Raafvogels, or Raptors in English, is Tellegen's second collection of poetry published in the UK by Carcanet. The title, plucked blind from a dictionary, is indicative of a collection of poems which are as dazzlingly original as they are bewilderingly abstract.
Each poem starts with the line "My father...", and in each serves as a jumping off point for a series of colourful, bittersweet and downright strange anecdotes about his family. At least, one presumes it's his family. Tellegen is typically cryptic about this issue:
"Years ago, I invented someone whom I called my father..." he writes in his prologue, "and, in his turn, invented my mother, my brothers and myself."
This theme of misdirection and layering of truths is consistent throughout Raafvogels, and has the potential to make it an infuriating read. But it's Tellegens' relentless inventiveness and his humour and lightness of touch that instead compel us onwards, hooked on the madness, on the delightful drip-feed of surprises:
"My father/stuck to his guns... my mother was a cloud, dissolved... my father, my little father/grew like spearwort/out of his own skull."
Tellegen describes his writing method as similar to jazz; it is a continual and seemingly limitless improvisation on a theme. That this theme should be his father, the man he followed into a career in medicine (his father also happened to be a GP), and how much we owe to Mr Tellegen Snr for this work, is never clarified. Indeed, Tellegen seems to want to distance himself and his work from any concrete attributions. It is perhaps just as well - it's the ambiguity, the suspension of reality, and the sheer non-sense of it all that delights:
"my brothers dreamed of cheese/and frivolous marmalade/my mother counted to a million."
As one newspaper in his native Holland wrote: "...as far as Tellegen is concerned, there is only one question left: whether he is a writer or a genius. I suspect the latter."
It is hard to disagree with this statement, after all, as they say, you have to be a bit mad to be a genius.
Alex Allen graduated in 2009 from the University of East Anglia with a degree in American Literature with Creative Writing. During his degree, he studied for a year abroad the US, in the Prairie State of Illinois. Inspired by his experiences there, he wrote a collection of poems chronicling the Great Chicago Fire of 1873, for which he was awarded the 2009 UEA Year Abroad Dissertation. He is currently interning at the Poetry Book Society, and is busy making plans to return to Norfolk in September, to take up his place on the UEA Creative Writing MA in Poetry. He blogs at www.thesondryfolk.blogspot.com