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Feature: The Low Countries
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Eliot Weinberger reviews

Preface Against the Forgetting: Selected Poems
by Hans Faverey
translated from the Dutch by Francis Jones

New Directions: 2004

This review is about 4 printed pages long.

Aristotle: “[Thales] declared the first-principle to be water . . . heat itself is generated out of moisture . . . the seeds of everything have a moist nature.”

Aristotle: “Thales conceived of the soul as somehow a motive power, since he said the magnetic stone has soul in it because it sets a piece of iron in motion.”

Faverey: “All is born of moisture, / even life’s heat. Lifeless / nature is animate too. / Proof: lodestone, // amber. Hence seed, / too, is always / moist in temperament.”

Alcmaeon of Crotona: “Men perish because they cannot join the beginning with the end.”

Outside of Holland almost no one has heard of Hans Faverey, for fate and his own predilections kept his work a secret abroad.

Heraclitus: “Nature loves to hide.”

He wrote in a language not many speak and few foreigners now know. Boswell: “In the latter part of his life, in order to satisfy himself whether his mental faculties were impaired, [Johnson] resolved that he would try to learn a new language, and fixed upon the Low Dutch. . .”

He died in 1990 at age 56, at the moment when his national reputation might have propelled him onto the international circuit, which he probably would have avoided.

Faverey: “What hides beneath the / wordline, hides all but / in vain.”

In Holland, despite prizes and acclaim, he tended to elude the gaze of the public eye. In his rare interviews, the answers were evasive.

Faverey: “Facts / consist of nothing.”

He was born in Dutch Guiana, now Surinam, and moved to Amsterdam as a boy. His tropical childhood almost never enters the poems.

He worked as a clinical psychologist. Psychological insights, experiences, language, almost never enter the poems.

Democritus: “Man must learn that he is divorced from reality.”

He met his wife on an island without vowels: Krk.

Friends have described their happy marriage, but in the poems the beloved is absent, remembered, the subject of a dream or a day-dream.

Faverey: “Memory is perception.”

He played the harpsichord and wished he had composed more than a few occasional pieces.

He wrote series of short poems, and he wrote listening to Baroque fugues and variations.

Faverey: “in the repetition / shows the futility.”

He called his poems “exercises in absence: detachment-exercises.”

Faverey: “The utter emptiness / in every thing, which actually / is. . .”

Melissus: “What is empty is nothing, and what is nothing cannot be.”

He loved the moment when a bouncing ping pong ball stops bouncing, but one doesn’t know if it has finally come to rest.

Zeno: “If anything is moving, it must be moving either in the place in which it is or in the place in which it is not. However it cannot move in the place in which it is and it cannot move in the place in which it is not. Therefore movement is impossible.”

He loved Zeno’s arrow. His “Tortoise” is the one that outruns Achilles.

Melissus: “If Being were divided it would be in motion, and if it were in motion it would not be.”

He titled a series “Sur Place,” a psychological tactic from velodrome racing: the cyclist remains on the side, motionless, feet on the pedals, and lets the opponents pass.

Faverey: “it works: the world stands still.”

He shared the national obsession with still lifes, a term coined by the Dutch. Guy Davenport: “. . . leven, ‘alive’, or drawings made from a model. A vrouwenleven was a female model, and one who, from time to time, while posing, needed to move; a stilleven fruit, flowers, or fish – remained still.”

Xenophanes: “God always abides in the selfsame place, not moving at all.”

For Faverey, a still life is not only time arrested, but decay arrested. A still life is the opposite of a nature morte.

Still life: The subject of the individual painting is unchanging; the subjects of the genre are unchanging; the genre is unchanging. Absolute stillness. Davenport: “All the genres of painting except still life are discontinuous, and only the lyric poem, or song, can claim so ancient a part of our culture among the expressive arts.”

Faverey: “I do not wish to know time.”

His first book was called Poems; his second, Poems II. When asked how his work had changed over the years, he replied that the poems had gotten a little longer.

Faverey: “When there is nothing left / to do it for, / to do it with, // it stops of its own accord.”

When asked if his later poems were more accessible, he replied: “I am better at it now.”

Faverey: “Of course it’s the principle that counts, // if there’s a principle that counts.”

Many of the poems have “it” for a subject, but it is difficult to know what “it” is.

All of his “homages” seem pitched to an opposite pole: the melancholic, melodramatic landscapes of Seghers; the perfect ricercars of Cavazzoni; the Epic of Gilgamesh; the delicate ornamentations of Couperin, composer of The Bees, The Butterflies, The Voluptuous Lady, The Nightingale in Love.

Heraclitus: “The hidden harmony is better than the obvious.”

In all of his “homages”, a glimpse of the coattails of his ostensible subject before it vanishes.

Faverey: “I have grown to love Sappho / since destruction / abridged her texts.”

Among American poets, his company would have been George Oppen, William Bronk, Gustaf Sobin.

Like Oppen, free-floating, enigmatic, unforgettable lines. Like Oppen Poems is his Discrete Series: contrary to most writers, the earliest work is the least loquacious, has the least connectives.

Oppen: “Closed car -- closed in glass -- / At the curb, / Unapplied and empty:” Faverey: “Standstill // under construction, demolition / Under construction. ‘Emptiness, // So stately on her stem’:”

Faverey: “As far as the eye can see, // the discrete has been seen.”

Like Bronk, paradoxes in plain language, and lines that erase the preceding line.

Bronk: “We aren’t even here but in a real here / elsewhere – a long way off.” Faverey: “It is not yet now; // yet now has not just been.”

Empedocles: “What is right may properly be uttered even twice.”

Like Sobin, Mediterranean efflorescence – in Faverey, the Dalmatian coast – bursting through the seeming aridity of few words.

Sobin: “that the flowers aren’t   ours, aren’t / flowering for our voices. . .” Faverey: “What the vine wants // happens.”

When asked what happens in his poems, he replied: “Things happen and at a certain moment they don’t happen anymore. Finished, basta, the end.”

Faverey: “He who cannot wait for the unhoped-for / will never hold out / until he cries: enough.”

Against the Forgetting: “Oblivion knows no time.”