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Willem Johan van der Molen

Willem Johan van der Molen

1923 - 2002

Willem Johan van der Molen had well established his reputation as a mainstream poet in his native Netherlands, even winning a national literary prize in 1956, long before coming to haiku in the 1980s, but once he discovered the form he wrote virtually nothing else. His haiku style reminds us of his longer poetry, a fact which dispossessed him from both camps, but upon which he insisted, with increasing success as the years progressed. Besides his several volumes of published work, he edited Vuursteen (Flint), the earliest haiku magazine in Europe, and then later founded Kortheidshalve (For Brevity’s Sake), which very title is suggestive of the somewhat cerebral approach the poet took to his poetics. He also produced a few volumes of translations of Japanese haiku, especially 20th century poets, into Dutch. He was and will remain a key figure in the Dutch haiku tradition.

Translations: All translations into English from the original Dutch were made jointly by Max Verhart and Klaus-Dieter Wirth. The author´s use of language is highly associative and hence more difficult to translate than work of a more descriptive poet. This is the reason for making joint translations. Both translators had worked with the poet himself, which helped in better understanding Van der Molen’s poetics. His use of capitals and punctuation may seem random, but he had very specific ideas on these issues which are not simply explained. The translators have adopted Van der Molen’s usages directly from the Dutch originals.

Books Published: [incomplete] Haiku published by De Beuk in Amsterdam include the following volumes: Geeft ´t leven terug? (Does Life Give Back?, 1982), Wegwijzers naar nergens (Signposts to Nowhere,1983), Op een grasstengel klimmen (Climbing a Blade of Grass, 1984), Een doodstil iemand Someone Deadly Quiet, 1990) and In volgorde van binnenkomst (In Order of Entry, 1994).

Selected Work
 
Afternoon heat.
The glass fins of fish
filter the void.
 
Transparent white
the way a bird keeps floating
above and below the light
 
 
 
Weightless snow.
I run on my fingertips
into the broad white.
 
The white elder bushes
Once all was imagination
And the moon spotless
 
 
 
We keep on talking
across the shadows
in each of us.
 
A thin band of sunlight
in between the curtains:
dust on mahogany.
 
 
 
That near it is—
I can feel it without
touching it.
 
Dew on lavender—
till deep in all things
our being is steam.
 
 
 
To change
the meaning of words
by saying them.
 
In white blossoms
the hovering phantoms
of being no more.
 
 

Credits: Sources for W. J. van der Molen´s haiku presented here are the journals Vuursteen (Flint) and Kortheidshalve (For Brevity´s Sake), as well as his volumes of haiku published by De Beuk in Amsterdam: Geeft ´t leven terug? (Does Life Give Back?, 1982), Wegwijzers naar nergens (Signposts to Nowhere, 1983), Op een grasstengel klimmen (Climbing a Blade of Grass, 1984), Een doodstil iemand (Someone Deadly Quiet, 1990) and In volgorde van binnenkomst (In Order of Entry, 1994). These haiku were also selected for white: a posthumous collection of the haiku of W. J. van der Molen (Red Moon Press postscripts series, volume 10, 2008).

Sources Biography: Paulien van der Molen; white: a posthumous collection of the haiku of W. J. van der Molen (Red Moon Press postscripts series, volume 10, 2008).

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