I was asked so most frequently. If you put your nose between the doors of literature, one expects some kind of justification. Poete, vos papiers! Poet, show me your papers! A plumber or a pilot or a seller you do not ask for such justifications. And even by other artists, they are most seldomly required. It can indeed be interpreted as a rude gesture. Hey, Peter, nice to see you play cello, but why do you did become a cello player? The question answers itself through the execution of the trade. I’ve become a cellist, because I … No, listen at times that suite. Why I wanted to become a baker? Man! Taste my bread, and shut up! For writers, however, it all seems to be less self-evident. Hey, author, why did you become a writer of novels? Hey, poet, why do you write poetry? Why , you know?
Sometimes I answer: to keep the child alive in me. The child is the source of all creativity, it’s the Lively, the dawn.
Henry David Thoreau, an American writer from the beginning of last century, including the novel Walden, wrote: ‘Being awake is being alive. I’ve never met someone who was really awake. How could I look into his eyes? We must learn to wake up and stay awake, not by mechanical means, but with an infinite expectation of the dawn, that we should never let down, not even during our most solid sleep. ‘ I used these words as motto in the first book of poetry (The Palace of Sleep, ed. Prometheus) that I published in Amsterdam, back in 1993.
All people do create when they are young. But most of us stop being or doing so, around the age of puberty. Suddenly one finds it childish, to convey one’s thoughts or emotions to paper, to express them in diverted ways. Some, however, do continue to do so. They are the ones who are most likely to become writers.
Why did the others stop to write, that is what I would like to know. From a certain moment on, I have started to throw the question back in people’s face. Since for me, in these cases, the relevant question is not: “why do I write?” But: “why, as a matter of fact, did you stop doing so?”
Learned by telephone that my good friend the poet Christian Loidl, had died on Dec.16th 2001, after having crashed from one of the windows in his appartment on the third floor. Heard the news only a month later, by word of his compagnion Eva Lavric, once the appartment had been cleared by the police and the investigation into the death of my beloved friend was closed.
Learned the very same evening, also through the phone, of the death of my second father Henny Habing.
Cried, went in a state of hypnosis to the cinema – sneaked in illegally to see Mulholland Drive.
Became the owner of a house in les Marolles, not far from Sablon, and in the meanwhile the owner of two cats – Djambas and Kyra – who immediately found their venerated place in my life circle as the two beloved, magical creatures whom I deeply worship in a heathenly way.
Spent time as writer in residence on the island of Sylt in northern Germany, in between Waddensee and Northsea. Almost got crazy there, slept my way through the month of November. Longing for some light of the sun and human company.
Got into a conflict with my publishing house. Felt deserted. Wanted to kill myself.
Started to work as a receptionist in a hotel in Brussels, in order to get out of debts. Got sacked in that hotel after eight months of work. Found the same kind of job as receptionist in another, much more expensive hotel. This meant a lot more stress, and work, during which I lost twelve kilos and aimed to hit rock bottom.
Got alienated from my wife. Decided to divorce.
Wrote a book called Klipdrift – a word I discovered during a tour with DDN in South Africa in 2003 – about the general tendency to do as the instinct tells one to do, be it destructive or not.
Was one of the main witnesses, in november 2006, to the wedding of my mother – who happily married a man she had met five years after the death of my father. On a golf course.
Met Sainkho Namtchylak during the pre-presentation of the album Klipdrift in Bremen, during Poetry On The Road 2007. Performed with her in the period to come, in Brussels and again in Bremen later that year.
Had fallen in love with a woman from Berlin, whose father was a historian who had killed himself when my girlfriend was only ten years old.
This proved to be an open wound for which there was no cure, at least not during the period my girlfriend had granted our relationship. I dreamed about her father, standing behind me in a garden full of flowers and an orchard full of ripe and already even rottening fruit. Putting his hand on my shoulder, while standing behind me, saying a line that is known to be written by Von Hofmannsthal: “And once the house is ready, death shall pay his visit.”
