- Belgium -
Tijl Nuyts (Istanbul, 1993) loves to travel by public transport in Belgium and beyond and is especially fond of double decker trains. He lives in Brussels and is the poetry editor of the literary magazine Kluger Hans. He studied English, Spanish and comparative literature in Leuven and Oxford and recently finished a PhD on the uses of medieval mystical literature in the making of collective memory in multilingual Belgium. His debuting poetry collection Anagrammen van een blote Keizer (Anagrams of a Nude Emperor) was nominated for the C. Buddingh’ Poetry Prize in 2017. In 2022, his second poetry collection Vervoersbewijzen (Transports) was awarded the Herman de Coninckprijs and shortlisted for De Grote Poëzieprijs. He is currently working on a conspiracy novel set in the aftermath of the Anthropocene and on a poetry project that explores playful forms of constitutional patriotism.
Gods, riddles and trains
Tijl Nuyts (Istanbul, 1993) is the editor-in-chief for poetry at the Belgian literary magazine Kluger Hans. He studied English, Spanish and comparative literature in Leuven and Oxford and recently finished a PhD on the uses of medieval mystical literature in the making of collective memory in multilingual Belgium.
Short stories, poems and essays by Tijl Nuyts have appeared in literary magazines such as Tirade, Poëziekrant, Het Liegend Konijn, DW B, Awater, Deus ex Machina, de lage landen, De Nederlandse Boekengids and De Reactor. Some of his poems were translated into French by Daniel Cunin for the literary magazines Traversées and Septentrion.
He made his debut in 2017 with the collection Anagrammen van een blote keizer [Anagrams of a naked emperor] (Polis). This collection explores the noise that arises whenever one tries to name something. In poems that are at the same time narrative and lyrical, Tijl Nuyts follows in the footsteps of an elusive figure named Kuluri (Maltese for ‘colour’), a slippery and ever-changing character who roams in a world that at times seems very recognisable and at others exotic and surreal. Nuyts toys around with readers who try to solve the many riddles in the collection, giving hints and misdirecting them along the way. The collection earned him a nomination for the C. Buddingh’ Prize, the prize for the best poetry debut.
Reviewer Koen Vergeer described Tijl Nuyts’ second collection, Vervoersbewijzen [Transports] (Wereldbibliotheek 2021), as “a collection of poems packed to bursting with God”. Although the collection is by no means a “religious” anthology, our daily attempts to find meaning in life are certainly central to it. Nuyts uses the metaphor of the public transport user to come to grips with our shared search for purpose in the twenty-first century. Rather than leading to lofty paradises, this quest takes him to desolate suburbs, deserted metro stations and anonymous railway carriages. In all of these places, he finds “vignettes of everyday religiosity”. Nowadays, the place of religion in the public sphere is often dealt with heavy-handedly and has become the subject of fierce debates. That is precisely what Nuyts wants to get away from. He says about this himself: “I want to breathe air into these discussions with poems that cast a more playful light on the religious in our everyday lives. In this way I try to steer away from the inflammatory polemics and pointless discussions we have about religion in society, where the same topics and arguments are endlessly rehashed in superficial and tedious ways.”
Nuyts’s second collection was nominated for De Grote Poëzieprijs and won the Herman de Coninckprijs.
NOORDSTATION/GARE DU NORD / NOORDSTATION/GARE DU NORD
The trees projected onto the blind wall
in the station’s underbelly
change colour again and again
morphing into trees with the branches of
different trees each time. Beneath their foliage
you scratch about blithely over the icy platform,
a pilgrim among other pilgrims, pecking
grains scattered among shoes
and trolley wheels like coins
by some invisible hand.
You’ve heard tell of a happy homeland beyond the hill.
There lies the destination for you all.
THOMAS—SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA / THOMAS—SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
Each of you has reasons of your own.
There are those who, when collecting
tropical houseplants no longer brings them joy,
or when there’s nothing to hear in news podcasts but poetry,
go swimming in the dark week after week
before setting off once and for all on a different path.
There are those who seriously consider
committing to a career as a theme park penguin
exposing themselves to the eyes of the cameras,
brooding in the snow while their partners are off at sea
searching for lanternfish.
There are those who resolve
to lead their lives as pilgrims.
To obey the summons in their breast,
which sounds far away yet so close
in origin, silent, sometimes
deep, but always dark.
There are those who know it is too late.
There are those who this, there are those who that.
Together you form a united multitude.
LIEDTS—SAFED / LIEDTS—SAFED
You all see bodies
of sick or wealthy people
lying among the stones
when you leave the tunnel,
riding up the slope, toward the light.
The eyes of the giant petrel,
pretty flowers, a plastic bag
around the head of a man gone astray.
A woman who forgot to renew
her pass, is fined, and remembers
how to pray without an instruction manual.
You wear shells and medallions
on your vintage outfits. Cheap lead
or tin insignia – souvenirs, really.
You have read brochures
about a higher truth, you keep your schedules clear
on rainy Wednesday afternoons to think
about life or demand a favor
(healing, for example), to show respect, to draw
inspiration, to pause for reflection or do penance,
to take a step back—a big step back—
from a hectic life or a person,
to meet new people, to have the experience,
to have been there.
LEFRANCQ—MEKKA / LEFRANCQ—MEKKA
You recently spotted Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor,
Judith Butler, and Cornel West on the tram.
They were shooting the breeze about religion
in the public sphere, keeping it light, having a ball.
