Esther Jansma is a leading Dutch poet as well as an influential archaeologist. Interweaving a dazzling variety of strands, her poetry explores time and memory, past and present, death, loss, decay and legacy, and yet draws fresh power from these perennial themes because she writes from two opposite but complementary viewpoints.
As an archaeologist she refined a technique for establishing the age of wooden artefacts from growth-rings in the wood which could be applied to timber from The Netherlands. Lending a voice to the past, making time visible in all its aspects, is also what she does in her poetry. The philosophical is earthed in the everyday, the mythic intertwines with the mundane, the word with the world.
In her early work, the voices of the past are heard from bewildering years: as a child, the death of a father, then as a mother, the loss of a child. Her later poetry is less personal but more compelling as her poetic universe expands, embracing the whole world.
'Jansma is a past master in bringing home to the reader the convergence of death and life, of holding on and letting go, of having and not understanding, and this is what makes her one of the most important poets of our time.’ – Koen Vergeer, The Low Countries
'A harsh, versatile, colourful collection, with life and death as equal forces…full of mysterious forces which keep the poet and reader spellbound.' – Rob Schouten, Vrij Nederland
'Just like fairytales and the stories about Alice and the baron who pulled himself out of a swamp by his own hair…both cheerful and cruel, meaningful and senseless.' – Xandra Schutte, De Groene Amsterdammer
Esther Jansma: What It Is
Esther Jansma reads seven of her poems from What It Is in Dutch as well as in Francis R. Jones’s English translation in this short film, made by Neil Astley during Jansma’s visit to Ledbury Poetry Festival in July 2011. Her introductions help illuminate the background to many of the poems, including an explanation of how the hare (haas) in the poem ‘Uitzicht’ became a swift in English. The Dutch texts are from Altijd vandaag (De Arbeiderspers, 2006). The poems are: ‘Schrödingers vangst’ (‘Schrödinger’s catch’), ‘Dat ze er was en toen niet meer…’ (‘That she was there and then no more…’), ‘Uitzicht’ (‘Swift’), ‘Archeologie’ (‘Archaeology’), ‘Aanwezigheid’ (‘Presence’), ‘Alles is nieuw’ (‘Everything is new’), and ‘De verzamelaar’ (‘The collector’). This film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: World Poets, filmed & edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce and Neil Astley (2017).