Published a book of stories and novellas called The Summer That Still Had To Come. A rentree towards prose. Seeking a new voice of clarity. Maturity. Wit.
Saw my fellow writer and friend Kamiel Vanhole vanish into the thin air he was so desperately gasping for, in the last year of his life during which his lung-volume shrank to the critical minimum that ultimately caused his death. Kamiel, an ardent smoker and mild anarchist with whom I had visited Armenia back in 2001, supposedly choked in a cough attack that left him too long without oxygin. Fully in armour, that is, atop his latest writings he that he was editing in the attick of his home in Kessel-Lo.
A bit later, the hounds of death appeared again at our doorstep. On my way back from the filmfestival in Cannes, where I am a regular reporter since 2008 for my own agency Cinema Redux as well as for the International Feature Agency, I Learned about the death of Nazar Honchar – the closest ally of Christian Loidl – mysterious poet from Ukraine who made a guest-performance on my album Klipdrift in Polish. And who drowned while swimming in a little lake in later May 2009. Wondered why death was so blatently present in my life. A chasing dog indeed. But always one that barked and attacked from the side, not directly from up front. So far, the hound inflicted only graze wounds. My body is still in one piece, and my soul seemingly so as well. However, the scars on my charred skin bare witness of how close it got on several occasions. With that grim event on monday Febr. 16th 1998, on the crispy countryside in Hungary, as the ultimate black hole of my existence. Leaving my best friend dead next to me in the frontseats of our Honda Civic, during a manoeuvre of escape that went terribly wrong when a drunken farmer suddenly decided to turn left on a country roadway without giving any signal of his intention – thus unwillfully turning into a ghostrider who torpeded himself and his car straight in our direction for a few very heavy and lethal moments in time. Joris (26), my compagnion, got executed on the spot. His pericardium impaled by a piece of his rib that got shattered by the impact of the crash and subsequent salto mortale that found its stupor at the end of some pastoral ditch, amidst greenery, flowers, bushes and the trunk of a willow tree.
I was sawed out of the wreck by firemen, rushed off to a hospital. The farmer who caused the collision, did not have a scratch. The police arrested him, however, on the charge of drunken driving and unvoluntary manslaughter for which the guy eventually was sentenced to two and a half years in jail. Imre Forintos, is the name of this angel of death – showing up at the crossroads of fate on that fatal monday afternoon. He said, it was the afternoon sun that had blinded him, as we came driving straight from the south. Heading for Vienna, where alas we never arrived.
Survive, that’s the name of the game. Should I be grateful, or embittered? My life was spared, per chance, my fate had been postponed. My comrade was slain while putting himself at the gravest and most frontal position at the side where the Suzuki of another travelling couple catapulted itself into the side-front of our gently round blue cabin of the Honda built in 1980.
I try not to limit life to a safe and hallowed paveway through the garden of restraint and vigilance. Even though much of its energy, indeed, seems to be spent on matters of damage control and damage assessment. Whether one likes it or not. The challenge remains to ward off danger by means of vigilance while not succumbing to the neuroses of fear and want for control.The readiness is and may be all, as Hamlet stated. But ever-readiness is as much of a nuisance as it is a wild card for a certain emergence of illusionary trouble.
Part of my endeavour, has been a trial of coming to terms with the trauma I got trapped in. More specifically: my feelings of fear, guilt, confusion and anger that were obviously eating me up from inside. For a long time I was living in a stage of constant strain. It felt as if nature itself had committed some gross act of betrayal. And I felt utterly enraged about the fact that apparently our fate really has nothing to do with whom we were or what we merited in our lifes. What we deserve, has got nothing to do with it. I found this hard to accept. What, then, was the sense of our strivings?
