Herman de Coninck
Biography of Herman de Coninck
Herman de Coninck (21 February 1944 – 22 May 1997) was a Belgian poet, essayist, journalist and publisher.
Herman de Coninck was born in Mechelen, Belgium, where his parents ran a Catholic bookshop. He attended the Sint-Rombouts College in Mechelen where he contributed to the school newspaper. Determined to become a writer, he studied Germanic philology at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. While in Leuven he wrote for the University paper Universitas. Graduating in 1966, he took up teaching in Berchem while he lived in Heverlee, near Leuven. In 1967 he fulfilled his compulsory civilian duty in the Belgian army.
In 1970 he left teaching to become an editor of the weekly magazine HUMO, a post he held until 1983. During this period he regularly delivered interviews together with Piet Piryns. These interviews were collected and published as Woe is Woe in de Nedderlens in 1972.
Tired of interviews, he became editor-in-chief of the magazine Nieuw Wereldtijdschrift in 1983. Under his direction, NWT combined journalism and literature. Since De Coninck was less of a businessman than a writer, the magazine was not a commercial success.
While on his way to a literary colloquium with several other Flemish and Dutch poets and writers (amongst them Hugo Claus, Anna Enquist and Gerrit Komrij), Herman de Coninck collapsed in the streets of Lisbon, Portugal on May 22, 1997. He died there at the age of 53 from a heart failure. A year later, his widow Kristien Hemmerechts wrote a very personal and biographical monologue entitled Taal Zonder Mij (1998).
Herman de Coninck Poems
What you do with time is what a grandmother clock does with it: strike twelve and take its time doing it.
THE BALLAD OF SLOWNESS
I love the slowness of lying on grass, like a king: me, looking out and surveying my adherents, my extremities, telling my left arm: you there, convey my hand to my mouth that I might yawn, that's right, and now lie down again, excellent, I must have discipline. I love the slowness of being, Zen, they say in the East, I believe it's the same thing. I love the slowness of lying in bed, you next to me, with your knees behind my knees, like a double S, the slowness with which you haven't told me yet that you're awake, your responsiveness consisting of lips, the slowness with which I come faster and faster, the calmness with which I grow wilder and wilder, the slowness of your diplomatic body that gives and takes, your corps diplomatique, and the slowness of a cigar afterwards, the slowness of grandeur, the slowness of someone smashing his car into a tree in slow motion, the majesty of explosion, solemn, solemnly ends this life.
He'd hoped he might get by without an au...
He'd hoped he might get by without an autumn. Sudden snow. The austerity of white. The precision of cold. With less providing meaning, more would recover from it - and then it would be over. Not these months detaching final leaves, sorting through junk, making such an endless fuss of loss you felt like hanging the leaves back on the trees. He'd hoped he might get by without going sour. But the whole garden is fermenting from hours of rain and almost hissing from a minute's sun. Oh, the days when things could pass and nothing had to last.
"Go to sleep now," I say to a daughter who is already asleep and wakes from my words. The thunder crashes. Perhaps I want her scared, so I can be dad. But there's nothing I can do except do nothing, together with her. It's like words. Things happen. Without words they would still happen. But then without words.
HIM AND HER
Bravely she keeps up her spirits and bust. With a temperament like a reinforced bra. He too is fortified with lots of cheerful Ha-ha-ha. But for years now his urges have been behind bars: the stripes of his pyjamas.
FINGERPRINTS ON THE WINDOW
I think that poetry is something like fingerprints on the window behind which a child who can't sleep stands waiting for dawn. Earth generates mist; sorrow, a kind of sigh. Clouds are responsible for twenty-five kinds of light. They actually hold it back. Back lighting. It's still too early to be now. But the rivers are already leaving. They've heard the murmuring from the silver factory of the sea. Daughter beside me at the window. Loving her is the easiest way to remember these things. Birds hammer at the anvil of their call all, all, all.
We walk, the two of us, through the autumn day. And in spring too I feel no different. We walk through much brown tavern-brown of leaves through much dark-red loss, appellation controlée, that deepens in the cellar of the years. We walk through the beiger-turning woods of Drente. Hear the wind passing through the hennaed trees sounding like an oboe, tramp among instruments. 33, and in the midst of the dark wood of life. And with a sense of nowhere belonging, at home in the woods and desolate at home. Will we one day, maybe, ever? The summer is past, the hay-making is over. The here is nowhere, and the now is never.
You never said anything. I always had to ask. If you loved me. & you gave me a kiss. If it was safe that first time, & another kiss. & a little later if I was doing it right & a kiss, O. You never said anything, always said it with your eyes. Your eyes that stayed behind in your face alone when I left you; your eyes after crying: you weren't there, you looked at me like faraway places, & I had to go there, & once I had got that far, the eyes that you used to say ‘darling', looking to see if it didn't change on its way to me. & when you lay by the road in the meadow, O what all hadn't you broken, your legs, your ribs, your eyes, me. You never said anything, always said it with your eyes, the way you lay there dying, eyeing, & your eyes that your son has in now, that he uses to say: don't go - you never said anything, he says it, & you look at me.
your sweaters & your white & red scarves & your stockings & your panties (made with love, said the commercial) & your bras (there's poetry in such things, especially when you wear them) - they're scattered around in this poem the way they are in your room. come on in, reader, make yourself comfortable, don't trip over the syntax & kicked-off shoes, have a seat. (meanwhile we kiss each other in this sentence in brackets, that way the reader won't see us.) what do you think of it, this is a window to look at reality, all that you see out there exists, isn't it exactly the way it is in a poem?
HIM AND HER
Bravely she keeps up
her spirits and bust.
With a temperament like
a reinforced bra.
He too is fortified
with lots of cheerful Ha-ha-ha.
But for years now his urges
have been behind bars:
the stripes of his pyjamas.
Translation: 2008, David Colmer