Arno van Vlierberghe
- Belgium -
Arno Van Vlierberghe (1990) was born and raised in Brussels, but lives, writes and works in Ghent. In 2017 he published his first book of poetry, a collection of five long-form texts called Vloekschrift, which was nominated for the C. Buddingh’ Prize for best poetry debut. The Flemish critic Paul Demets noted that “few poets make their poetry debut with so little respect for the sacrosanctity of poetry as Arno Van Vlierberghe. His Vloekschrift is a manifesto against status-quo society and against all poetry that plays it safe.” His academic studies in contemporary Dutch and English literature firmly rooted him in several Belgian lineages of experimental writing. Shocked by the tragic death of the young American writer and activist Mark Baumer (1983 - 2017), fatally struck by a car during his attempt to cross the U.S. on his bare feet, Van Vlierberghe started writing his second book of poetry. Taking five years to complete, the project resulted in the book-length poem Ex Daemon (2022), which was nominated for the J.C. Bloem prize for the best second book of poetry.
THE SITUATION 1 / DE SITUATIE 1
2016_12_27_16_29 — The outstretched hand — The non-world — Liberal nostalgia
2016_12_27_16_29. Finally, having arrived at the crossroads, we could see The Situation materialising. The political, economic, cultural, social situation. The nice houses emptied. The conference rooms, too. The cinemas. The party headquarters. The temples. This is the current time of writing. This is what we have to work with. This is, in brief, The Situation. It is at this moment – this one, indivisible moment – that I feel truly at home, a paid-up member of the most beautiful non-world that today has to offer. One with the indefatigable God-and-Fatherland voices. I.M., your outstretched hand is not mine. What is The Situation? Not factions but transactions. My brain now a stock market, a transfer zone where little becomes nothing. My work, my home, my nest. The organisation around me swells, contracts, encloses me like an amniotic sac where growth is still permitted. All around me the waste of the past century. A bundle of energy, alone in a space. What is The Situation? The poem as dialogue, an Arno that doesn’t want to talk.
THE SITUATION 2 / DE SITUATIE 2
Me, work – Anguish Language – The new barbarism – My resources, my tools
What is The Situation? And why should we shut it down? All that is solid melts into PR. Me, work. Dismantling the institution, in search of a community. Find more institution. Of course. Institutions, notions, people bent on power. Of course. The new barbarism. In brief, The Situation. My resources, my tools. Also The Situation. Heroically and ridiculously I march to work. Left-right-left-right-left-right, all charged up and full of potential, strategically shambolic. I don’t know yet what I’ll do. Play it straight like the others, why exactly I don’t know. To not be afraid anymore? Mindlessly and guilelessly buy what’s still left to buy. It’s gradually getting dark and hard to breathe. What is The Situation? Not work, but occupation. Hunting in a field of extreme power dynamics. Stretched and blind, I move through the 24/7 in search of respite. In search of slumbering resistance. The economically robust family. A war of my own, entirely mine to lose, to give up deferentially to a tangible enemy. I wish I had something hopeful to say, something useful. The predictable consolation I feel as member of a powerful set-up, worn like lubricated livery, a flag for parading, ragged but acceptable. Impatient capital, wait for me! I’ll be your sentry. There will never be a better now! To ra-di-ca-lise! What is The Situation? No one’s left, no one’s left and I’m alone, I’m alone now.
THE SITUATION 3 / DE SITUATIE 3
Praxis of love – Resumption of movement – Only echo – Exit
What is The Situation? It is almost morning and I’m standing at my post. Pondering the early aesthetics of war, corporate infighting and the sputtering blood that keeps me going. My breathing calm, my muscles warm again, my mind clear again. You in the centre would do well to mind your heads. There will never be a better now. The words and their echo are as ever they were. Hardly perceptible in the tumult of the city. In all our factories and in all our offices and all the stations and all the prisons and all the hospitals. Now only echo, and then no more. What is The Situation? With proud chin and head held high, I strangle my workplace. Bury it, leave it behind. What do you see now? It’s morning and I shred my skin on the world around me, mercilessly, coarsely. What do you see now? Forgetting in the rhythm of our bodies what movement was. What do you see now? That all your thinking in this world will be my thinking. That all your belief in this world will be my belief. What do you see now? The power of speculation, the power of difference. What do you see now? Cold intimacy, disguised as praxis of love, wiped away by a new wind that blusters through our history. What do you see now? A wedding, the street and the institution. What is The Situation? What is our duty? Radical empathy. What is The Situation? I forfeit the community that never was. What is The Situation? The forlorn vitality of an Arno. I won’t smooth my edges. Not for you, not for me. What is The Situation? I’m becoming impossible.
