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Why commemorate Guido Gezelle?

By Alison Fox, on 21 March 2017

Today’s guest post is by Paul Vincent, an award-winning translator and scholar who has published two volumes of translated poetry with UCL Press: Herman Gorter: Poems of 1890, A Selection, which explores the work of seminal Dutch poet Herman Gorter, and, more recently, the multi-translator volume Poems of Guido Gezelle. This excerpt, to celebrate World Poetry Day, is taken from the introduction of  Poems of Guido Gezelle.

shoot that roots
jet that spatters
tempest above all deeps
storm across all plains
wild rosetrees blow
stems of alder catkins bare

Deepest distance
farthest depth

calyx that quivers in the cup of both my palms
and darling as the daisy
As the poppy red
O my wild poppy

Paul van Ostaijen (1896–1928), translated by James Holmes


This acclamation of Gezelle by an Expressionist of a succeeding generation is typical of the awe with which he has been regarded in his home culture. The writer August Vermeylen sees his significance for Flemish literature in biblical terms – that the poet himself would have no doubt found blasphemous: ‘In the beginning was Gezelle; and Gezelle was the Word …’

However, amid the polemics and recriminations that seem inescapable accompaniments to literary commemorations nowadays, the Flanders-based Dutch writer Benno Barnard recently sparked controversy by suggesting that Gezelle had little to say to him as a reader at the end of the twentieth century.2 Invidious comparisons were made between the official funds being lavished on the Gezelle centenary and the less generous subsidy afforded the twentieth anniversary of the death of the ‘worthier’ irreverent modernist Louis-Paul Boon (1912–79). The puzzled outside observer might wonder why it has to be Gezelle or Boon, and why this tiny corner of Europe that produced two extraordinary originals cannot rejoice in its own cultural richness and diversity.

There are more encouraging signs: it is refreshing to see that the commemorative exhibition organised by the poet’s home town of Bruges celebrates not only the pious regionalist and nationalist icon, but also the polyglot cosmopolitan, as reflected in his extensive library.

The English reader without Dutch has no need to grope for a context for much of Gezelle’s work: his love of regional speech and folklore, and his attraction for the minute details of nature that he shares with Robert Burns (1759–96), like Gezelle a gardener’s son. His Franciscan sense of the brotherhood of Nature sometimes suggests the poetry of John Clare (1793– 1860), while the devotional dimension and formal experiment (for example, onomatopoeia) suggest the sprung rhythms and spiritual questing of fellow priest Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). The Anglophile Gezelle visited England several times on church duties, and one can only speculate on the impact Hopkins’s work might have had on Gezelle, had it been published during his lifetime. Kindred spirits, and in the case of Burns a possible partial influence – but Gezelle, great writer that he was, is much more than the sum of influences. It is hard to dissent from Jozef Deleu’s comments in a recent anthology:

There is no poet who has made our language sing in such an incomparable way. The wonder of the poet Gezelle is his gift of wonderment. Childlike and naive, he spends his life in the midst of nature. He has no explanation for all the wonders that strike his eye and ear, but throughout his life they move him to praise the Creator. Gezelle is always uninhibited and unrestrained in his rapture. When he is overwhelmed by solitude and sadness, his language is just as musical as when he is in joyful mood. His poetry is carried by a Romantic sense of life, but lucidity and simplicity are its most essential features. Gezelle the poet is both a seeker and a finder. Whatever he touches with his word, regains the purity of the first day. That makes him unique.

In selecting poems for the present anthology, my aim was to give as representative a picture as possible of Gezelle’s large poetic output (based on source-language anthologies, critical views and personal preferences), from devotional, through narrative to celebratory and expressionistic. I also wished to include as wide as possible a spectrum of translators in English. It is particularly gratifying to be able to include a number of expert dialect versions, two in Lowland Scots (‘Twa Aivers’ and ‘To…?’) and one Yorkshire flavoured (‘Farmer Nick’). What this volume cannot, of course, do is do justice to the range and versatility of ‘the at least five Gezelles’ identified by André Lefevere (journalist, linguist, educator, priest, experimental poet). I can only offer a window on the last and, arguably, greatest of these: the lyric poet.

A Tribute to Lisa Jardine (12 April 1944–25 October 2015)

By ucyllsp, on 26 October 2015

Lisa JardineWhen UCL Press sent out its first, tentative call for proposals in early 2014 – a completely new university press operating a brave open access business model – I could not have been more surprised when Lisa Jardine emailed me, about ten minutes after the call went to all staff desks, to say she had a complete manuscript she wanted to publish with us. Of course, I was aware that theCentre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL), of which she was the director, was at UCL, and I had hoped at some future date to meet her. But never in my wildest dreams did I think that she would publish something with us.

Her reasons for choosing UCL Press were that she wanted to give something back to UCL, which had given CELL a home when it was transferred from Queen Mary, University of London in 2012, and that she actively wanted to demonstrate her support for open access publishing. Her choice sent a clear message – she was interested not in royalties but in readership, and she believed that scholarly research should, morally, be made available to all for free. It was a brave move, and it kick-started UCL Press in a way that few other scholars could have done.

The Press has since gone on to receive well over 100 book proposals in just over a year – I wonder if that would have been the case if she hadn’t chosen to publish with us. It was a pleasure to work with her – she was frank, charming, receptive to queries and suggestions, and professional to the end. During the course of production of the book she told me that she might not be as fast at proof checking or responding to queries as she normally was because she was having treatment for cancer – she never did miss a deadline. But by that time we had set the date for the official launch party of UCL Press at which she was due to speak as our inaugural author. I wondered if she would be well enough to make it but she assured me that she wouldn’t miss it for the world and that she had scheduled other arrangements around it to ensure she could come. And she did make it, and spoke passionately to a crowded room about her belief in the rights of everyone to have free access to scholarly research outputs. She even had cupcakes made specially for the guests, with the title of her book iced on them:Temptation in the Archives.

The book, about Anglo-Dutch relations, received a glowing review in THE, in which the Dutch scholar Henriette Louwerse praised Jardine’s ‘delicious storytelling’, and highlighted the ‘refreshingly personal’ way that Jardine ‘describes the process of archive work not simply the outcome.’ We feel immensely privileged to have worked with Lisa, to have had her support in UCL Press’s early days, and we pass on our sincerest condolences to her family.

Lara Speicher, Publishing Manager, UCL Press