Esohe Weyden

- Belgium -

Esohe Weyden (Wilrijk, b. 1999) is a poet and presenter. She has been the campus poet of the University of Antwerp since 2021. As a poet, she mainly engages in spoken word and recitation, but her texts also come to life on paper. She made her debut in 2022 with the poetry collection Tussentaal (Relay Language), with which she was nominated for the 2022 C. Buddingh' Prize for the best Dutch-language poetry debut of the year. She also won the audience prize of the PrixFintroPrijs for Dutch-language literature. She is part of the editing board of the literary magazine DW B. Weyden has published in PoëziekrantDW B and Het Liegend Konijn, among others and she brought her poetry live on stage on various (literary) festivals such as Crossing BorderPukkelpop, … and she even had the honour to read a poem for the king of Belgium . She was engaged as Ambassador during the Week of Dutch Language 2023 and she is also active as a reporter for the regional televison network ATV.

Esohe Weyden: 'the forgotten speech waterfall'


Despite her early age, Esohe Weyden already has an impressive record of merit. As a spoken word poet, she has performed on numerous occasions, including the civil ceremony on the Belgian national holiday and in her capacity as campus poet of Antwerp University (where she is currently studying). This public performances constitute an essential component of her poetic activities; in fact, she wrote several poems at the invitation of various organisations and initiatives. After some time, in 2022, she published her first poetry collection, Tussentaal (English ‘colloquial, intermediate language’, literally ‘in-between language’), which was received enthusiastically both by the reading public and literary critics. Her poems not only enthrall the audience on stage, they also succeed in fascinating the reader in printed form. 


This combination of performance and book culture indicates how Esohe Weyden intends to reach and engage as many people as possible with her poetry, but it also shows her intense awareness of the unique character of poetic language. In any case, her poetry wants to be more than the expression of mere personal feelings, experiences or beliefs, aimed at the empathy of the listener and the reader. In this sense, the title of her poetry collection is in more ways than one telling of her ambitious project.


In the title poem, this tussentaal or in-between language is presented as the poet's most intimate 'companion'. 'In-between language' is the designation in Dutch for a language register which neutralizes to a certain extent the traditional distinction between respected standard language on the one hand and local dialectal variants on the other. It is a rather informal language use that combines the standard language with dialectal formulas and elements from various languages and language registers. In this way, the traditional contrast between private and public communication is partly undermined, as well as the close connection between language and social or ethnic origin. For Weyden, this choice of in-between language as a deliberate model is related to her background as a contemporary spoken word poet. Yet, it also manifests her intention to integrate as many linguistic elements into poetry as possible, so as not to exclude anything or anyone. On top of that, that in-between language also symbolises the poet's own biographical in-between position. As a matter of fact, she is caught between diverse cultures, traditions and generations (she has a black mother and a white father), and above all, she wants to be a poet among 'ordinary' language users. Finally, in each individual, language inherently creates a rupture between the instantaneous experience and its expression, or between man and the world. However, at the same time it is a necessary and active component for understanding the world, humans and oneself.


In her debut poetry collection, Weyden attempts to explore and to create an identity that is optimally adapted to the present day needs but at the same time manifests flexibility and creativity. The poet formulates the essential importance of (in-between) language programmatically in the title verse of her collection: according to her, the language of poetry, her private in-between language, 'makes something out of nothing / because it gives sense to senseslessness through sentences / breathes movement where everything is static / and warmth around chilliness’. These sentences can be interpreted as an instruction manual for her own lyricism.


First of all, poetry realises coherence and meaning. In fact, the poet constantly describes her own existence as a search, a wandering and getting lost. In the ongoing chaos of events and emotions, poetry functions as a kind of momentary refuge, an interlude that enables reflection. Thus, poetry acts as a meaningful space in-between. Past, present and future blend together here. The self comes into contact with others, allowing individuals to speak in the name of a community. And above all, poems provide structure for a confusing existence, since they give (albeit only provisional and partial) direction to life. This encompassing coherence is brought about by associating heterogeneous impressions, by combining images, by formulating paradoxes. These strategies do not succeed in transcending ignorance, but in a socratic move, they offer a certain degree of insight and a temporary catharsis.


Besides coherence, poetry also creates movement. This dynamics is first and foremost realised rhythmically. As a successful performer, Weyden pays particular attention to the rhythm of language: pauses, repetitions and connections create a surplus of communicative force. Each poem thus becomes an intense flow of thoughts, impressions, images that carries the reader along and subtly alters her view on reality. This movement contrasts with rigidity and petrification. The dynamism of our contemporary urban and multicultural world demands new images, other expressive forms, a frenetic rhythm. Accordingly, the self is also presented as inherently dynamic and vital, a fluidity which is clearly reflected by the numerous images the poet uses to designate and encircle her own identity. Quite often, the poet portrays herself from an outside perspective, presenting herself as a kind of double or as the voice of vulnerable people who lack a voice of their own.


Finally, poetic language also provides the writer and the reader with warmth. As a poet, Weyden does not limit herself to clinical observation or radical language-oriented object poetry. Quite on the contrary, the phobia of the fixed and consequently 'dead' word resonates in many texts. Her ultimate concern is establishing a personal voice, a timbre in which despair, anger, passion and fear also resonate freely. Her concept of 'in-between language' may seem impure for some poetry lovers, but it makes her language all the richer. Whoever reads Esohe Weyden inevitably becomes part of her world, is addressed but also carried away by her. Indifference and unengaged artistic distance have no place in this particular universe.


Author of the essay: Dirk de Geest