It took quite a while, before I could begin to find a bit of logic in the intricate tango nature is dancing on such clearly opposite grounds. The shere attempt to understand, already made me dizzy. Years passed, before I had matured enough and taken enough distance from events, in order to become aware of the bigger picture. The complexity of the dance. The structure in and underneath the surface. Experienced the archetypal click of the coin. Awareness rolling in, filling body and brain with understanding of life and death not as two opposite forces digging for the Great Divide. But as the opposite ends of one singular cane or stick. A handy frame for the upper part. A pinnacle attached to the side that ploughs the earth. The cane is the connection in between both of these ends.
It was all a matter of stepping back a bitfrom the painting of life that I had gotten so messed up in. Tried to see with fresh eyes. From wider angle. To bear the burden of being in a lighter, more leisurely way. A l’aise, as the French say. Less cramped.
Studied the works of RIen Halters on ontological differentiality, and grew esteem for the forces I had formerly despised. Recognized their role in the spectacle. Learned to accept them as inseperable partners in an age old, cosmic crime scenario. A gangster war on territorial grouds. Divide et imperare.
Rid myself of the cramp. Began to accept the mechanism of it. To feel comfort, even, in the prospect of death as a necessary and inescapable process. Think it might be an interesting voyage, on which we will embark. An adventurous expedition to the kingdom of fertility , with its crafty army of worms and stinking legion of atomary putrefaction. We still remember how it began, don’t we? Inter urinam, et faeces.
Things lightened up. Praised myself for this achievement. I knew that I had overcome an immanent fallacy in the hereditary constitution of my Neanderthaler organism. I thought that I had saved myself from failure. Such jubilation vanished soon enough. What remained, however, was a feeling of relief. That I had found an exit in this room without windows, where I had almost perished from lack of oxygen. And of light.
I opened the door / the door opened me.
Finally I could breathe again. Founded Cinema Redux. A resource for international cinema and arts. “Let there be a space for another approach to the world of cinema and art. One that is not so much confined to the limitations of short formats and glossy kinds of superficial exposure to the idolatry cultus of Hollywood stardom. Here at Cinema Redux, it is about something else. can be free to use whatever length of formula they want to share their thoughts on all possible counterfeits that sparked in them some flame of genuinity, vitality. Films and works with un certain gaite d´esprit, with character and wit, projects that were constituted with passion, persistance and un veritable sagesse d´instinct. (…) Contributors of Cinema Redux are kindly invited to be open and freeminded in their writing, passionate and devoted in their choice of subject, critical in their judgement, razorsharp in their bravado, but gentle in their final approach. Let us try to find out a bit more who we might be ourselves, by discovering and reflecting on who and what we truly value and esteem. All works of art appealing to our own inner needs of thought, character, wit and elevation. No matter how illusionary.”
Started to read The Inner Scriptures of Tswang Tse.
Found love through getting re-acquainted with Arlette van Laar (1973), whom I had known a decade before as the compagnion of one of my best friends. Songlines and timelines had progressed, being put in a seemingly more matching order for both of us. Became aware of an emotion that could only be described of the one physically melting into the other. Getting the satisfactory awareness of completing my nature, such as Arlette hopefully had with me.
I learned so much from her. The importance of simplitude, truthfulness, of the way the word is uttered….To speak what we feel /
not what we ought to say’
– William Shakespeare, about ‘the duty of poets’
I learned by means of experience and endeavour in the every day practise of love and life,, that: Each person is a fathomless Ocean – Each soul is a rocket aiming for the center of our inner space – Each body is a marvellous starship stuck on the ground –
Arlette has proven to be the sun in my life. She tests me, mirrors me, enchants me, enlightens me, in a way I did not think possible before. I am glad, so glad, that we have been able to re-encounter on the strict course of our time, and to fall in love so deeply given the age I have already. Interestingly, we say “falling” into love, and not “rising” into love. Love is an act to surrender to another person; it is total abandonment. In love you give yourself over, you let go, and you say, “I give myself to you. Take me, do anything you like with me.” To many people this seems quite mad because it means letting things get out of control. And all sensible people keep things in control. So, is it sensible to find security through vigilance, police and guards? Watch it! Actually, the course of wisdom, what is really sensible, is to let go. To commit oneself, to give oneself up. And this is considered quite mad. It is thus that we are driven to the strange conclusion that in madness lies sanity…. There is no formula for generating the authentic warmth of love. It cannot be copied. You cannot talk yourself into it or rouse it by straining at the emotions or by dedicating yourself solemnly to the service of mankind. Everyone has love, but it can only come out when he is convinced of the impossibility and the frustration of trying to love himself. This conviction will not come through condemnations, through hating oneself, through calling self love bad names in the universe. It comes only in the awareness that one has no self to love.
