Charlotte Van den Broeck
- Belgium -
Charlotte Van den Broeck studied English and German and is taking a degree course in Arts of the Spoken Word and Theatre at the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp. In 2015, she made her debut with the poetry collection Kameleon (Chameleon) at the Arbeiderspers. The collection was awarded the Herman de Coninck Debut prize. In January 2017, her second collection Nachtroer (name of a late night shop) will make its appearance. She has been published in various literary journals in the Netherlands and Flanders. Some of her poems have been translated into German, English and Arabic. Besides being a poet, she is also a performer and seeks the ability to pronounce and experience poetry onstage. She performed inter alia at the Night of Poetry, Saint Amour and together with Arnon Grunberg will attend to the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair 2016.
As with several of her contemporaries (Maud Vanhauwaert, Ruth Lasters, ...) the poetry of Charlotte Van den Broeck has been greatly influenced by her background as an onstage poet. Her poems often have a narrative character, they are rhythmic and make use of strongly impinging images. Their tone is often colloquial.
The poetry of Charlotte Van den Broeck also certainly holds its own on paper. Beneath the narrative layer, which does well on stage, there is also another strong subtext present, which makes the poetry subject to multiple interpretations. Central to the collection is the search for identity by an I-figure. The I in Kameleon at first sight resembles a naive girl, looking wide-eyed at the world. In a second reading, however, it appears that the I-figure itself is gradually becoming aware of a subversive undercurrent in the world. The dear granddads turn out to be common whoremongers, grandmothers have already gone through several grandfathers and mothers weep silently in front of the washing machine. Parallel to the shedding of the girl into a woman, we also see the world coming of age in the poems of Van den Broeck. Poet and critic Luuk Gruwez put it as follows: ‘The body is part of the landscape. It seems that the landscape can hurt Van den Broeck because her body is part of it. And with all of that, she seems to be embarking on a quest for both the world and for herself.’
In October 2016, as the youngest ever Host Country Speaker, together with the Dutch writer Arnon Grunberg, she will be opening the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is being hosted in 2016 by Belgium and the Netherlands.
PEOPLE WHO WATCH NATURE FILMS TO UNDERSTAND THEMSELVES BETTER / Mensen die natuurdocumentaires kijken om zichzelf beter te begrijpen
Watching nature films together,
female of the species on the Savannah,
we plan a field trip on the sofa
from one body to the other.
Arms taken out of dress, urging
each other on, finding a rhythm,
beneath your hands.
Talking is just camouflage for forgetting
we should never turn this into language,
we should take the numbers from the clock
and steal the clocks from the walls
until they are mere circles,
depriving us of nothing.
Only this remote point in time
when we lost our shape.
According to the laws of reciprocity
it can keep returning to the start,
Again, arms taken out of
urging each other on
finding a rhythm.Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchinson
LAUNDROMAT DE NETEZON / Wasserette de Netezon
My mother cries when she does the wash.
It’s the perfect moment for mothers to cry
because the revolving drum of a washing machine
generally makes quite a racket.
I can still hear her sobs, but so quietly
they really could be just ambient noise.
A washing machine licks the day’s wounds.
You can put anything in it that doesn’t fit in your head.
Unused sheets for example.
Or the tobacco smell in the coat of your grandfather with throat cancer.
Long cycle, sixty degrees, cleansing ritual.
I spent ages thinking it was unfair that I had a crying mother.
As though I had to go to school carrying a heavier bag
and whenever we played drop the handkerchief
I’d briefly think that the hanky was for my mum.
I made sense of the phenomenon of the ‘crying mother’ by guessing
there was not enough water, that this was why she’d stare into the washing machine
thinking long and hard about dead pussy cats, long enough
for her to be able to do the washing with her tears.
I grew up with salt stains on my clothes.Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchinson
ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE / Archeologische site
I chisel you out of marble, take a quick bite of your shoulder
my teeth grating across your marble shoulder.
However often I chip you out of the chalk cliffs of my mind
it seems as though you barely fit inside a memory.
Sometimes I can still find your boyish eyes through the gashes in the day,
the saffron, we sprinkled on our lips, more often
you walk past the place to where I can imagine you
chasing an atlas moth and then I chop and chop
you again from the chalk cliffs and I scream that we, since the beginning of mankind,
that’s what you said, that we, since the beginning of mankind, have
licked the honey from each other’s hair, light breaks onto the bathtub
mingles with the foam of this reckless quiet water
in which I carve the final lines, lay your hands in a triangle,
the gentle slope of your hips in contrapposto.
I pin an atlas moth to your breast.Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchinson
Sisjön / Sisjön
A grandfather and child stand naked at the edge of the lake.
We decide that this is natural,
stare politely at our toes whilst stepping out of our clothes.
We force our cheeks into a smile.
One glance wipes away the innocence of my bathing suit.
This is how we glide into the water, impish.
We swim across the lake, breaststroke
feels strange without the contours of a swimming pool.
I talk about my mother’s breasts floating on the water in the bath.
How they seemingly contradicted gravity.
We smoke ciggies on top of your sleeping bag, for me a first.
