The editorial staff of the American magazine Two Drops Of Ink recently decided to bring more literary interviews. Befriended author Neil Leadbeater coincidentally had just finished one with Albert Hagenaars. His article was published in the magazine August 7th 2017.

Albert Hagenaars (b.1955, Bergen op Zoom) is a Dutch author, poet, and critic. He studied Dutch and now works as a reviewer of literature and the visual arts for the National Library Service. His work has been published widely in journals and periodicals. Several of his books have been translated into other languages such as English, French, Indonesian and Romanian. He was a recipient of the Sakko Prize, an oeuvre award, given by Tamoil Nederland BV.

Photo: Siti Wahyuningsih


What inspired you initially to become a writer?

Like most adolescents, I wrote my first poems when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. The poetry lessons at school were important, in the four languages most Dutch high school kids are taught. But I also started painting and, later, had an art gallery. For a few years, I couldn’t choose between these disciplines. Around 1980, staying in France, I chose poetry. I just couldn’t stop writing poems, even when I wanted to. I have to confess the choice also depended on the lack of space for more canvasses.


Where do your ideas come from?

In principle, I feel inspired by anything, but most of the time by travel experiences and books about history, spirituality, politics, and maps. At eighteen I started discovering Europe. Mostly I hitchhiked because I hardly had any money. Later on, other continents became important to me, with stays in Latin America (Mexico, Peru, and Surinam), the USA and especially East Asia.
For the past ten years, I have spent my summers in Indonesia, my wife’s country of origin. She makes it possible for me to find more time to write now than when I was single. I owe her a great deal!


What are the main influences on your poetry?

An early influence came from Hendrik Marsman (1896-1940), especially his early and late poetry. Charles Baudelaire was another important influence on me. I still admire the balance that he achieved between strong emotions and strict forms. That tension can still excite me. Since then I must have been influenced by thousands of poems. Over the years I have written more than 1300 critical reviews on poetry and art for newspapers and journals and for the National Library Service in The Hague.


What would you say are the main themes of your poetry?

These are, inevitably, traveling, alienation, plural identity, spirituality, war, and love, in brief: the whole range of emotions experienced by mankind. Cultural diversity is not just a literary orientation, it plays a daily role in my life, partly because I have been teaching Dutch to newcomers for many years: ex-pats, political refugees, technical specialists, brides and grooms and other fortune-hunters like Brexit-escapers. And also partly because Siti, my wife, is from Java. Together we translate Dutch poetry into the Indonesian language. So, we constantly live in other cultures.


What are your thoughts on the art of translation?

Well, easy translations are rare. One of my aims is to introduce poetry in The Netherlands and Flanders by authors that are still unknown in these areas. But sometimes I try to come up with a new version of a popular poem. I translate from English, French, and German. Indonesian translations are always a joint adventure with Siti. So far we have made over 200 translations of Dutch and Flemish poems into Bahasa Indonesian. We intend to have the best texts published in a bilingual anthology. We also translate work by Indonesian poets such as Afrizal Malna. I’m convinced translations must be done effect by effect, rather than word by word. Better than the original text or worse, each translation (‘vertaling’ in Dutch) must always remain a re-creation (‘hertaling’). Confronted with the choice between closely following the original but ending up with a moderate result or loosely following a poem but coming up with a poetically strong version, I prefer the latter.


I notice that in your collection ‘Tropendrift’ each sequence comprises three poems and each verse is set out in quatrains. Is form important to you and, if so, why?

Yes, form is essential but it should never be used at the expense of content! In the case of ‘Tropendrift’, I focused on the similarly shaped reliefs of the Buddhist temple Borobodur, which plays a central symbolic and spiritual role in the book. The poems are reliefs in words. Hence the choice for a composition of respectively 3-6-9-12-9-6-3 poems (the stupa is in the middle of the book of course since this temple is located in the middle of the central island of Java), and three stanzas for each poem. Numbers represent symbols, like in the holy books. Borobudur is a religious poem in stone. Last but not least, form helps me to delete what is less important, dixit Goethe. My other books are ‘dressed’ less strictly by the way.


Could you tell us something about your involvement in the Frozen Poets Project?

