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Shaping the unnameable

After studying art at the Arnhem Art Academy and Nottingham Trent University Marije Langelaar (Goes, 1978) soon turned to writing poetry. Her first collection De rivier als vlakte [The river as a plain] was published in 2003 and it was followed six years later by De schuur in [Into the shed] for which she was shortlisted for the Jo Peters Poetry Prize and the J.C. Bloem Prize. The collection also received a Flemish award, the Hugues C. Pernath Prize. For her most recent collection Vonkt [It sparks] that appeared in2017, she received the Jan Campert Prize and the Awater Poetry Prize. Vonkt was also shortlisted for the VSB Poetry Prize and the Herman de Coninck Prize.

Coinciding with the world

Right from the start, Marije Langelaar showed herself to be a sensual poet, whose aim was to taste life to the marrow and to experience it in all its fullness, abundance and beauty with a well-nigh Nietzschean affirmative approach. The brilliance of light, the glow over a pond are not only observed; typical of Langelaar’s work is that looking is not enough; the speakers and the figures in her poems aspire to be everywhere and to coincide with the world around them: ‘Oh, the longing to enter all the houses!’ And in the poem ‘Park’ from De rivier als vlakte: ‘Then he walked to the pond / and broke through the glittering surface / with his boots / he swum around it doing the breast stroke.’

Wild and vital

In Langelaar’s vitalist poems life brims over; the images tumble over each other in rapid succession. The title of her second collection De schuur in might indicate a form of withdrawal, but here too the atmosphere is wild and sometimes destructive: ‘everyone is a beachcomber here but we / cut the sea loose // hurl our torsos into the waves / fight a slash in the wind / bolt scream sink’. In Vonkt the lines are longer, the poems are also longer and more narrative in character.


A relationship crisis makes the poet reel, the light that was previously celebrated is painful now like ‘a shard in our neck’ but after her leap into the ‘abyss’, she emerges reborn as a woman who beats the drum. Sexuality returns: ‘That night I fucked like a wild thing with a scholar in conversational theology.’ Beside people, animals and plants, even things become filled with soul (‘there is a spark in this table, this lamp and in you dear / listener’) and one metamorphosis leads to another: ‘I was a flame I was a flame I was a torch, pulsating / torch in a jet black night.’ As the judges of the VSB Poetry Prize wrote: Marije Langelaar’s unique poetry ‘roars, flames, stamps its foot and anoints’.

Text: Jan Willem Anker

Revolution of light

Marije Langelaar divides her time between the Netherlands (Arnhem) and Belgium (Russeignies). She and her sons share two linked tiny houses in Russeignies. Simple living with few possessions and an abundance of nature, wind, stars and animals all around dovetails perfectly with her literary endeavours. She founded a new primary school in Ronse, Belgium in 2011, together with other parents. It offers project-based learning that focuses largely on the child itself, nature, sustainability, yoga, creativity and cooperation.

She is currently working on a new poetry collection, Revolutie van het licht [Revolution of light], another new school (only in the Netherlands this time) and a new way of living. We are all small pieces of an enormous and coherent whole. Let us take that knowledge to construct a new basis from which to find the courage to choose a different path. A radical transformation of a habitual way of living that is not necessarily aligned with the freedom and silence of our essence.”


I am always interested in what lies beyond. That which has no name, the eternal has to take on shape to become visible. Objects, reflections, shimmers, sparks, drops and flickers. The wind is also invisible and has to move things to make itself seen – the swaying of branches and leaves, be it wild and tempestuous or softly undulating.