All sensible people begin in life with two fundamental presuppositions: You are not going to improve the world, and you are not going to improve yourself. You are just what you are, and once you have accepted that, you have an enormous amount of energy available to do things that CAN be done. But the thing is, in fact: that it can NOT be done. One very simple reason is that the part of you which is supposed to improve you is exactly the same as the part which needs to be improved. There is not any real distinction between bad “me” and good “I”, or between the higher self which is spiritual and the lower self which is animal. It is all of one piece. You are this organism, this integrated, fascinating life and energy pattern.
Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth. Ego is a social institution with no physical reality. The ego is simply your symbol of yourself. Just as the word “water” is a noise that symbolizes a certain liquid without being it, so too the idea of ego symbolizes the role you play, who you are, but it is not the same as your living organism. If you know that “I”, in the sense of the person, the front, the ego, it really doesn’t exist. Then…it won’t go to your head too badly, if you wake up and discover that you might be the very creator of the universe you are looking for.
While observing the asylum seekers who settled in scores on a little green pasture around the corner of my house, and occupied the ground for weeks in a row. By means of protest to the lack of any decent asylum policy in Belgium and Brussels. These folks were sick of being completely ignored and cast away as illegals who have no right of existence in our affluent society; these migrants demanded the right to exist and to be seen and treated by Belgians not as a germ of some infectious disease but as human beings who had left their mother’s and father’s homes for very good and understandable reasons. The escalating situation, made me aware of the fact that we are all, indeed, strangers on the surface of this planet. On est tous des etrangers, moving and migrating like the waves of air in every weather system, through time and space and accidental nationstates. The reality of theirs is also ours, meaning: differences, borders, lines, surfaces, and boundaries do not really divide things from each other at all; they join them together. All bounderies are held in common….: On est tous des etrangers, I wrote in a poem called Exodus. “Every single good we own and everything we are/is borrowed, shareware, bonds and loans. Property/of Time alone; that vicious, greedy stockbroker/and billionaire, who having been born without a soul/ supports no other soul as company. Who has no friends /or relatives, and rules the earth /as if he were the master of the universe./We owe him all – as he insists – and everybody has to pay./His will is merciless. No exceptions, no delays./Who prays for help, will be harrassed. /Who disobeys, will disappear. He holds us hostage/Nobody is free to stay. We have to leave and /sneak out like thieves. When evening comes /we pack our bags. We cross the border /in the thick of night. Our exitpapers are called:/death.”
I renovated my house in Les Marolles, Brussels, from top to bottom. Gave the house back the light and soul it had lost since many years. Does a house have a soul? Yes it does, for sure! Servus domus! While staying in the appartments of friends, during the works, I continued to write. At least tried. Published a broad lyrical hommage in 2011, on behalf of the French singer, composer and cult figure Serge Gainsbourg, who died twenty years ago in his hotel particulier in Paris, in utter sollitude and darkness. A rich and juicy book – Bittersweet it is called – lusciously filled with quasi biographical poems plus some accounts of Lord Byron and Casanova – two of his most destinguished forerunners in time. This was my chance to finally come to terms with this ego- and erotomaniacal genius, who some kind of shade has always been around in each and every phase of my life. In puberty, in Paris, Montreal, Amsterdam, later in Cannes at the filmfestival by means of his daughter Charlotte. And who died on my mother’s birthday, the second of march, in the year 1991.
