Thursday, June 13, 1996

Bert Schierbeek Memorial

As you die
you meet the light
of before creation
—Bert Schierbeek
Where to begin, at the beginning with a commemorative book to Bert Schierbeek. In the beginning was light, at the crematorium, the poets of the world paid homage to the fallen hero. We, the tribe, were 500 poets strong, but down one poet, we were 499 poets, we were both deluded and undiluted by light. Bert would've liked that pun.

Charles McGeehan, and I stood with the Dutch poets, wild-maned Jan Wolkers, a painter, Willem van Toorn and Simon Vinkenoog. I was well-sandwitched between corpulent Belgian poet, Hugo Claus, and Martin Mooij, who founded Poetry International in 1970.

Festival director, Martin Mooij, had invited Herman Berlandt and I to Poetry International. Herman founded Mother Earth Journal,; Uniting the world Through Poetry, an offshoot of San Francisco's National Poetry Week festival, which he also founded. (No, not Emma Goldman's anarchist rag, but the poems themselves are anarchists, focusing on the current political and ecological global crisis we're in.)

A musician played Route 66 on the trombone, it was a Beat poet homage moment. A woman placed poems on his coffin. We paraded past Bert one last time, someone left roses, we left a copy of Mother Earth Journal with Bert's poems in it. Bert was very supportive of our journal. When the crematorium doors opened, the furnaces roared like lions. We sent Bert, liberated from life, into the flames, the furnaces roared with joy.

We sent Bert off with words that burned like the stars; his coffin was a fiery arc in search of a new art form. We blanketed it with flowers and poems to offer Bert safe passage in order to meet the light that was born before creation. 

As we wept, Remco Campert read a final poem to Bert:
So fragile
his legs
in his trousers
his chest
in his shirt
his hands bruised
from the work
of death
yet suddenly
a glimpse of a wink
never say die
let somebody else
say it
not Schierbeek.

     —(tr. Linde Voûte)

So much as happened in the past 24 hours, I hardly know where to begin. I did not expect to step off the plane to attend a funeral in Amsterdam. Joke (Yoka) Gerritsen of Poetry International told us last night during dinner. Schierbeek, a co-founder of the COBRA movement, died on June 9, right before the festival began. I knew Bert was sick—our host, Charles McGeehan had told us, but we fully expected to see him again. Upright.

Charles McGeehan, is Bert's brother-in-law, and translator; Charles' ex-wife was the sister of Bert's second wife, Margrait, who was killed in a car crash. Charles met us at Station Central, and we drove to the funeral.

I've met so many interesting people –Maija (I don't know her last name), whose brother is a famous actor, and whose father was a famous painter, I liked her so much on sight, I was sure she was both an artist and actor, but she has a studio for photographers, she is a makeup artist. Her art is other people's faces. She lives in Amsterdam, we will visit later, she said.

The reception was at the De Bezige Bij (Busy Bee) publishers. Poet and prolific columnist who writes for a daily newspaper, de Volkskrant, Rutger Copeland said he kept looking at me all through the service, trying to place me. I'm flattered that he was trying to figure out who I was. He probably saw me at Poetry International during previous years. Rutger was one of the famous Dutch poets my friend, and translator, Vins van Neerven, had told me about. 

Dutch poet Judith Herzog, who is a bit of a recluse was there (on previous visits, Vins wanted me to meet her but she kept brushing me off), along with Remco Campert, and one of the grand old Dutch poets, Dutch-American poet and doctor, Leo Vroman, and Toon Telegen—so many faces from Poetry International, on such a sad occasion. At the death of a poet, and such a beloved one.

I met the wife of the vice president of De Bezige Bij publishers, she was interested in our Mother Earth poetry project at, and the children's work I do. I will send her my Dutch translations of This Body is to Ask, perhaps I'll get it republished after all. 

The Holland connections are strong. I've had more cultural stimulation in 24 hours than I've had in the past two years in California.

Sipho Sepala was very pleased to get our magazine. He wanted an entire collector's set, he kept saying, I will learn much from these. Thank youThank you while hugging me. And so from one poet to another, the tradition of samizdat is alive and well.

Last night, Leo Vroman and I talked about the nature of physics poetry and the need for accuracy. Leo is a biochemist and hematology researcher, as well as an artist. Hematologists know of him because of a discovery named after him, called the Vroman Effect, which has to do with the attraction of blood proteins, he explained.

Leo was my dinner partner. We shared drawings. Herman and I were suffering from severe jet lag, as were American poet Barbara Goldberg, a translator, and Israeli poet, Moshe Dor from Tel Aviv. We were all practically sleeping on our dinner plates, so I drew in my journal in order to keep awake. Leo joined me.

We all went walking after dinner along the canals looking at the lights reflected thinking of Bert Schierbeek, thinking of how we let him go into the light, into the darkness and into the light. Welcome to Holland.

13 June 1996 Rotterdam, Poetry International
Quite a star-studded event.

See my article:

rev. from journal notes 11/2/2015

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