'I was born in Belgium, I’m Belgian. / But Belgium was never born in me.’ So writes Leonard Nolens in ‘Place and Date’, which captures a mood of political and social disillusionment amid a generation of Dutch-speaking Belgians. And throughout this selection we encounter a poet engaged with the question of national identity. Frequently the poet moves into that risky terrain, the first-person plural, in which he speaks as and for a generation of Flemings, embodying an attitude towards artistic and political commitment that he considers its defining mark. ‘We curled up dejectedly in the spare wheel of May sixty-eight’, he writes in the selection’s central sequence ‘Breach’.
Nolens’ poetry is haunted by giants of twentieth-century European lyricism, by Rilke, Valéry, Neruda, Mandelstam and Celan, with whom he has arguably more affinity than with much poetry from the Dutch-language canon.