The other book that came about this year, is the intricate collection of poems, stories, pictures and landscapes. Title: What I see I cannot be – the slightly taoist result of a very concrete assignment to visit the Green Forest – het Groene Woud – a region in the province of Brabant, where I was born, and where a group of ardent farmers, scientists, politicians and other folks with a heart for flora and fauna, tries hard to give nature again some of its prominence, space and wildness amidst our densely populated modern landscape. Nature thrives in this area, where man is willfully setting aside a few steps in order to let the forest and its inhabitants have its way. The book is an account of the expedition I undertook last summer, with merely my Waterman fountain pen and my Moleskine notebook as the only means of luggage. Scribbled down what I saw, what I smelled, what I heard, what I felt, discovered and experienced while strolling and marching through the greenery. My mission was to unravel the “genius loci”. The ghost or soul of the area. Learned little by little, in a modest and gentle way, some strokes about the sources of nature, the road of ten thousand things leading back and forward to the soil and stream we stem from and again are heading for.
- Luft Musst Man Sein, drawing made by Nazar Honchar – who died In May 2009 – in memorary honour of the Austrian poet Christian Loidl – who died seven and a half years earlier. The engraved phrase is a recurring one in the book Kleinstkompetenzen (Christian Loidl, edition Selene 2001).
Serge van Duijnhoven – 21st of October – Yermuk hotel Olympia – Armenia
I.M. Christian Loidl
1957 (Linz) – 2001 (Vienna)
‘Mortu tombu miyi’, the title of the following poem = a vernacular saying in Haiti, meaning: all things burried and gone. It was the title of a specific cycle of poems from Falsche Prophezeiungen, a magnificent book written by the Austrian poet Christian Loidl, who died in December 2001 at the age of 44 after tragically falling out of a window in his Viennese appartment – a death similar to the one of Bohumil Hrabal, the Czech writer he highly respected. Hrabal seemingly fell down while trying to spot a blackbird that was singing underneath his hospital window. Chris – just before tumbling towards his death – also must have been enchanted by the luring song of some dark bird that waited to get out of its cage and ‘melt with the air’.
In some way, it feels as if Chris fulfilled the crystal-clear imperative uttered by the enlightened voice that enchantedly rises up at the end of his last book of poetry: Kleinstkompetenzen; Erinnerungen aus einer geheimen Kindheit: ‘Luft musst mann sein… Luft musst mann sein (…)’ – in English: ‘Air is what we should be… Air is what we should be’. The day before the accident, Chris had sent me a message that he had changed his email address into ‘airpoet@.gmx.at’. The symbolic meaning of this I only understood weeks later, when I visited Vienna to take part in the memorial-night organised by his close friends and allies. After having climbed up the sandstone stairs of the building in the Vereinsgasse (II Bezirk) where Christian lived, my eyes fell on a little blue metal plate that was attached to the frontdoor of the deserted apartment that I knew quite well, saying: ‘airpoet’. It was a souvenir Chris had taken home from one of his travels in Lithuania, where this magical word simply means ‘airport’. Suddenly, it all clicked and became clear, and I realised that my friend indeed must have melted with the air he aspired so wisely and breathed so deeply.
Mortu tombu miyi
The laserbeam in front of the nightclub
touches the sky in search of God
all air blows away
the moon stands high
as a tiny fingerprint
in the stained window
We see more
thunder in the far land
of our memory
water, drops, mudd
rain is still more clear
To live is to retreat
a ritual of goodbyes
a wounding in slomotion
the ailment of addiction
our dreams fade away
like fog in the morning
our beloved ones depart
what we cherish, perishes
what we leave behind is the pain
to go beyond is to be healed
To bear the chain, you said
one has to sing – because
air is the important thing
the air is always young
the air wears no grey hair
the air never ends up in a wheelchair
Luft müsst mann sein
Luft müsst mann sein
Nicht mehr so mühd
Nicht mehr so mühd
Wach müsst mann sein
from: Bloedtest (De Bezige Bij, album + cd coming up in 2003)