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This review is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November - December 2004.

FUNNY TROUSERS, POINTY SHOES Landscape with Rowers: Poetry from the Netherlands, translated and edited by J.M. Coetzee (Princeton University Press) £12.95
In a Different Light: Fourteen Contemporary Dutch-Language Poets, edited by Rob Schouten and Robert Minhinnick (Poetry Wales Press/Seren) £9.95
OBE POSTMA, What the Poet Must Know, translated by Anthony Paul (Tresoar in association with Librario Publishing) £8.99
The Amsterdam Review Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2004 (Columbusplein 19-III, 1057TT Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

I suppose if people think about `Holland' at all they think of Ajax (the football club, not the detergent), or Edam. Perhaps they might think of tulips - a mercantile, greedy bulb, that in its time has driven men mad - or perhaps of the Red Light District. I think myself of funny trousers, pointy shoes, and the terrible, unreliable oral contours of Dutch diphthongs, whose structural landscape makes what is, for a native speaker of English, a difficult distinction between huid (skin), and hout (wood), between buren (neighbours) and boeren (farmers). `Huid,' I say aloud behind the wheel of the car as I stall behind one of Amsterdam's pointless millions of stop-lights. Then `Hout'. `Huid... hout... hout....huid....' In a chauffeur-driven limo, Gerrit Komrij pulls up at the same stop-light, and peers myopically across at the stranger who is teaching himself Dutch phonology in the adjacent Mazda. `De buren zijn aardig,' I mouth at him, over-enunciating through the car window. The neighbours are nice. Then, just for good measure, and because I need to practise a fricative or five, `Ik heb schaaldieren in Scheveningen gegeten.' I have eaten shellfish in Scheveningen. Komrij looks away. I hope he's embarrassed enough to put this instantly-forgotten and imaginary incident into a poem. But I suspect he won't.

Gerrit Komrij recently renounced his appointment as `Dichter des Vaderlands' - Dutch Poet Laureate. Even the Dutch title carries with it a dubious whiff of antiquity, in the form of an obsolete genitive ...


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