Early Steps: René Van Valckenborch’s Poems
   translated from the Flemish and Walloon by MARTIN KROL and ANNEMIE DUPUIS

The ‘whole’ oeuvre of René Van Valckenborch is surrounded by mystery, perhaps of his own making. Published in fugitive publications in places as far apart as Cape Town and Montreal over the last decade, the poems of this Belgian are composed in Flemish and Walloon, and the stylistic divide between the two sets seems to reflect the societal linguistic divide of his troubled nation (although he never refers to this fact). The two translators, Annemie Dupuis and Martin Krol, worked independently of one another at first. Their subsequent meeting, marriage and removal to Brussels form such an incredible tale that they have occasionally been accused of manufacturing the controversy of Mr Van Valckenborch’s discovery, of fabricating their translations and of inventing their author, an accusation that I regard as absurd as suggesting that I, as mere editorial coordinator of their efforts, should have made them up.

Robert Sheppard, Liverpool 2010

Van Valckenborch’s poems in Flemish (translated by Martin Krol)

Four Sides
after Guillevic


The day begins quite
precisely like a right angle
struck in the air like an angel’s
fist, leaving
a nagging debt to the world,
that perfect circle with no centre.
Shield. Coin. Pay tribute
to its demands
that flex like a triangle
trying to add up to 361 degrees,
until it breaks, incommensurable.

The equilateral of love.


Fleet clouds low over the flatlands
of Flanders, all that phlegm
in our voices, coughing up
cigarette laughter and alliteration,
all that stuff that won’t do any more.

A dot at circle’s centre
we think ourselves
out on this plane where the cows
cower under fibrous grey.

No melody this morning. Think rather
we’re crushed into the armpit
of a trapezoid
waiting for the figure
to collapse,

for this plane to shrink
to a sphincter.


One is thinking a sinusoid
in the cage of a parallelepiped
snaking against the fluxing bars,
giddy with possibility. One
turns oneself inside out

at the phone.

One looks out at puddles
dotted with rain.
Waveforms of circular intent
collide with insistence

under the ghostly procession
of cloud under cloud,

a solid sky that can’t be turned,
but presses down on one
as one stumps across the field
to the canal’s line, one’s thoughts
at a tangent.


The day clears, sinks exhausted
under skullcap sky and crescent
moon. I expire with it, a
line retracting into a point the

point erased

The Light

Break open the light, the light
that lifts like an airship at dawn,
that grows to fill the sky, the morning sky,
translucent and floating like hope,
break open the sky, a vapour, sky
a gaseous light broken open on a cloud, a perforated cloud,
fretful and low, break open the clouds,
their torn edges, interstitial, turning,
until a pool breaks, a silver pool breaks open, shreds its banks,
and sunlight pours through golden and burning
(that circle on the eye, breaking as we look away, the circle
fading on the eye), break open the sun, the sly sun,
dropping its reflection on the bonnet of the car, bonnet
shimmering from the shower earlier, break open the shower,
the fine rain breaking on the sheen of the tarmac, glowing
silver-slated, break open the car, but not like a thief,
wrench its roof off like a tin, the roof of the car,
peel it back to inspect ambulatory pleasures of
map and radio, break open the radio, spill its
circuitry like teeth from a mouth urging, urgent,
the sky’s own life generalised to a kind of news there,
a blank summary without density or weight,
break open the voice into flurries of sound,
white noise in a snow blizzard, break open the road, the pavement,
the manholes, the bollards, the flood-drains,
come then, break open the gate, the curled iron gate,
vibrating on its hinges, rusted or oiled, crude
gamelan, break open the vibrations, a gate-frame
trembling for fingertips, ah! human, you appear at last,
human, though seldom placed there for such a purpose,
any purpose, even waiting at the end of the path, waiting even
for a purpose, at the gate that opens onto the path, the path
you hesitate before, break open the purpose, break open
the human purpose, the seldomly-placed fingers,
not cracking them like a twig, like that, not like that,
break everything open with no pain, break them
open, the open fingers, like a break in cloud, a finger of cloud,
break open the finger made of cloud pointing
to its own dispersal, a tendril shaping forever un-
shaping, a finger of cloud in morphologies of
distension, drifting in leisurely haste, cloud
that was a finger, a ‘finger of cloud’
as the breakfast weather report reports, break
open the shapes you see there, horse-
head, archipelago, vagina, ragged sponge soaked
with weighty filth, fists of angry air sculpted
by your eye, break open the eye, the open eye,
spill out its residue of vision, vitreous, the things
you never see, lost in your looking, the plenitude
that tumbles like an evening wrecking the afternoon, break
open all vision, all things unseen, the light that is
and the light that isn’t, break open the map at last,
as it unfolds on the lap of the lost traveller
while sky lifts away to leave unbroken slate.

Here and Where

The tomcat’s whiskers brush across my cheek.
His purring pours into my dream this buzzing,
the faulty fridge from which I stole rancid milk
after sleeping all night on your sofa.
The day distances itself from the dream,
courts business-like denials of responsibility.
Jet trails, tight grey wisps against a silver sky
are purloined by rooftops. A lozenge of haze
rolls over on the sun behind the chimneystack.
Cauliflower clouds clench their watery fists.
The trails, as I watch them go, sink
from their freezing meridian, turning to

worn guts         worm casts         warm fur

Where? where a beard of wires hangs in
the gloves of a terrorist, where
daisies bite your ankles as you skip
towards me under the city’s hatbox skyline,
where disappointment follows our appointment
by the fountain, where the shadow of the sky
throws its crystal image of you

against the glacier

The sun fights through the sky’s deepening oppression,
grey gloves across its mouth. It sings
a muffled ballad of illimitable truth. The uniforms
call for reinforcements, measures: the shot in the arm,
bequeathing a mogadon sky to a monotone day.
I settle down under my collar, wait for real weather,
expecting the worst (who said truth, who said real?).
I see infinite gradations in the heavens’ degradations:

abstractions of zebra, multiples of zero

He feels the bell…

He feels the bell
of silence encasing him,
ringing hard, a dream
of clamour. He hears
the rain beyond that,
bubbling in gutters,
grumbling down pipes,
to storm-drains, ditches,
excited disputations of day
in a language he doesn’t.
Not certain whether he’s
drowning or sinking in
obscure arguments contrasting
privileged delight
and habitual nightmare,
and not certain whether one
isn’t turning into the other,
without warning
he surfaces like a diver
with the bends through what could be a skein
of throbbing, thrombose,
his eyes opening on
rolling Alaskas of cloud
breasting Arctic oceans
in membranous sky beyond

beyond everything but yearning

Van Valckenborch’s poems in Walloon (translated by Annemie Dupuis)

from thingly

‘At last the fidelity of things opens our eyes’
Zbigniew Herbert

2 scissors

closed they’ve a single
point and purpose perfected
cool blades left sleeping

open a dancer –
limbs of flexing steel leap in
frozen cuts of light

5 orthoceus paperweight

bloated with
blood or water the
simple life-form

points the wrong way its
supposed head noses                                       
ahead of ghostly segments

it mimes the point
of its containment
a uniform chain that trails

away to its point a trial
impression for a
chinese paper dragon

an imperfection inserted
into limitless grey
a worm reduced

to texture of slate like
a varnished pumice that
can never dissolve it stops

all flights of fancy
holding paper to its
promise to remain

fingers smooth the
split-slate surface
of its base pick it

up a man-made pebble it fits
into the curve the hollow
human palm

6 spectacles from the era of léopold I

arms unfold but
are spikes now
having lost their ear

pieces they could cost
you an eye putting
them on its

joints still open
a genius for survival
the oblate lenses

fringed with rust
in simple metal

between them a nose rest
curved like the moustaches of
the era

a flicked curl at
the extremity of each
holding the lenses

of 1860 focussed
to the narrow
vision of things

a royal canal
trenched through the marsh
the rising of the bourse

and french words around
things among a
clutter of things


17 machine

the machine
chomps on
unoiled hinges

not taking itself
too seriously the waste
basket recycling bin

never catches its bits
not quite evading

machine for manufacturing
pairs of

pure meaningless

20 thing

there’s no such
thing space age
arrowhead stone

age laser it
occupies its vacancy
a blade of sky

advertising its handle
of earth promising
spangly girls on spinning

disks a white wheel
hole in a coin
a smile cut from air

thing present but
a pure absence within

which we construct
something for a hero
to cut teeth on paper

look again
yearn to skin a liar
it’s buried to the hilt

in the flesh of
shadow it marks
a shallow grave

that fills itself
with song