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‘Cast off the names that others had applied'. On the Poet Gerrit Achterberg (with Two Poems by Gerrit Achterberg)
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‘Cast off the names that others had applied'. On the Poet Gerrit Achterberg (with Two Poems by Gerrit Achterberg)

(Peter de Bruijn) The Low Countries - 2006, № 14, pp. 238-246

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The ‘repulsive oeuvre of a dangerous psychopath' or ‘the Netherlands' greatest poet': Gerrit Achterberg (1905-1962) is undoubtedly the most controversial figure in twentieth-century poetry. A hundred years after his birth he is still either acclaimed or reviled, as was apparent once again in the responses to the new edition of his 'Poems' (Alle Gedichten) that appeared in 2005. In the same newspaper the poet and critic Piet Gerbrandy mercilessly pilloried the ‘clumsy artificiality' of this introverted ‘monomaniac', while critical elder statesman Kees Fens then defended ‘the incomparable linguistic world' of Achterberg's ‘indestructible poetry'. This was the latest controversy in a seemingly endless chain of disputes that flare up with increasing regularity. Meanwhile the repulsive oeuvre has found its way to at least a hundred thousand readers at home and abroad (it has been translated on numerous occasions into at least fourteen languages) and has been the subject of an estimated three thousand or more reviews and studies. Are all those readers and reviewers wrong?

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