Oesters & gestoofde pot. (Dutch).
ONE OF H.C. TEN BERGE'S most prominent qualities is his versatility. Although he set out as a modernist, an aspect which he certainly has not sworn off, he has also presented himself as a lyricist, a versifier in a much more traditional sense. For example, in the series "Cantus firmus" he managed to identify the suggested love of a beloved with the degeneration of nature. He did this, moreover, in traditionally melancholic verse.
The present volume, Oesters & gestoofde pot (Oysters and Stewed Pot), is a collection of works covering publications over three decades (1963-93). In a poem which he calls, quite characteristically and revealingly, "De laatste modernist" (The Last Modernist), he uses the third-person singular, but the poem can nevertheless be regarded as pure biography: "He believed he was on his way to heaven / but was checked by paper stars on the ceiling." In almost every one of the thirteen couplets that make up this poem we find that the second line begins with "but," indicative of the poet's recognition of the contrariety of life, an interpretation reinforced by virtually every poem in the poet's oeuvre.
In spite of the complexity and esoteric quality of the themes, perhaps also contradictory, it can be said that most of the poet's images are both astute and canny; the reader often finds it hard to decide between original and construed. Much of Ten Berge's poetic work has been rendered by translators well known for their linguistic studies and critiques: Theo Hermans, Greta Kilburn, Yann Lovelock, and Paul Vincent, to name but four.
Ten Berge's verse is obviously not addressed to the casual reader. He is representative of the sixties and early seventies of this century insofar as his poetry is complex and hermetic, if not cryptic, esoteric, and elusive, although less so in the present collection than in earlier works. His style is individualistic, the images original and often even bright. He is fond of uncustomary phrases and vocabulary, which at times adds to the enigmatic quality of many of the poems. Concerning this aspect, the following lines from the title poem "Oesters" can serve as a model: "Our shells clattered on the plates. / My tongue was a mighty funnel, / My palate decorated with starlight: / While I tasted the savoury Pleiades / Orion dipped his feet in the water."
In the series "Vier exercities" (which can be translated as both "Four Parades" and "Four Practices") the poet provides four complete pages of texts consisting of phrases respectively beginning "Tegen" (against), "Achter over" (backward), "Onder uit" (from below), and "Voor in" (in front). Against noise. Against dirt. Against interference. Against inertia. And more than a hundred other similar phrases.
Ten Berge's oeuvre appears, in spite of his incredible diversity and versatility, to be the manifestation of an obsession, the cautious avoidance of abstract concepts which cannot be otherwise exploited. Born in 1938, he has published novels, translations, poetry, and essays. The first collections of his poems were reissued in Materia prima (1993). In 1996 he received the renowned Constantijn Huygens Prize for his complete oeuvre.
Martinus A. Bakker Calvin College