Ramsey Nasr, poet with dual identity, named "Poet of the Fatherland"

29th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

After several weeks of heated competition, Ramsey Nasr was voted the third "Poet of the Fatherland" last night on live television.

Poetry was turned into sport the last few weeks in the Netherlands. After several weeks of heated competition, Ramsy Nasr was elected the third “Poet of the Fatherland” last night on live television.

His most heated competitor, the Fries poet Tsead Bruijna, was accused by Nasr in an opinion piece in de Volkskrant of being an “opportunist campaigner,” and of turning the competition into a “circus” in seeking publicity, and in criticizing other candidates.

Bruijna defended his choice to go on tour, take out advertisements, and send out emails to Dutch voters. “Of course, I have the Friesians behind me,” he stated in the NRC Hadelsblad, “To me it’s all about competition.”

Nasr accused his predecessor Driek van Wissen of setting a precedent by handing out pens with his name on them four years ago. Van Wissen defended himself in an opinion piece in de Volkskrant by saying that Nasr had misunderstood. The pens were handed out in irony in a funny film on NPS, he said.

The debate did succeed in giving poetry a higher profile. A record number of 19,600 people cast their votes. Nasr won out over Bruijna, and the more subdued candidates, Hagar Peters, Joke van Leeuwen and Erik Menkveld.

Nasr (1974), who turned 35 yesterday, said in an NRC article that he wants to help people with his poems. "Poetry puts people off because it uses language in a way that they’re not used to. You can involve them by using what they’re interested in as subject matter. Everyone has an opinion about the Queen, carnival, multi-cultural society. By writing about this, you connect with them in a poem. You don’t help people by comforting them, which is what’s expected from poetry, but by discovering a new identity."

Nasr, an actor and a poet, is of mixed Dutch-Palestinian heritage. His work is known for its epic quality, and for its emotion. On the Poetry International website, he is dubbed a “lover”; “a man who is willing to open up“; and, one who “does not shun the grand gesture.” His poems are said to have visionary quality, and to carry the stamp of someone with a dual-identity, as in the line from his first bundle, 27 Poems and No Song: “The heavens I move. I remove/ The mountains I loathe to somewhere else.”

Nasr, who lives in Antwerp, was poet of Antwerp in 2005. His first bundle was published in 2000. The election is held every four years, and organised by Poetry International, The Royal Dutch Library, NPS Broadcasting Organisation, and the NRC Handelsblad. Nasr succeeds predecessors Gerrit Komrij (2000), and Driek van Wissen (2005).

Radio Netherlands/Lila Lundquist/Expatica

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