Lies Van Gasse
- Belgium -
Lies Van Gasse (1983) is a Flemish poet and artist. After numerous publications in journals, her debut collection Hetzelfde gedicht steeds weer (The same poem over and over again) was published in 2008. This was followed by Brak de Waterdrager (Broke the Water Carrier) (2011), M (2012, bibliophile edition) and Wenteling (Revolution) (2013).
Van Gasse introduced the genre of the graphic poem, a mixed format of words and images, into the Dutch-speaking region. In 2010, her first graphic poem, Sylvia, was published followed later by Zand op een zeebed (Sand on a sea bed) (2015). Not only does she combine words and images in her graphic poems, but she also makes use of the uniqueness of the genre to enter into a poetic dialogue with fellow authors. In 2011, together with Peter Theunynck, she created an adaptation of his debut collection, Waterdicht (Waterproof). Together with Annemarie Estor, in the period 2009-2013, she set up a multidisciplinary project around the figure of Caspar Hauser that resulted in a book, an exhibition and a multimedia show. Her performance in a Mongolian poetry festival was given shape in Een stem van paardenhaar (A voice of horsehair) (2014), which she created together with Bas Kwakman.
Lies Van Gasse’s work was awarded the Prize of the Province of East Flanders and her graphic work has already been exhibited in very many places.
Lies Van Gasse (1983) is truly doubly gifted. Her debut collection Hetzelfde gedicht steeds weer (The same poem over and over again) (2008) already contained a few of her drawings, but it is only since her second collection Sylvia (2010) that the graphic and textual elements stand side by side on an equal footing. Indeed, with this bundle, she introduced the Dutch-speaking region to the genre of the graphic poem, a mixture of poetry and graphic work in which both aspects affect each other and complement each other.
Not only does she combine words and images in her graphic poems, but she also makes use of the uniqueness of the genre to enter into a poetic dialogue with fellow authors. In 2011, together with Peter Theunynck, she created a graphic adaptation of his debut collection, Waterdicht (Waterproof). Together with Annemarie Estor, in the period 2009-2013, she set up a multidisciplinary project around the figure of Caspar Hauser. Van Gasse and Estor started a correspondence that gave rise to a book (Het Boek Hauser, The Book of Hauser, 2013), an exhibition and a multimedia performance. Her performance in a Mongolian poetry festival was given shape in Een stem van paardenhaar (A voice of horsehair) (2014), a book of drawings and writings which she created together with Bas Kwakman. In 2015, she presented her latest solo project, for the time being, Zand op een zeebed (Sand on a sea bed).
Key themes in Van Gasse’s work are on the one hand nature and landscape and on the other hand desire and love. Van Gasse presents these themes in a cyclical context rather than as a linear reality. Significantly, in this context, the title of her collection is Wenteling (Revolution) (2013). The cyclical aspect of nature lies not only in the passage of the seasons, but also in the motif of the journey that doesn’t lead to a clear destination, but always seems to end up at a new starting point. The theme of desire is also worked out cyclically as a search for acknowledgement/appreciation of the other, in which the I-figure searches, finds, loses and then attempts to re-create the other again by means of language.
Lies Van Gasse’s work lives not only in books. Her graphic work has been repeatedly exhibited, inter alia at the Watou Arts Festival. Not only did Het Boek Hauser take the form of an extensive travelling exhibition, but it was also developed into a multimedia performance, in which not only Lies Van Gasse and Annemarie Estor were involved, but in which a number of the ancillary characters from the book were also brought to life by other poets. Lies Van Gasse is also active in the band Electric Sheep, for which she writes the lyrics and also draws video clips.
Lies Van Gasse is also a participant in the pool of poets in De Eenzame Uitvaart (The Lonely Funeral), a poetry initiative in which poets write a personal poem for a lone dead person and also read it at the funeral of the deceased.
Lies Van Gasse’s work was awarded the Literary Prize of Harelbeke (2005) and the Prize of the Province of East Flanders (2011).
V ans / V ans
With his eyes open his head is like a flood from which the words
flow more slowly. He’s drowning. The teardrops follow him.
‘Come, tell me what happened to you’. No answer.
I look searchingly in his eyes. I ask him, ‘Are you awake?’
Do you see this hair, do you see these eyes? Hello, it’s me,
the sister who’s been nursing you. My name is Ans’.
I receive no word in answer. He seems to be fighting
a mental war with language, trembling he spits out letters
I feel the pain of tongue and throat when touching something in panic,
and in his eyes his need wells up, oh, if only I could join my
coronary arteries with his spleen and show him without words that
I will be true and tender to him, this lamb in this foresaken void.
I cover him and lay compresses. Bite after bite I soothe with ointment.
The doctor comes into the room. ‘Ans, my sister, how fares the
injured party? Poison still sizzling in his veins?
Mosquitoes are tough creatures. A person can only hope
that the sickness gives up. Tend him well. And give him plenty to drink’.
If only he could stay with us.
He doesn’t even have a file.
All we know of him is his name, his blood Group
and that, in a far land, he has been plagued by mosquitoes
‘I’m so thirsty and, oh, how hot it is’. ‘My Hauser’.
Quietly, I lay a compress. ‘So who are you?’
Hauser looks back, uncomprehending. He coughs a little.
‘Oh, how red!’ And clutches wildly at his chest.
He tears the panels of his shirt apart
I think that he is hot from all the coughing, but no,
he opens his eyes fiercly, smashing torches through my head
thumps with all his might upon his breast. ‘Tend me!’
Oh, my head
It feels as though it were splitting.
I know a time in which my hair is singing
hear the scarlet sounds of the sitar player.
Close to home resounds the India in which my Hauser
hears voices. And once the game is over I feel troubled.
‘Yes, I’ll tend you’. Gardens are tended well
and in his eyes nothing replies.
I think that gardens will bring him unto me
Hair will take us home. That I will be in him.Translated by Rosalind Buck
Revolution II / Wenteling II
That’s still young.
That rolls over roofs
tipping evening into night.
That ties laces guilelessly,
hangs itself on breathless water.
That pours as the warmth
wraps itself sluggishly around the houses.
That clambers in droplets,
climbs like hail.
That yearns like the earth
that awaits growing,
the basket that longs to hold cats.
That glows like a red, clammy skin,
like afternoon in summer.
The water cannot match the thirst,
rivers pour inside,
streams burst mouths open.
That snaps the seams
that bind us
and breaks loose.
That spurs on the morning.
It darts, and the tiles hold fast.
Walls suck. From the corner of your eye
you can even see the cupboard move.
That turns about and tumbles.
That lays itself down in life.
In a wet land it would be called
the shimmering of the sun, the open air
in demand of attention, life outside the body.
In the dryness it bubbles up
like water from a spring,
swirling down stairs.
That forgets that in her body
the seed of age lies dormant.
That is infinite in her wastage.
That gurgles like an impassable path.
Like gravel in water,
like summery, rustling reed.
That calms like water in the bowl.
The swell subsides,
we look on almost amazed.
It orbited an unfindable axis,
casting all inward.
It had settled like a tick
under the skin,
clawed the paws raw.
It could lay the sun in stripes on the windowsill,
stretch until the underbelly almost brazenly emerged.
It could be black, as well as artful.
It could trot on tiptoe through the house,
steal under sofas and, in a moment of recklessness,
into unexpected cracks.
It used roses to suckle milk,
strawberries for a soft breath
and birdseed when contractions came
and so the mother insincerely
wrapped her arms around the baby,
then it roared.
After months, it raised itself,
walked up and down the stairs.
We had to admit
how slow our legs are.
We wanted to tell all,
but tottered on the tongue.
We left our cares on the draining board,
threw windows open, sniffed loudly inland.
We’ve started to think the hours no longer count.
Revolution XVII / Wenteling XVII
This evening, when the air sings like blood
and tears the sheet, she sits bald on the horizon.
We look straight into her heart.
The wind is weak and changeable.
She cuts out horses and ladies.
This evening, when stones split
and she dresses the hair around her like ropes,
we see you stand.
You can change into a wall of water.
It’s the final hours
that suck her into destruction,
but you radiate light at the core.
She gives her men a hard time,
casts off, crosses over,
voyages to a better life.
She will sing no more,
reads your shadow
on the wall enclosing her.
She can ball up.
It keeps her warm.
So this evening,
when she swims over in the dark
like a chick unable to find its egg,
no man will guard his girl.
Why would one search?
She will lash herself about you
like soft rope
She will embrace you
and all the shingle in between
sits like a tiny feather in her
that might grow sometimes into wings.
I have no prop beneath your language,
and I don’t know where the ship will strand,
whether the river runs inwards,
but what floats best, falls hard.
None of this is necessary.
We have a gap to fill in each other
Revolution XXI / Wenteling XXI
This morning when, after years, I emerged,
my hair was wet,
scales grew beneath my arms.
Heat lingered on the skin
like a false note.
The chrysalids lay exposed.
Maggots nibbled at my fingers
and growing took time.
When my eyes also opened,
up came the sun. Toads were suddenly silent.
I felt almost sorry.
There was a curtain blocking my view
and my fins stuck.
I had learned nothing, but this spring
gave me dead branches and a soft marsh.
This was all I needed.
I thought that even the biggest fish
suck pain, that the softest land is sailable.
I thought that where the ends meet
nothing means a thing anymore.
There are strange currents in us,
that drag us into peaks and troughs,
but after years of sluggishness we swiftly overflow.
We sail towards the end.
I am a mast that picks up words,
the ropes hard, but tight.Translated by Rosalind Buck
The dream / De droom
Lies Van Gasse en Bas Kwakman, Een stem van paardenhaar, Azul Press, 2014.
This time I went
around the earth
in aged, woollen tents.
You asked me to speak clearly.
On the sky lay the land,
on the land lay a cloth.
Each block was a sign of fortune.
A mast arises.
A train hurtles.
Evening falls intently.
Roses lie on the beds that bear us,
but we turn in the dust.
Ribbons hanging round our arms.
More than once the heavens
clear then cloud over.
Water runs down the walls in the night
and we can hear it. We wade.
We smear our skin,
tan our limbs.
An old gazelle sings
In the belly, camels become.Translated by Rosalind Buck. Published in A Horse Hair Voice, by Lies van Gasse and Bas Kwakman, Amsterdam/Maastricht 2014, Azulpress.
(Untitled) / (Untitled)
Lies Van Gasse en Bas Kwakman, Een stem van paardenhaar, Azul Press, 2014.
In the nights that followed
I ate so much sugar
that I became a horse.
I flowed and leapt like water,
fallen far too far, too deep.
Breath growing rampant. Talons hanging.
Grounds arose in us.
The talking assumed many forms
I had meant to tell you that
there are doors standing open
The mind was always fluid.
In my side, soft as a beast
was a man who makes people.
Sometimes I woke up in another city,
but no heart was ever tame there.
The road chose. I held in me
a heaven.Translated by Rosalind Buck