High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

Mahlu Mertens: Censorship
© Michiel Hendrickx
© Michiel Hendrickx © Michiel Hendrickx
Friday Verses

Mahlu Mertens: Censorship

This week's Friday Verses are written by Mahlu Mertens. We translated Censuur (Censorship). This poem first appeared in Dutch in Het Liegend Konijn, a magazine for contemporary Dutch-language poetry.

Mahlu Mertens (Maastricht, b. 1987) is a theatre-maker, poet and literary scholar. Together with Hanne Vandersteene she forms the core of the company Grensgeval (Border Case). At Ghent University she is presently working on a thesis on climate change and the challenges and obstacles writers must overcome in order to depict such a huge and elusive phenomenon in fiction.


First they filed the serifs off the letters:
they could stand up without them.

(That’s how it began, but we didn’t read it.)

Then they outlawed full stops,
removed the commas,
decapitated capitals.

(And we hid between the lines.)

They starved the sentences,
paved the streets with vowels,
consonants stood there like stripped mannequins.

(And we still thought: go on reading, reading is resistance.)

Spaces became ever wider,
letter by letter was targeted
until the last one had been deported.

When we finally protested
all that was left was an army of exclamation marks.

(Dutch translation below the photo)


Eerst vijlden ze de schreven van de letters:
ook zonder konden ze blijven staan.

(Zo begon het, maar wij lazen het niet.)

Toen deden ze de punten in de ban,
verwijderden de komma’s,
maakten hoofdletters een kop kleiner.

(En wij schuilden tussen de regels.)

Ze hongerden de zinnen uit,
met de klinkers legden ze de straten aan,
medeklinkers bleven staan als uitgeklede mannequins.

(En wij dachten nog: blijven lezen, lezen is verzet.)

Spaties werden alsmaar breder,
letter voor letter werd geviseerd,
tot ook de laatste was gedeporteerd.

Toen we eindelijk protesteerden
was er alleen nog een leger uitroeptekens.

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