Habermas read aloud from the most liberal of constitutions
while Taylor and Butler tossed ideas back and forth
like slippery fish. Cornel West sang the blues, his eyes shut.
Later Talal Asad and Saba Mahmood got on board. They threw coins
into West’s hat and joined the conversation, which you tried
several times to break into. “In that respect I agree with you, but—”
When a silence fell
and the boxed lunches were passed around
you detected other voices, almost too soft to hear,
like casual breaths of wind from the round ventilation grilles.
You couldn’t follow much of it,
but what stayed with you is
that you must always give up your seat
for elderly passengers and pregnant women.
Even when the elderly passenger in question can feel the end is nigh
or the aforesaid woman is pregnant by a large angel.
ROBIANO—LOURDES / ROBIANO—LOURDES
Angels on the tram.
Pressing close against you.
Lots of them. Their wings
are folded but still take up
too much space.
How many angels can dance
on the head of a pin?
It is not dark
enough to pray.
Like a burning box
the tram glides down the streets.
As if someone had prepared for the angels’ arrival
by putting up neon lights all over the place,
stuffing halogen spots into handbags,
crackling Christmas lights
for wrapping up passengers.
You squeeze your eyes shut
and don’t know if the texture
of feathers on your tongue
is your imagination.
WIJNHEUVELEN/COUTEAUX—KONYA / WIJNHEUVELEN/COUTEAUX—KONYA
These days you hesitate to use the prayer mat
your sister brought you from the city
as a rug by your bedside.
On the train, on the tram, on your way home on foot
you formulate unfinished thoughts and wait for inspiration
to fall from the balcony like a stillborn child.
People act as if every woman with a veil
had been brainwashed by a voice from the depths
but don’t know to this very day
what colour her eyes were.
In the summer you long
for a cool black square
above the city and make an ornament
of what once had meaning to someone.
WELDOENERS/BIENFAITEURS—ROME / WELDOENERS/BIENFAITEURS—ROME
Soon the day will come
when the Messiah arrives
with His unctious smile
and wondering hands.
The company has very carefully
wrapped Him in bubble plastic
and the box fits through the door.
Track His route in the app.
VADERLAND/PATRIE—JERUSALEM / VADERLAND/PATRIE—JERUSALEM
Yeux disent le contraire, yeux disent le contraire.
Oups, je l’ai touché dans le coeur – aïe aïe.
Je l’ai touché dans le coeur – aïe aïe.
Lomepal, “Yeux disent”
You have your hair cut by the Aramaic hairdresser.
“Voulez-vous un peu de wax dedans, monsieur?”
the bleached blonde woman asks you in the language of Christ.
In the local supermarket the scent of oranges
hovers over the racks like a ghost. As you’re walking home
with a spongy loaf of bread in your backpack,
you see that the church is surrounded
by cars and crying people.
In the center of the crowd, buried under
white flowers, a gleaming black vehicle waits.
One tram stop further, in the shade
of the trees by the railroad tracks,
Teresa is weeping along with the multitude.
And you hesitate to say it,
but she seems struck by
an arrow of purest love.
DISPATCH / DISPATCH
Today’s prophets no longer trade
in narcotic drugs.
They come to you and say in your ear how it is.
Prophets get around on whirring wheels.
Their breath is as frantic as that of young heavenly bodies.
They wear baggy coats and coolers
stuffed with pre-packaged shapes on their backs. Every month
new prophets come into the world by the thousands.
Prophets inhabit the shadow economy.
They operate in hot late-afternoon deserts,
in gentle evening light and in the darkness
of nocturnal landscapes. In the twilight zone
they turn on their lamps, hunch
their backs, lose their grip on the pedals,
and shout in the wind.
Prophets bring you what you need.
Supply and demand. You open the front door for them
with a smile. For thirty seconds
you gaze into their hopeful eyes.
Then you take the package
and send them back into the night.
By the time the prophet in question
is three city blocks away from your location
and the delivery is shimmering on the kitchen table
you see everything a different light.
ORDER NUMBER 000046738 / BESTELNUMMER 000046738
In the square stands a child. He makes a rectangle
with his fingers and looks through it.
In the rectangle birds fly past,
young adults jog, trams wander off course, fast cars
hit pedestrians. In the rectangle people move
and love; they curse, doubt, and believe.
The child looks through the rectangle, one eye
shut, the other open, observant, bright, and blue.
Then the child opens his fingers
and rotates the rectangle
and with the rectangle
ORDER NUMBER 000037754 / BESTELNUMMER 000037754
I lived in a school
that looked like a boat
in the sun. I was alone there
and a fire was sparked
when I looked up
at a windhover gliding
through the steely sky,
which swooped to prey
on a mouse below
but was gashed
by something sharp
and exploded in a cloud
of gold and vermillion.
It had something to do
with language, with riddles,
with childhood or the horizon.
I understood nothing about it
and never forgot.
That was how I wanted it.
ORDER NUMBER 0000875329 / BESTELNUMMER 0000875329
to the questions we ask
cannot be reduced
to what we want to know.
It is smaller than we
would think; it fits
in the little see-through box
that the child in the stroller
is looking at.
The box that seems
to become ever smaller.
The child who, just before
the box has disappeared completely,
calls out to his mother and cries
because he didn’t think
to start rubbing the box
in time to keep it warm
so it wouldn’t shrink
but would stay small
forever so he would
never have to stop
looking at it.