THE SITUATION 4 / DE SITUATIE 4
The goodbye – Radicality of Love – Centrophobia – Panic
What is The Situation? Why should we shut it down? And how? The words waft in from every dark corner. I have a proposal. Let’s usher in a new beginning. Not consecution but contradiction. Movement and stillness. Order and disorder. Light and darkness. Look closely and say what you see. A linguistic virus, fruit for the future. Believe in betrayal. In immobility, non-existence. Believe in terror. Desertion, courage, doubt, and what else? I see the prevailing facts for what they are and admit nothing. I honour. I believe. I want. Let’s begin with an indisputable fact: yes, it was ‘me’. My body is ready, drenched in the perfume of the past. I am taken up by the rhythm I didn’t know I lacked! I sing a song that closes the ranks, I believe in the fruit for the future that is the poet. What is The Situation? Think of the beginnings, the rhythmic resumption of movement. I don’t know yet what I’ll do. Anxious, cautious, driven, able, alive. I stand at my post and I sing: let the panic melt away.
EX DAEMON (fragment 1) / EX DAEMON (fragment 1)
So, here we are then.
The public mask broken and swept up like glass into a heap.
Here’s the beginning the preamble eyes closing hesitantly cautiously rousing from sleep.
This is the beginning of the end of the beginning of the end and you’re feeling OK.
The end in plain sight, grotesquely.
It curls up, snoring, into a nice-sounding poem.
Nice hollow words for everyone to enjoy.
To romanticise death is a poisonous act.
The death of a fruit fly is not tragic, it’s hopeless.
The image of the white-beer-sozzled fruit fly winks at me, invites me to charge it with meaning, to employ it in the poet’s own myth, for profit.
I know what I’m doing.
Bidding the day farewell from the quayside, where it’s safe and everyone gets to reach a ridiculously old age.
Mark Baumer was run over by an SUV.
His death is dumb and awful and I feel hatred for the dumb, awful driver of the SUV.
How many Mark Baumers might we lose this year?
I want to build a lighthouse out of the skulls of all the Mark Baumers we lost in 2017.
To lob the blood-red light kilometres into the world.
Burn it into the most sensitive retina, screw shut the economy’s maddest nerve endings.
What is our duty?
Our duty as people is to learn to care for everyone and everything.
What’s so hard about that, really?
Every working day a Mark Baumer hangs himself.
In my dreams I thrust my shoulders under his knees just in time.
In my dreams I feel the hot steel of the SUV buckle around my balled-up fist and Mark is safe.
Crying and afraid, barefoot and wet, but safe.
All the Mark Baumers of the world drift off to sleep contentedly.
What drives this violence?
The short answer: industry.
A longer answer: the protest and the parade are prepared with the same pomp and pageantry.
Another answer: man, like a cast iron heater, should be democratically bled from time to time.
I can only mourn the names I know.
Only the mad know all the names.
The purpose of this poem is linguistic pyromania.
Juvenile, I know, but the author died long before the flame.
What awaits us now?
The reckless violence of consensus.
I see the most beautiful and generationless people, walking the hallways of the art school so beautiful.
Bobbing in a sea of white men, art is born.
The Art that Art dares to be.
Retromania as Art, and vice versa. 03/10/17.
A lot of bodies, few people.
Even fewer artists.
Staying afloat on briefcases full of references.
The embraces of art betrayers.
On my cheek I still feel the Judas kiss of the entrepreneur-artist.
A mark impossible to wipe away.
The fashion on display at the art school is extremely beautiful.
Fashion is the most didactic proof of two-directional traffic between language and reality.
This is an absolute masterpiece!
