side blog — René Van Valckenborch

Well, René’s definitely Walloon. It’s not his name, I’ve met more Dutch guys called René than anything. The surname doesn’t help; witness the Flemish Belgian PM, Yves Leterme. No, it’s the fascination with the sky, a fascination I felt when I moved to the fens, a fascination someone who lives in the flatlands hardly ever mentions. He’s evidentially lived a while in Flemish countryside; if he’d have lived in a city his poetry would be full of architecture, I swear.

The irony is I’ve working on a sequence of poems dominated by pareidolia from clouds. It’s an absolutely great source. René uses the weather well.

When I lived in Antwerp, on the southside, in Antwerpen Zuid, in among the gadzillion bars, was a disgusting little place that used to be the meeting point of poets and musicians. The old guy who ran it … well, then I thought it was uncleaned for decades, now I wonder if it was a deliberate set–up, it'd fit the Flemish sense of humour rather well. He did search for the least dirty glass to serve beer, but I never saw him actually reuse glasses between customers. Mind you, this was years ago, I’ve probably forgotten. Anyway, I will *swear*, no matter what the doubters say, I heard a guy read some fascinating poetry in Flemish, but with a French accent (my Flemish isn’t good enough to distinguish between French and Walloon). I reckon that must have been René. He went down quite well, too.

I could be very wrong. The Flemish are fascinated by weather, and so is René. No, he must be Walloon. There's no hint of greased hair in his French poetry, and that’s a thing that's so day–to–day in Wallonia, normal and forgotten to the locals, but a strange ritual that would definitely get the attention of an outsider poet. It is *not* Flemish at all. Were he Flemish, he’d have mentioned it. I think. Anyway, his French poetry captures the old industrial spirit of Wallonia, the old heavy industry that no longer provides the locals with jobs for life, ancient machinery that’s failed economically. Wallonia, once the industrial heart of Belgium, now the failing old man depending on hand–outs from his rich nephew to the north, who really rather resents the matter.

I like this poetry.

I never lived in Wallonia, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s René’s Flemish work that speaks more to me.


Early Steps: René Van Valckenborch’s Poems
The Adirondack Review
Edited by Robert Sheppard