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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry


Hugo Claus

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To purchase Greetings

Title: Greetings
Author: Hugo Claus
Genre: Poetry
Written: (Eng. 2005)
Length: 132 pages
Original in: Flemish
Availability: Greetings - US
Greetings - UK
Greetings - Canada
Greetings - India
  • Selected Poems
  • Translated by John Irons

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Our Assessment:

B+ : snatches of poetry from an impressive career

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Flemish author Hugo Claus is a prolific and highly regarded novelist, dramatist, and poet. Only a small fraction of his immense output has been translated into English, including a handful of novels and a few plays. Considered one of the leading Dutch poets since World War II, several anthologies (including a recent one by J.M.Coetzee) include translations of selections of his poems, but Greetings is the first stand-alone collection. It includes selections from six decades and several dozen Dutch collections of his work, making for a far-ranging (and thinly spread) survey-collection, the barest of introductions.
       Given the span covered by this collection, it is not surprising to find a variety of approaches and themes. Nevertheless, there is little radical experimentation, and most of the poetry is fairly accessible, the language not excessively ornate -- though some of the imagery and description is certainly offered with considerable poetic license. Most of the poetry is in relatively free verse, though there is a sonnet-sequence in which translator Irons even tries to match the rhymes.
       Descriptions don't focus too closely on the real, but family and native soil are central to many of the poems:

My letters are: West Flanders dune and polder
       The often jumpy imagery is fairly effective, though occasionally obscure. The more explicit passages are more approachable, and often more powerful, whether a description of a person, movement, or event, or more philosophical speculation, as in the excellent Stele:
Leibniz says that the simple things have no windows
looking at each other, but only exist for each other
for there is unity somewhere
if only in the eye of God. That's nothing to me.
Give me Vico, who says that by means of a colossal
ignorance, in una corpolentissima fantasia
we pretend. And thus act and create.
       Much impresses here, from some longer sequences (Home) to many of the shorter pieces. The writing is tight anyway -- pared down, it feels, with little padding -- which this compact volume, taking poems from across his career, accentuates; almost all the poems also feel very to-the-point. But even his directness -- "I have thought enough about words / And this poem is no poem", in Tancredo Infrasonic -- isn't, as many would have it, a conclusion, but rather only a step towards one.
       Well worthwhile, Greetings still feels like it only scratches the surface of what Claus the poet does.

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Greetings: Reviews: Other poetry by Hugo Claus: Hugo Claus: Other books by Hugo Claus under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Poetry at the complete review
  • See Index of Dutch literature

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About the Author:

       Belgian author Hugo Claus lived 1929 to 2008.

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© 2005-2021 the complete review

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