But it’s no good to me.
Observe everything, admire nothing.
Everything is a tool, everything useful.
Hence too the novel.
Hence too the poem.
Hence too the novelist.
Hence too the poet.
Hence you too.
What awaits us now.
Live young, die slow.
I am the squandered trust!
The self-hatred in the covered logo.
The above and the underground.
The tax collector and the writ.
The horizontal art world.
Seeing everything in a symbolic order and yet carrying on with life.
This is the work of people.
Investing with a familiar face.
Hiring your personal bodyguards.
Taking all the time in the world to shave your legs.
Take care of the folds in the skin of the present, you can’t do without them.
Without Viagra or the pill there’s no porno, and vice versa.
A suicide in the right circles is deadly.
Sorry, I digress.
All my orifices are hungry.
Without these carbon chains nothing has any meaning anymore.
Once you’ve come to distrust their naturalness, of course.
Tomorrow my boss is back and this realisation keeps me up at night.
What will happen next?
Without it there’s no I, but not vice versa.
You’d call this narcissism.
For me it’s the unadulterated joy of existence.
Fuel for this body.
My poor anus was the first social asset to be privatised.
White-plate criminality would make me angrier than I am.
Above all, what I am is tired.
This all costs us a lot of effort and money and effort and money.
Like the mad, they’re after a substance I can’t shake.
The future was not, cannot be cancelled.
It smells like a dangerous prototype.
A validated feeling of success, a certain sense of responsibility, of orders.
The day’s nerve ending is listening for any form of contact.
Anything as long as there is touching.
Is what I want to say.
Labour has always been precarious.
So where did the present grow its rust?
What to do when there’s nothing more to be done?
Give the market access to our sleep and watch all our dreams pulse in neon.
Numb the social brain with 24/7 access to itself.
Numb the social brain with the possibility of anxiety, hate and data politics.
Numb it, submit and let go.
2018, alive, still.
2018, floating around in a city full of tired poets.
Tired poets copy the aesthetic of a dark Zeitgeist.
Tired poets without imagination.
The method that survives the work is a dead method.
Different forms of engagement hang side by side on the wall of the exhibition.
The art of riskless thinking.
There’s no fight in middle ground.
Reliable income tenderly smears a salve on my irritated skin cells.
In the meantime evening has fallen, and I’m yearning for the 21st century.
To put it another way: for the 21st century to begin already.
Going to sleep in this permanent now is an autonomous political act, nothing more.
Nor anything less.
Without a fight the I is nothing.
Recently little old me found himself unexpectedly without a transversal expert coach.
What to do?
Usher in the disease, pixel by pixel.
With an ear pressed to the wall.
If only I had an eye for every keyhole, a camera for every shower.
Awakening from collective hallucination, future.
Awakening from numbing horizontalism, future.
Divorcing sleep of dreams, future.
Producing poetry as shareable reverie, future.
Distilling reverie into a head-butt, future.
The distance between thinking and head-butt, future.
Vanishing into the solid certainty of the top-down.
The cadence of the dizzying procession of bosses.
Dreamt about coalitions of coalitions, communities of communities.
Embracing each other in unadulterated agonism.
Filled with hope I skip down the street.
What do I encounter?
An I with room for more.
The only noble function: to move us from place to place.
Dissensus doesn’t need a me.
Calling my name until the syllables flake off.
Forge a hammer from the rubble of collected sounds.
The marble umbilical cord between high street, university and arts centre.
Smash it, smash it, smash it.
My opportunities on the employment market dwindle away until the I doesn’t count.
Believe it or not, I agonised a month over those last 9 lines.
Who will pay me for it?
Again: What does it mean to live in this city tonight?
Thanatology for the cowardly.
The quiet horror of the blunt knife and the throat.
Again: save your spanner.
The reckless violence of con-sen-sus.
Diatribe: the poetry of leisurely self-abasement.
The purpose of this poem is to dethrone other poems.
I see the mechanism but don’t feel the output.
I hear the words spilling out but don’t feel the urgency.
Searching for intimacy between two mirrors.
How much Arno is too much?
Contaminating the fragile language of self-absorption with.