In 2010, I realized I had taken dozens of photos of poets, especially during travels, but had never done anything with them. Initiating a blog gave me the possibility to bring these pictures together. Since then I have been publishing pictures of 450 metal, marble, stone, wooden and terracotta poets that are viewed each month by about 1000 people from all over the world. Most of the time I get curious, so I read part of the works by the poets that I have met as a statue or bust. The process has broadened my literary horizon. I hope your readers will send me many pictures.


Music and art are both clearly important to you and you have collaborated with musicians and artists on a number of occasions. Do you find the act of collaboration rewarding enough?

It can be so inspiring to be exposed to the ideas of fellow artists, whether they are translators, musicians, painters, film makers or sculptors! I have worked with artists from all of these disciplines. That made it possible for my poetry to be experienced in other languages, other forms, and other colours. Each approach offers new perspectives. I’m always as grateful as I am excited!


What have you published to date?

Two novels, six collections of poetry (some of which were also published in other languages), two cd’s (one with Dutch composer Jan Walraven, the other with American musician Dirk Stromberg), and other titles including a literary guide. One book, ‘Linguisticum’, was staged in Luxembourg in 1995 when it was designated as the Cultural Capital of Europe. This ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ was made possible by the multi-talented Hubert Wellenstein. Six poems have been realized in the public domain so far, on buildings and in parks. And I should mention 12 poetry videos on , You Tube and Vimeo. I believe that the best is yet to come.


Do you feel positive about the future of Dutch poetry?

Absolutely. From Hadewych, who lived in the 13th century, to contemporary poets such as Ida Gerhardt and Hans Faverey, there have always been fertile periods, full of renewal and variety, just as there have been times that focus more on consolidation and stabilisation. On the positive side, Dutch is the third biggest Germanic language, after English and German, with almost 24 million mother tongue speakers in The Netherlands and Belgium and there are still millions of people for whom Dutch is a second language in other parts of the world. So, Dutch poetry has in principle a reach which is much larger than the limited surface of The Low Countries suggests. Currently, there are hundreds of interesting poets many of whom are excellent. Dutch poetry is increasingly translated and spread by more media than ever before. What an unprecedented prospect! But I happen to be a born optimist.

Two Poems by Albert Hagenaars
Translated by John Irons and reproduced by kind permission


Whoever he may constantly remind me of;
his gaze appears to hold more life than mine.
Although, I read in many languages, our fortune
matches the sum that has been paid.

He counts my numbers next to hers, divides
and then subtracts once more, traces my palm,
links Aries and Goat on their allotted paths.
Compassion’s alien to this temple.

His interpreter enquires if I’m a surgeon.
Copper clatters in an ancient wind. I nod.
“He see. You not good faith. You know.”
I return the smile, give him more of the same.

From the book 'Tropical Drift, 2003.


Here, on this acid-washed expanse of peat moor
where clans, smeared with clay, once
stood screaming across at each other,

snatches of silence now reign.

No difference any more between the rain
and the wind, nor between the youth
full of dreams who you took into the refuge hut

and the gruesome man who subdued you.

Your language blooms briefly like heather,
mine rips itself open on granite
for what we share does not conceal

what our forefathers rightly suspected:

the depth of the lochs and the height
of the hills are only connected
by the prayer scratched down in the annals

by the predecessor, as bleeding as love.

First publication



Neil Leadbeater is an author, poet, essayist and critic, born in Wolverhampton, England and now based in Edinburgh. He was educated at Repton and is an English graduate from the University of London. His work has been published widely in anthologies and journals both in the UK and abroad.

His publications include Hoarding Conkers at Hailes Abbey (Littoral Press, 2010); Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014) and The Fragility of Moths (Bibliotheca Universalis, 2014). His latest book is Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, England, 2017).

An e-book, Grease-banding The Apple Trees is available as a PDF from Raffaelli Editore, Rimini.

Leadbeater is a member of the International Association of Writers and the Federation of Writers (Scotland). He is a regular reviewer for the online magazine Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement) (USA), an external contributor for the UK to the Romanian journal, Orizont Literar Contemporan (Contemporary Literary Horizon) based in Bucharest and a participant in two translation projects associated with the University of Bucharest.

His work has been translated into Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.

Click here for more information on Neil Leadbeater

Click here for more translations by John Irons