Germain Droogenbroodt: Poetry elevates human spirit
I am trying to do something, even if little, to make this world become betterTeodora Stankova
We are living in an egotistic society where all artistic manifestations are dominated by love of gain. French poet Jean-Pierre Simeon wrote a book titled Poetry will Save the World. I don't feel all that optimistic, but I believe that poetry does have healing power. Some poems heal thanks to their beauty, others due to their philosophical charge, says Belgian poet Germain Droogenbroodt in an interview to ArtSofia.bg.
Please, tell us about yourself. From where did you start your journey in literature?
I was born in a small Belgian village where the library was the only source of culture. But, being an alert child, I always wanted to learn more, and after turning 14 I started crisscrossing Germany and Holland by bike in search of new worlds. So I discovered Bruges, the capital of Flanders, the city I fell in love with. Later, as a student, I used to spend my vacations there and worked as a tour guide. I discovered not only the beauty of this medieval city but also the Flemish art and the paintings of Hans Memling.
While I was a student in Brussels, I spent a lot of my time in the French and the German libraries, where I greedily gobbled poetry books by Goethe, Schiller, Rilke, Baudelaire, Victor Hugo… Then I started to write short stories, critical articles and travel books which were published by different publishing houses. However, the stress of earning a living deprived me of the peace of mind so essential for writing poetry.
A Chinese proverb says: “To be a successful man, one must have a son, build a house and… write a book.” Nearing my forties, I understood that it was time to heed this wisdom, and I made a drastic change in my life. I secluded myself like a monk on the island of Madeira to write my first book of poems with the provocative title Forty at the Wall. This is a collection of neo-romantic poetry which even got a good press. I moved to the south of Spain and founded a publishing house, POINT Editions (POetry INTernational) focused on international poetry with the idea to contribute to better understanding between people.
How can one survive in this business by publishing poetry written in rare languages?
One of my customers says that publishing poetry is the most elegant way to lose money. Being a Flemish poet I felt the urge to support the poets who, just like me, write in languages which are less widely spoken. I speak six languages, write in eight and harness this knowledge in order to translate, publish and popularise modern poetry. Especially by authors who have very slim chances to be published in foreign languages. These are poets from Korea, Taiwan, Palestine, Bulgaria, the countries of former Yugoslavia… I do it because I believe that poetry may help to uplift humankind.
This is the aim of my Poem of the Week initiative: to do something, even if little, to make this world become more humane. One poem selected by me is translated into over 20 languages every week and is sent to more than 40,000 readers across the world. It is published in English and Dutch literary magazines and on websites in Catalonian, Dutch, English, Italian, Japanese, Kurdish, Romanian. And also in Bulgarian - the poet Ivan Hristov translates and publishes the selected poem in the Crosspoint literary online magazine.
Which book has impacted your creative work most strongly?
The book is Confucius and the Chinese Way, by Herrlee Glessner Creel, which I reread once in a while. We'd better read the wise ancient philosophers than listen to today's deceitful politicians.
Twenty-four centuries ago, Plato banned poets from his Ideal State. What would you say about that?
Even the great philosophers may err, as they are humans. But some insignificant poets really write such lengthy and boring verses that I wouldn't let them intrude my Ideal Territory either. I agree that within the poetic community we can spot many “selfies”, i.e. so-called poets who are extremely self-centred. However, they are just sad exceptions. The real poets, as well as artists, writers, composers, leave to posterity masterpieces which are a feast for our senses and food for thought. Confucius promoted poetry and music because he believed that they will help improve people's wellbeing.
You take interest in Far East philosophies… What place does your poetry take between the Oriental and Occidental cultures?
I've travelled to Asia over 60 times and I have studied the local philosophies and poetry, and yes - they had a great impact on my way of thinking and writing. During one of my visits to India I completed my poetry cycle The Road, consisting of 30 short poems. I thought that this book will never find its readers, and I wrote it just for myself. Nevertheless, it turned out to be one of my most successful poetry collections, published in 28 countries.
In the 1990s you set up a new poetic movement, neo-sensationism…
Like with all artistic movements which emerged in Europe, one night after we finished several bottles of wine with Chinese poets Bei Dao and Duo Duo, who were my guests at the time, we decided that we have to set up a new movement. I had done research on the sensacionismo of Fernando Pessoa. My Chinese friends also embraced the idea of writing sensitivity poetry, as a protest against the hermetic poetry of that time. In 1996, I organised an international poetry festival The Poetic Coast, which gathered followers of neo-sensationism.
What comes before writing - talent, reading or the Muse?
The talent comes first. How can you sing if you don't have voice? To me reading was very important too. My poetry is influenced mostly by the German landscape poets. Later, when I visited the Far East, my contacts with Chinese poets and philosophers also had a great impact on my works. Yes, sometimes the Muse also pays a visit, but in my particular case the nature around us usually plays her role.
Which word is the most difficult to pronounce?
It differs for everyone. Depends on the person and the life circumstances he or she has lived through. Some words may be horrifying. Those of an executioner or a rapist. But words may also give comfort, be a lifesaver. Some poems may have a very strong effect. Several years ago I travelled by train from Bratislava to Budapest and stroke up a conversation with a woman sitting next to me. She wanted to hear some of my poems. I told her one of my haiku: “In the world there is no shadow bigger than its own light.” I explained to her that when people feel unhappy in the shadow, they have to seek the light. Because the light makes shadow but the shadow cannot make light. So, when someone is lost in the dark, he or she has to seek the light. Several months later, this woman wrote an email to tell me that she was very depressed when we met but my haiku helped her overcome depression.
And when should a person better keep silent?
A Flemish proverb says: “Speaking is silver, silence is gold.” On the other hand, a person has to rebel against all kinds of injustice.
Could poetry be a remedy?
French poet Jean-Pierre Simeon wrote a book titled Poetry will Save the World. I don't feel all that optimistic, but I believe that poetry does have healing power. Some poems heal thanks to their beauty, others due to their philosophical charge.
What does poetry need?
We are living in an egotistic society where all artistic manifestations are dominated by love of gain. One cannot make money with poetry. It is a pure manifestation of art for one simple reason: poetry has no economic value in a world controlled by a handful of indecently rich companies which enslave people and brainwash them through the so-called social networks. These networks are anything but “social”, as they simply add billions to someone's bank accounts.
Germain Droogenbroodt is a globally-renowned poet, translator and publisher. He is a laureate of several international awards and in 2017 was nominated for Nobel Prize in Literature. Droogenbroodt was born in Belgium but decided to move to Spain 31 years ago. He believes in chance and thinks that every day gives a chance for a new adventure. The poet rebels against the power of social networks and smartphones (which he doesn't use). He also raises the alarm reminding us the words of Oscar Wilde that “nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing”, and he believes that the generations of this millennium will turn to poetry and will choose spiritual values over the material ones. Recently, Germain Droogenbroodt visited Bulgaria to take part in the international poetic workshop Sofia Metaphors, organised with the support of city municipality.