It’s spring 2018 and we’re reading passionate miner’s poetry.
In the United States bodies fill the streets for and against gun violence.
In Poland bodies fill the streets for and against the sanctity of such bodies.
The news informs me promptly of such matters.
The product in my hands whispers her long history to me and I can’t help but giggle to myself.
Why should I understand what’s unfolding here?
Surely that’s what poetry criticism is for.
Surely that’s what the poet-reviewer is for.
Surely that’s what the university is for.
Toddlers learning to walk, what a sick joke.
Hole in the market: ergonomic office chairs for toddlers.
The comfort that your little labourer deserves.
The subsequent phone call to Vitra fits perfectly within this poetic vision.
Sorry, where was I?
It’s Sunday 08/04/18 and I wish work would free me from the weekend.
Limping through a city of able-bodied projects.
The noise, chaos, has no rhythm to it.
EX DAEMON (fragment 2) / EX DAEMON (fragment 2)
The noise, chaos, has no rhythm to it.
A school yard’s emptiness in summer.
Deprive us of parataxis and I’ll go crazy.
This is an observation of utmost triviality.
There’s nothing like permaminent threat to get the political heart pumping.
Lately I’ve been feeling so possessed by geopolitics.
That I’m losing sleep over it.
Geopolitics has been keeping me from my sleep.
But that’s where capital’ll fail.
Realism and capitalism used to be holiday sweethearts.
But now winter is coming.
Remember: Fridays are for decolonisation, lads!
Wear the right outfit.
Curate your appearance, till nothing’s left!
Get Lucky Now Arno Van Vlierberghe!
Win your chance to!
How lovely all this appears!
To be so alive.
Thinking, enjoying, eating, drinking &tc.
This month you too will score, Arno Van Vlierberghe!
And remember: Experience is Essential!
Obviously, it’s always okay for you to die.
The body’s location is the shop, & vice versa.
The beautiful shiny objects in a state of rust.
The rare emotional outpouring over lame supermarket products.
Empathy, a no threshold indulgence.
Such presumptuous sentimental insidious nonsense.
I feel sabotaged.
Throw a shoe in the sunset’s radarworks.
Not at this pace!
Shit, emotion after all.
On the escalator I’m overwhelmed by the terrible feeling.
To be face-to-face with a lonely product.
Waiting for completion.
At any cost.
Joining all our wrists.
Cuffs, velcro, magnetic strips.
Ratchet straps if that’s what it takes.
Yes, a hundred pages of this kind of poetry!
Rhythm needs range.
This poem’s goal is friendly hegemony.
This poem’s a junk, addicted to its own crisis.
As long as there’s crisis, is what I mean.
I don’t trust this form.
Luckily I don’t have a choice.
If form is foe, then I choose their side.
The luxury of choice knee on throat.
This poem is a total catastrophe.
It sings pessimism’s monophonic mantras, the night side of thought.
Gagging pauper poetry hits the charts.
101 pages of searching for that OK feeling.
Nobody needs this thing.
And yet it must be written.
Anti-this & anti-that: I want more more more!
This thing is a raft.
A craftily made information stream and you don’t even notice!
This poem’s goal is anti-sociology.
This poem’s goal is more politics.
Waking up every day with extreme violence in one’s finger tip.
I’m starting to make myself redundant.
There wasn’t much Arno left.
This poem’s goal is to let the demonic enter poetry.
Fuck the boundaries between the animal, the human, the divine.
Don’t believe them.
And remember: Expiry is Essential!
Meanwhile, Romantic reflections about the mobilised class.
The mobilisable class.
The streets can take our human drama fine for now.
Help, I have newspaper in my blood.
Looking at things mindlessly.
Feeling my day’s blade on the throat, and gulping anyway.
I’m the expert on this journey.
I’m the addict.
And my mouth means its intentions.
Amplify the cell division’s sound until there’s tears resounding.
Deafening, desolate but there.
Shape it into a howling sound poem that makes every cell sing.
A viral didactic song about civic desires and crises.
Counter-revolutionary boredom that yields more than it costs.
Under a dead letter’s honor guard I crawled towards you barefoot.Translated by Sarah Posman