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This report is taken from PN Review 172, Volume 33 Number 2, November - December 2006.

Letter from the 37th Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam Niccolo Milanese

In 1569, Jan Van Gorp advanced a series of arguments that Dutch was the closest surviving language to the pre-Babel perfect language. Gorp suggested that the ancestors of the burghers of Antwerp were the Cimbri, who were direct descendants of the sons of Joseph and were not present under the Tower when the Confusio was decreed. As preposterous as his arguments were (Leibniz coined the term 'Goropism' to mean 'absurd etymology'), the 'Flemish thesis' survived well into the nineteenth century. On the basis of very little expertise in the matter, it seems to me that if Dutch has any claims to universality as a language it is due to historic Dutch openness to foreign influences and to their delta culture. Either way, for a week in June each year, in Rotterdam – Europe's largest port, and home to Breughel the Elder's Tower of Babel – it is possible to begin to imagine Dutch as a kind of ur-Sprache, as poets from around the world are translated into Dutch for the Poetry International Festival. They are also translated into English, of course, but 'English' is so far advanced on the climb to universality it is not clear whether it is a meta-language, sub-language or separate language from every other.

The poets read in their own languages, with Dutch and English translations projected behind them, the Dutch in black on a white background, the English white on black, as if to emphasise the aspectual nature ...


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