Michaël Vandebril is one of the poets of Versopolis, a European poetry platform that creates new opportunities for emerging European poets. He has published in numerous literary journals, but only really presented himself, along with a number of contemporaries, as a poet in the Boest poetry programme (2009).
Het vertrek vanMaeterlinck/ L’exil de Maeterlinck (2012) was Vandebril’s bilingual (Dutch-French) debut collection. With this collection, Vandebril was nominated for the C. Buddingh’ Prize in 2012 and won the Herman de Coninck Debut Prize in 2013.
Given his choice of themes and subjects on the one hand, Vandebril’s poems follow in the footsteps of a long literary tradition. On the other hand, many of his verses are very engaged with current events.
Vandebril’s poems don’t only exist on paper. Together with other young poets, he developed a series of programmes for the stage, with which he brought his poems to a wider audience. A number of his poems were also adapted by video artists into video poems.
Long before Michaël Vandebril revealed himself as a poet, he was already active as an artistic director of literary events. In the late 90s, he was the instigator of literary projects such as ‘Poetry & straight jazz’ and ‘Le tigre unick’. Since 2002, he has been in charge of the municipal department Antwerpen Boekenstad (Antwerp City of Books), which, in 2004, won the prestigious UNESCO title, Antwerp World Book Capital. Antwerpen Boekenstad gives guidance to the poets of the city of Antwerp, organises the lecture series ‘Poetry on Thursdays’ and each year organises the international Felix Poetry Festival.
Vandebril has published in numerous literary magazines such as Gierik/NVT, Het liegend konijn, Poëziekrant… Since 2011, he has also been on the editorial board of the literary magazine Deus ex Machina. Only since 2009, with the BOEST poets’ project, has he characterised himself as a poet. This project, done with several contemporaries such as Andy Fierens, Els Moors and Christophe Vekemans resulted in a literary tour, an anthology and an LP. This was to be the first of several literary programmes in which Vandebril, together with other young poets, would bring poetry to the stage. Vandebril’s poetry cannot be unilaterally classified as stage poetry. Rather, it is poetry that is consciously trying to break away from the page, without losing sight of the literary tradition. Significant in this context is the establishment in 2012 by Vandebril of the literary organisation VONK & zonen, which seeks original approaches to presenting literature. How versatile those presentations can be, became apparent, inter alia, in projects with tombstones (WWI) and a poetry brothel. His collaboration with video artists, who have adapted several of his poems into video poems, shows that above all, Vandebril is a poet of our own times who makes use of all possible forms of communication.
In 2012, Vandebril’s bilingual (Dutch-French) debut collection Het vertrek van Maeterlinck/L’Exil de Maeterlinck was published. The starting point for this conceptual collection is the voluntary exile to France of the writer from Ghent who wrote in French, Maurice Maeterlinck, the only Nobel Prize winner for literature that Belgium has ever had. Vandebril wrote the poems in Dutch and had them translated into French by the acclaimed translators Jan H. Mysjkin and Pierre Gallissaires. In addition, the collection contains a number of poems that were written collectively with a number of friendly French-speaking poets. The collection also includes numerous references to texts and figures in European cultural history, and it is therefore clear that with his debut collection, Vandebril is following in the footsteps of a long literary tradition that began with the Romantics. The linguistic form of the volume, quatrains, is also a reference to that rich European tradition. Do not, however, expect any traditional verses in this volume. Vandebril consciously omitted punctuation so as to thus introduce an ambiguity into his text. Likewise, the meter in the poems is not fixed. Vandebril himself says about it that he has written the poems “with a speaking voice”, so that the poems really come to life when read out loud.
Het vertrek van Maeterlinck/ L’Exil de Maeterlinck was nominated for the C. Buddingh’ Prize 2012 and won the Herman de Coninck Debut Prize 2013. The report of the jury remarked on the collection with the following words of praise: “He sublimely strings words together into verses, verses into images, images into a feeling and a feeling into a poetic experience.”
However, Vandebril is much more than a poet who follows in the footsteps of a literary tradition. His poems often keep a finger on the pulse of current events. One example of that is the project Achterafgedichten, in which Vandebril, together with several other young poets, published a weekly poem in the current events section of De Morgen, a major Belgian quality newspaper.
Poems translated in English by Benno Barnard
- Maeterlinck’s departure
- La casina rossa
- Jour de grâce
- The balcony of Mika Alas
- One of those days
- Mont Royal
- Benvenuti a Lampedusa
- Job satisfaction
- Chorus for a city
- Las Belgas
- Duran Adam (standing man)
A review of Michaël Vandebril’s ‘New Romantics’: