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Fortieth Night of Poetry shows what programming fun can make for 

"I actually want to shout, 'Waaaa! That I'm standing here!" It is nearing noon when Babette Foncie Fotchind shares this with the TivioliVredenburg, still filled to the brim. It is met with loud, assenting cheers. It is one of the many highlights and highlights at this 40th edition of the Night of Poetry, the rather unique party that has put Utrecht on the map as the literature city of the Netherlands. Or maybe more so, because what other country has such a festival as ILFU, built around that 'Night': two weeks of poets, writers and ridiculously large - remarkably young - audiences. For language. And environment.

It became clear again, this Saturday 7 October: a building like TivoliVredenburg helps. As was evident a week ago during the festival's literary highlight. I fell into a session at noon in the Pandora, one of the pop halls of the festival building, in which Jeanette Winterson was able to explain to a packed room of nerds, book lovers and tech geeks why she remains optimistic about all the technological innovations with which humanity continues to surprise itself. It would make you want to start a relationship with a chatbot.

Salman Rushdie

It was also the day we were able to have Salman Rushdie digitally in our midst in the same hall, heavily battered but full of zest for life, talking about his latest all-encompassing novel. How wonderful it would be if we could welcome him once again to The Night of Poetry.

Because that night, that's what it's all about. This edition, the eighth anniversary, was legendary, if only for the performance by Judith Herzberg, who demonstrated once again how you can achieve maximum eloquence with a minimum number of words. She only got seven minutes, like every poet here, and that sometimes falters.

Filling in for Rutte's comma

Gerda Havertong, invited for the first time, treated Utrecht to beautiful poetry in Sranantongo, but found those seven minutes too little, after all those decades of waiting for a chance to perform. She may have had a point, in this year when we are filling in the comma put by Rutte behind the excuses for the slavery past. On this occasion, a little more time and space would be welcome for poets from our former victorious lands.

That outgoing prime minister was given a hard time anyway in a poem by Alara Adilow in which she described how she would like to take him doggy style between his cosy white buttocks. Adilow was a welcome cheery note, and also a little sobering after the fragile series of five poems Eva Gerlach had very gently recited before that about her husband's coronary bed, which was lived out like a horror story.

Hypervirtuoso pianist

It was a pleasant mix of old and new: after the opening by Bart Chabot, who read a few of his punk poems in the familiar way, I briefly feared an evening full of old white poets dutifully doing their thing, interspersed with slick acts for the general public. Indeed, there was a bit of that with the hip-hop dance act Oxygen, which was very clearly meant for Las Vegas-like atmospheres: it looked better on the video screens than on stage. The hypervirtuosity of pianist Yeol Eum Son also seemed to be heading in that direction for a while, but fortunately this female Max Verstappen of the piano also threw visible fun at it.

And Hans Dorrestein was just really looking forward to it. As did veteran Jean Pierre Rawie, who showed some glee in reading his poems that come along at every funeral ('every day added is one taken away').

Let's call it programming fun

Because fun is what it's all about. Not only with the performing poets, who this year were thus remarkably female and smooth-tongued, but also with the organisation. Let me call that 'programming fun'. Which ensures, for instance, that after the unique performance by Kees Torn, who returns to his whisky bar after this one-off surprise, you are caught off guard by the Seven Drunken Nights, who, like a joyous encore to the Dubliners, got the room on its feet with Irish drinking songs. And being introduced to Simon van der Geest, who in a way seems like he could become a young mirror of Judith Herzberg, through his simple language and surprising twists.

Michael C Hall plays a pop star

Who could still use some fun, on this party night, was Michael C. Hall, the actor who came to play a tormented pop star with his band Princess Goes, which he did quite well. I would only have preferred to see him recite a nice poem, as the band mostly sounded like something from long ago anyway.

He can learn something from this Night, because it shows that you can rejuvenate. For young was the audience and great the stage talent of the new generation of poets. And how good the female poets were. This Night was a pop festival with poets as rock stars. That has been different before.

The 40th Night of Poetry took place on the night of 7-8 October 2023 at TivoliVredenburg

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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