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This report is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

Letter from Holland Johanna H. Prins
M.Vasilis was awarded the P.C.Hooft Prize in Dutch Literature last Autumn. She received the distinction at the Muiderslot, a castle where the P.C.Hooft Circle gathered around Holland's Renaissance Man of Letters three centuries ago. The Prize is traditionally given for a writer's collected oeuvre: in this case, three slim volumes of poetry.

The first selection of Vasilis's work appeared in 1940. It marked the appearance in Dutch writing of a suppleness of rhythm and rhyme at a time when most of her contemporaries were still deploying strictly metred verse. The second collection, a melancholy book after the traumas of the War, was published in 1947. Vasilis had been active in the Dutch resistance and also lost a child to polio, experiences which left her 'deeply estranged from myself and my song'. After her third book in 1954, she withdrew from the literary world and devoted her energies to child psychiatry, but her popularity as a poet has remained. Her publisher, G.A. van Oorschot, has now stopped numbering the continuous reprints of her work, and interpretations of her poetry throughout four decades were recently collected in a book of critical essays commissioned by the Ministry on the occasion of the prize.

Vasilis is a pseudonym for Margaretha Leenmans, a Latin version of her maiden name. In her acceptance speech, she invoked the mathematician Norbert Wiener, father of cybernetics, to describe her poetic process: 'We swim against the stream into a flood of disorganization, which threatens to reduce everything ...


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