Frankfurter Buchmesse – Books from Friesland 2019 – Eeltsje Hettinga

Eeltsje Hettinga (1955) was the Poet of Fryslân for 2018 and 2019. He has published six collections of poetry. His debut Akten fanWinter (Deeds of Winter) (1998) was awarded the triennial Fedde Schurer Prize of the Province of Fryslân. His collection Ikader was nominated for the Gysbert Japicx Prize 2013. Together with video artist Lotte Middendorp, Hettinga made the poetry project It Font. He is a critical follower of Frisian culture an literature.

In 2019, his collection Nachtspraak was published, ten poems about the historical figure of Kaspar Hauser, in which he draws a connection between Hauser and the modern-day refugee.


“Blessed with a critical and sensitive eye, he succeeds in laying bare the essence.”
(Leeuwarder Courant)

“An ode to the Frisian landscape, poetry and language.” (De Volkskrant about It Font)

“A strong collection, not so much because of the power of any single poem, but more because of the unity of tone, register and theme sustained throughout.”  (Friesch Dagblad, about Ikader)

Since 2018 the province of Fryslân has had a Poet of Fryslân. Eeltsje Hettinga was the first to receive this title, and in this role he has written some six to ten poems a year, mostly about current events. In just under two years Hettinga has covered a diverse range of themes in his poems. As so often, the poet is not afraid to pour salt into open wounds in order to describe the vagaries of the world.

In March 2018 he published Malta – De opblaasde dei (Malta – the Assassinated Day), in response to the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia (1964-2017). She was murdered near Valetta, a twin city of Leeuwarden. Hettinga writes: “ Do, wês wach,Watse, / yn Europa’s nacht. Yn it dal fan / de dea stuts men it wurd yn brân, / sa’t men oait boeken de flammen yn treau”  (Ai, watch your back, Jack / now night has fallen in Europe. In the valley of / death they torched the word / the way they once slid books into the flames).

This quote contains an allusion to Frisian literature, in the same way as Hettinga often refers to art and literature in his poems. Wês wach Watse refers to the title of the crime novel Wês foarsichtich,Watse (1968) by the Frisian writer Jo Smit. This novel is about a gang of mafia-like criminals.

A similar reference to art can also be found in ‘Nij Hiddum & de hannel (trade) ad infinitum’ (July 2018).This poem is about the discussion in Fryslân about placing a windmill farm in the sea.The question is asked in the poem as to whether the wind turbines will eventually have the same beauty as the windmills of Zaandam painted by Monet.

Another poem is about the value of volunteers. In ‘Net te beteljen’ (Priceless) (December 2018) they are applauded as the grease that keep the wheels of society turning and it ends with the sentence “Yn dat watsto joust, bisto dat watsto hast” (In what you give, you are what you have).

And yet another poem was written for the farewell of the mayor of Leeuwarden: ‘Wat wier is dat wurket’ (‘What is True Works’) (June 2019). In this poem Hettinga described the highs and lows of being a mayor.

The poems of the Poet of Fryslân are about what is going on in Fryslân, the Netherlands and the world. Controversial themes and strong language are not shunned.This is the way in which the poet makes readers think more critically.

Au Musée

The word turns to mud
in the mouth of time,
unsayable this winter’s night
while the sea still speaks,
the room an orchestra pit,
under the cuneiform
of stars in the darkness
over terp and coast.

Someone stumbled along the sea dyke,
a ghost disappearing
in tha herta fon tha winde,
I heard the slurping of the sludge,
thinking in that Moddergat café
of my language, Frisian,
on its way
to the Musée,
Persephone’s home.

Via Quatrebras I drove
through dead and sleeping villages
into the Woods, a storm
tore at the trees;
the breaking branches buffeted
by a sea of voices,
a sea of the drowned,
the sea that spoke, cruel and pounding,
south of Lampedusa.

Translation: David Colmer