A Public Woman


Benno Barnard

For this book I have chosen poems that ‘travel’ easily. Having lived all over the place and being married to a girl from New York City, my poems inevitably ponder on questions of identity, home, language etc. I try to ‘do the police in different voices’, which is why half of this book is taken up by the voice of an imaginary ‘public woman’, an actress who wants to share her rather tumultuous twentieth-century life with us. I am very indebted to the translator, David Colmer, with whom I have collaborated for almost twenty years. – Benno Barnard


Benno Barnard (born 1954) has lived in Holland, England, Belgium, Spain and the States, where he taught literature at the University of Texas. the winner of several important literary, prizes, he has published some twenty books and has also translated Auden, Celan and many other poets into Dutch.

David Colmer is an Australian translator of Dutch Literature. He has won several major prizes. In 2014, Even Now, his selection of the poetry of Hugo Claus, was shortlisted for the Pen Award for Poetry in Translation.

If Benno Barnard ever has written an uninteresting, poorly crafted poem, I haven’t seen it, and I doubt very much whether it exists. — Daniel Lawless

This surprising and beautiful book by Benno Barnard is in essence a selfportrait with others, in which both the self and the others are drawn without pity and yet with love and fascination, painted in a language full of zest and surprising images. His theatrical and very visual poetry presents us with an ongoing narrative, it shuns abstractions, and yet it is thoughtful in the literal sense of the word. And being Dutch I can tell you the translation is so true to the original that one would think Barnard himself had written his poems in English! — Cees Nooteboom


We stand here freezing in our winter coats,
a kiss prevents my breath from showing white,
my hand slows to a halt in mid caress,
I want to let you go, but not tonight –
my fingers in your hair, the evidence.
Here for a second in this city park,
we’re two cold lovers mouthing March,
who kiss as though exchanging quotes.

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