My gums feel like a dried apricot stone,
but I tell him it tastes all right.
In the morning the sun burns us out of our tent,
where we find the dead chick.
Whatever it was, it was defenceless.Translated from Dutch by Astrid Alben
Växjö / Växjö
There’s a lightness in the air that wrings.
We look like kids washed up in the corner
of the playroom, fists bawling on the mat,
screaming that their bodies are bursting at the seams.
At noon we stare into the sun with bulging chameleon eyes,
the world smudged in coarse grease pencil lines.
There’s no noticeable difference between the hand and the table
just the transition of matter.
In the wavering image of magnified pixels
a girl’s hair sways in long ponytails, hair
that isn’t yet a trump card but a burden when she plays.
When she walks the tails swish like whips.
A lethargy weighs everything down:
more mass on top of the same surface area
causing things to tumble off somewhere
along the margins of the world.
There’s a lightness here that wrings.
As if it’s all just a marble alley
a way from up to down
until someone lifts us up again.Translated from Dutch by Astrid Alben
Hvannadalshnúkur / Hvannadalshnúkur
Fingertips, suction pads, don’t fall asleep now
if you don’t fall asleep now we will talk now
we can talk, here, on top of these sheets
talk about the pale hills across the water,
the sods of grass where we sat
where we hadn’t sat together yet, summers
we experienced separately, the lighter of our hair
and the longer of the days, here, on top of these sheets
make sure you don’t break now, the scorpions in my bookcase
are travelling tonight, it’s safe now, the heat
on the windows, the steam from your stories, it’s almost
morning on top of these sheets, a final hour, here
in my languid loins, stay, talk a little now
in the languidness of my loins
about: bellybuttons, the silly season, talk a distant land in my ears
the branches on sturdy trees lining the sound of the words
here, fevered dreams, here, on top of these sheets knurs for hands
and bowls of thirst, white lilies in the living room, the walls
long-forgotten blueprints, the innocence of rain worms
in a child’s mouth, we can talk here, on top of these sheets.Translated from Dutch by Astrid Alben
Thirst (in pdf) / Dorst
CHAMELEON [ii] / Kameleon II
I speak in a lulling melody of ‘here’ and ‘now’ and ‘stay’
repeat this so often that it chafes
until you roll me back into your mouth, lay me
unspoken on your undulating tongue, gently
the way little girls with too much puppy fat bounce when they walk.
And I want you to speak me again, not to be
able to stop speaking me so that I break out of
the hollow of your mouth and you give me new
names, the wrong ones like ‘sweet’ and ‘little’
and ‘slow’ so that afterwards I start to behave
like a conditioned dog,covering my breasts
every time you come into the bathroom.
Let us tell lies about analogue love to the
pillow somewhere between tongue and teeth.
Perhaps we’ll still spring into each other’s
minds. Perhaps we’ll remember the place
where we began to shake and we could no
longer get into the rhythm.Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchinson
POULTRY SPECIALISTS / Speciaalzaak PoelierWomen make bouillon from themselves in bath water until their innards boil out of them in the form of a child.This is how we are born: without a shell,without the reassurance that one day we will finda mouth, that looks so much like our own mouth that we start to talk with it.We too will end up one day frog-legged,with gurgling breath and the nervous ticof a head on a bewildered bodyleft in the bath tub,as the water circles away,a small whirling tornado,that won’t even make the weather forecast.Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchinson
Bucharest / BoekarestSome places are so smallthey’d fit on the tip of a finger.I try to point at where everythingwas but I can barely remember.Among the rubble of forgettingstands my grandfather’s bookcase andthat Sunday afternoon when we read the atlas together, his finger resting on the capital of Romania.‘A smashing bunch of slags’ they had, he saidand I thought a slag was some sort of Eiffel Tower and resented him for never bringing me back a miniature version.Later I learned that borders and grandfathers are relative. Only that afternoon is marked in the atlas by raised alphabet letters, as the afternoon when I still saw in him the most perfect guide.Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchinson.
Bulls head / StierenkopEver since I was born an enormous bulls head ragesin my mother’s belly. It’s on a rampage in her empty wombcreating scars in the fallow mother. Sometimesshe doesn’t quite recognise me, which is troublingbecause at one time I fitted inside her perfectly. Luckily,according to the astronomical constellation of CancerI’m pleasure seeking, reliable and creative. She finds this consoling,an article of faith connecting amniotic fluid to the universe.Whenever we had chicory baked with gammon, I’d get the crust of cheese.All of it. Because I’d asked for it.The love I know is dished up from a casserole,the two extra helpings on a full platethat second biscuit hidden in the yellow pud.This is a typical feature of motherly conduct:‘Stuffing ones young’.In exchange for the void I left in her, she wanted me full and round.Then came the morning I announced the arrival of two small breasts.The news broke her spirit for days.Eventually she handed me a bra,emblazoned with Hello Kitty.Deep inside her belly raged the snorting bulls head.A void is emptiness only when nothing else will fit.Gradually we fossilised into two separate creatures.We can no longer tellwho became the insect and whoturned into amber.Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchinson