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Interview: Koenraad Kuiper talks about Garments of the Dead


Koenraad Kuiper is a linguist and poet who was emigrated to New Zealand from the Netherlands in 1951. His poems have appeared in Islands, Landfall, Poetry New Zealand, Sport and Takahe. He has previously published four books of poetry: Signs of Life, Mikrokosmos, Timepieces and Bounty, at about ten-year intervals. He has also published, with Sarah Hart, a volume of translations of the work of the Dutch poet Frank Koenegracht entitled Early Snow with Spuyten Duyvil in New York. Koenraad talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about Garments of the Dead.

Garments of the Dead is a compilation of my poems from the last forty years or so. I have always written in sequences and cycles. My previous books of poetry have been slim volumes coming out about one every decade. Garments of the Dead enabled me to think about putting these and some new work together into a sequence of sequences starting with grandparents and parents and ending with elegies for the dead thereby creating something more substantial.

What inspired you to write this book?

This book has been a long time coming so it’s not possible to pick a particular moment of inspiration. Every poem has one or more such moments and then there is sitting with the poems, letting the inspiration ferment into something printable.


What research was involved?

I supposed that life is one long re-search which gets longer the longer you live. A poem may ask you to delve into the past, not only your own actual life, but into the worlds resident in your cerebral cortex. The lines of a poem arise there not just as subject matter but as a way of saying.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

There was no routine. My other writing has routines but not the writing of a poem. They come to me in the form of a line or maybe an image and then the poem itself seems to emerge from its hiding place, sometimes over many weeks. That first impulse often happens at moments of stillness, unclutteredness. Call it a visitation from a muse.


If a soundtrack were made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Taking song to be what you can access on Spotify, J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations played on harpsichord. J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin played on a baroque violin.


If you had to choose, what is your favourite poem, and why?

Difficult question; like being asked what is your favourite child. Each is unique, has its own personality, ranging from a description of the now-almost-unknown process of putting a square cloth nappy on a baby to the hanging of the mutineers from the Bounty at Spithead. I need to be fair to them all.


What did you enjoy the most about writing this collection of poems?

Reading it afterwards over and over and over again and gradually becoming aware that there was not a dud poem in the collection.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Nothing really. I sit on manuscripts quite a while checking that they are still OK; hearing them in the head and then, often years later finding them a publisher. They are finally finished when they appear in print. You can’t get at them any more then. They then belong to others so you have a launch with friends.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I really enjoyed Colm Tóibín’s The Magician. (Not sure whether it was this year or last.) I have a first degree in German and so read Thomas Mann then and I later read Buddenbrooks. The book is a careful dissection of one way to be a writer. Not my way but a way.


Quentin Wilson Publishing

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