by Clare Healy
Arts & Culture Editor
Philip Meersman has devoted his career to diversifying the linguistic landscape of the Belgian poetry scene. As the organiser of the Brussels Planetarium Poetry Festival (read our review of the most recent edition here), his job is to unite artists from around the world to showcase their best work, no matter the language. Now, the publication of his second poetry collection There Is Blue Somewhere with the Indian press Cyberwit makes him the only Belgian poet to have released two such books in English. By writing in Belgium’s unofficial-official language, it is clear he aims to make the medium of poetry accessible to a wider readership.
Fittingly, the poems contained in There Is Blue Somewhere cross national borders, as do their themes. Overflowing with imagery of toxic waste and catastrophic poverty, There Is Blue Somewhere shows modern life from its least flattering angles, much like the takers of selfies that he frequently derides (consistently printing “selfie” in a backwards typeface, he seems unable to bring himself to even gaze upon the word). Meersman makes no attempt to hide his cynicism, whether it comes in the form of a dry quip — “In a parallel world / oversized butterflies / have tattoos of binge drinking Brits on their buts [sic]” — or an angry call-to-action — “we forget our fears in a mourning jar / sleepwalking in genocide / again”. He is clearly a poet who writes as soon as inspiration strikes: the appendix lists out the large number of poems that were first drafted in his Notes app or on the backs of metro tickets. The effect is that of a stream-of-consciousness, and the urgency with which Meersman writes gives the reader access to enjoyable slices of life from his travels, whether on the streets of Barcelona or in the back of an Indian taxicab.
Caustic though his critique of his surroundings may be, Meersman also self-flagellates and encourages the reader to do the same. “[T]he original sin was not / knowledge nor carnal pleasure / but the urge to exploit / the colonization of have-nots / the monopoly of male ignorance”, he proclaims. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before, but at least Meersman knows where to point the finger. Ultimately, the relentlessness of such incantations makes reading There Is Blue Somewhere in one sitting — which, as the book is slim, is theoretically very doable — somewhat exhausting, though an interesting philosophical exercise. And it’s not all doom and gloom: Meersman hits the occasional optimistic note, as the collection’s title might suggest. Overall There is Blue Somewhere is an ambitious set of poems that won’t scare off any newcomers to the medium.
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