Wiljan van den Akker PhD (Netherlands)
Wiljan van den Akker (1954) got his PhD in Modern Literature in 1985 and was appointed full-professor of Modern Dutch Literature in 1987.
He taught in Berlin (at the Freie Universität), Köln, Paris, Lille and was a Senior Fulbright Scholar at UC Berkeley. From 1993 till 2003 he was the Director of the Research Institute for History and Culture. He became Distinguished Faculty Professor of Poetry in 2003. From 2006 till 2014 he was Dean of Humanities, after which he became Vice-Rector for Research. Currently he is Academic Director for Public Engagement. His field of research is Modern Western Poetry.
Wiljan van den Akker is also a published poet and novelist. In 2008 he published his first volume of poetry, De Afstand (De Arbeiderspers) for which he received the C. Buddingh’ Award in 2009. In 2011 Hersenpap (De Arbeiderspers), his second volume of poetry, was published. Together with Esther Jansma he wrote the novel De Messias (published in 2015, by Uitgeverij Prometheus) about fraud both within the academic community as in the trade of old violins.
The novel is currently being translated in English. In 2018 he published a collection of short stories, Verdwaald (Uitgeverij Prometheus). Together with Esther Jansma he published two bilingual volumes of translations of poetry by the American poet Mark Strand: Gedichten Eten/Eating Poetry (2006, De Arbeiderspers) and Bijna Onzichtbaar/Almost Invisible (2011, Van Oorschot Uitgeverij). Currently he is working on a collection of translations of poetry by the American poet Charles Simic, which will be published coming January by Van Oorschot Uitgeverij (210 pages). He is also working on a new volume of poetry.
You’ve got it all from your father.
He is always writing the same letter
at always the same table
that afternoon in the early spring
against a soft and skimming light.
A lifetime now he’s been keeping
his mind on his work only for you.
The smoke from his nose shows
that he’s breathing and very alive
and considering the things
he is time and again about to say.
From now on this is what a man
will look like.
He smokes and writes with a pen
soundless in glistening ink
a letter that nobody understands
never posted, forever unread.
He doesn’t notice that someone
is watching and holding his breath.
Everything at this moment is always constantly
right now in a raging state of change
assuming an elapsed shape.
You can’t think of it that permanent or it has been
and remains present as disappeared.
Evening after evening a new lover comes
faithfully to the image, in which you’ve left each other
in the morning at the table, again at home.
Look: she appears at the end of the street
waving a brand new hand as usual
remembered warmth ahead and kisses you from afar
goodbye on another mouth than when you got up.
Thus we blow away as sustainable as sounds
continuing to disappear like music in the ears
and wait just as long for the end
until we are completely absent to be able to exist
perfectly into nothingness out of one piece.
I arrived way ahead of time.
Of course. If there’ s one thing
that can’ t wait, it must be
somebody dead in a coffin
about to be covered with earth.
Had I worn a coat that day
-it was surprisingly warm
for the time of year –
I would have dropped it off,
joined the queue that filed
past the hole in the ground,
at a later moment, a different
point, where I could not
have crossed the line of those
who had already mourned
their farewells, at the spot
where you stood with all this
sunlight and wind in the back.
In the nick of time I would
have missed you forever.
He had always thought that she would fully
disappear like smoke behind the scenes,
always expected that the rest could be smoothly
held in his hands, meant for making
an ultimate gesture, so airy and touching
and light that one breath would blow it away.
Scattering the remainder of so much weight
had worn him down, pouring this woman, his wife
out of a container of dust and bits of bone,
trying to spread the overspill of a spouse evenly
against a stiffening wind with a clumsy hopping
on the lawn that he had rented for the afternoon.
If only he had asked someone to dig him a hole,
then this fumbling would’ve been more like a dance
on a grave, elegantly tapping down grass, earth
to lie down on instead of having to recollect
her by constantly talking with always these ashes
in everyone’s hair, this everlasting gnashing of teeth.