Early this year translations of poetry by Rick van der Made (Breda, 1968) were published. Van der Made is not only a poet and essayist, but also a columnist for Gay News. In the collections of poems with the title “Selected Poems / Poèmes Choisis,” the publishing firm Heimdall has brought together Van der Made’s most beautiful poems in Dutch, English and French.
Rick van der Made’s poetry reads like an adventure. He traverses the world almost unabashedly with his knowledge of the language, his well-chosen words and sentences, and his almost nonchalant themes. Whether it is about a Moroccan gay lover during Ramadan in Agadir, the “grating” contact between a child and an old paedophile in a village in Brabant, about loneliness in Maspalomas, or about his mother’s madness, Van der Made’s wordplay stands tall.
It is particularly clever how he almost separates the “commonplace nature” of a barbecue from higher motives, for instance the deathbed of the mother. With the literal juxtaposition of these two facts, the result is not alienation, but honest emphasis on the unbreakable connection between the two. It could have been other facts, but the good thing is that “death in different forms” are interlinked here. Satay only becomes interesting after searing it, while the death of the mother has an impact on life (of the “poet in this poem”). At the same time, the “I” also circles above the place of events like an eagle, a symbol of sharp vision and power. This poem - “Vught” - is the worthy opening of the collection. The poem is undoubtedly one of the poet’s greatest successes.
In the staccato poem “Niet in voor- en tegenspoed” (Not for Better or Worse), the rattling repeating elements shows the speed and inescapability of this “death sentence.” The assonances lead to that real inescapability of the disease. Van der Made excels in beautiful images: “Skin fried tumour.” No matter how deeply sad the content of these four words may be, no more words are needed.
“Travel” and “Family” play a major role in Van der Made’s work. The mother in “Vught” and his poem “Looking for Father” even are explicit references to this. In “Would I,” we encounter an unnamed Christ: “Would I die / For you people / Would I think / I serve”.
This is how this poem, which is nearly a litany, continues until the father also appears in the last stanza: “Would your kingdom / Come / Could I then / See father?”
Here, the poet puts everything more or less in the hand of God, because the “I” here becomes “your kingdom.” The “I” has nothing to say about it; it is on a different, higher level, but at the same time, human desire continues to play a role: Could I then see father?
The poem “My Family” refers to a much wider concept of family than the usual Western family. Van der Made’s vision incorporates an image of families that is more Eastern in nature. “Everyone” is family there, even though there is no direct kinship. He includes everyone here, with the beautiful words:
“My family is never finished:
All those who wish for cousin of brother-in-law
May wander here
If ever there is an empty jug here
And appetite restricted
Then I will narrate
About father who wanted to flow to the seas
About mother who wanted to soar past the clouds
Above the cask & the table cloth out there at the stables
About my family who can inexhaustibly dream
& who stand still
when they see manna & rain
dropped from heaven down to earth.”
For the reader, he fulfils the role of guide, not only morally, but also that of a connoisseur of stories, the realm of fables and one of the “the book of books,” the Bible.
The great thing is that the poet never becomes pedantic, unfortunately a common condition of our time. To the reader, Van der Made opens up a world that fascinates him, even if it sometimes becomes “difficult.” He makes the readers part of that (sometimes everyday) world, with texts that at the same time give a more in-depth picture of that reality. And behind those seemingly casual images, there are always bigger themes: sexuality, flight, suffering, salvation, madness. And Love. Of a man. For another man.
Rick van der Made, “Selected Poems / Poèmes Choisis.” Translations by Michel van der Stel and Nadine Jadot-van der Made. Waalre: Heimdall, 2018, ISBN 9789493154025. The poetry collection is available or can be ordered at all (online) bookshops or at www.heimdall-poezie.nl.