The Insane Dutch Tradition
of Writing Poems For Sinter Klaas
by bart plantenga
The Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus comes on December 5, which is celebrated by the giving of gifts, each of which [technically] should come with a RHYMING poem written about the receiver by the giver, usually in a humorous, somewhat mocking tone. This leads to a lot of stress and all sort of online rhyming dictionary site crashing. Not something sane, well-meaning people need during this already busy period of the year… Here is my 2015 version of this inherent stressful event, which we celebrated a day early because Nina is on her way to Paris Climate Summit COP21.
[1 Nina, partner] So, I’m sitting around panicking about writing this poem for the love of my life and I suddenly get the feeling I am not the only one and so I’m out with Paloma and suddenly in the Gelderlandplein I see people everywhere, in La Place, at the cafe tables scratching their heads, writing on table napkins, frustrated, and kicking the balled-up wads of unfinished horrible, sad, pathetic, imitative poems like they’re diseased footballs.
Their hair disheveled, wearing mismatched socks, forgetting birthdays, blowing off meetings, tweeting potential rhymes while standing on tram tracks, oblivious to oncoming traffic – maybe suicide by public transport is preferable for some. I can sympathize. But maybe some flowers, a plant, some lavender, roses would be better. But, no, we are required by edict, by law, by UN treaty that regulates Intangible Cultural Heritage, to produce a rhyming poem of “no less than 25 lines, totaling no less than 200 words.”
Even if it means missing meals, forgetting to floss, ignoring structural inequalities, or neglecting basic rules of etiquette. We turn on the TV and thousands upon thousands of members of the Sint Cult are in the streets looking for help with their poems, gedichten hotlines are set up, gedicht stress is now covered on most health insurance plans, a news program tells us. That is good because a record number of young parents neglected to pick up their toddlers from the creche this year during Sint Tribute Rites.
Meanwhile, cheating on poems is at an all-time high. Intellectual theft, plagiarism, and lack of ideas are not just first world problems, however. No, people everywhere are stressed and ready to blame the mailman for all of it. People are kicking the shins of neighbors and abusing their pets, throwing their garbage over balcony railings, and are defiantly – or is it hopelessly? – applying their make-up in a most ridiculous manner. People are chewing pencils, running ridiculous marathon lengths in the middle of nowhere to escape their responsibilities. But at the end of the day, there is hope. The future is here now. Technology is our savior. There are robots right now toiling away, writing poems we can be proud of and claim as our own – for a small fee.
Een Nina Gevonden op de Sinterklaasstartpagina
een Nina hebben is plezant,
ook al is ze geen Protestant.
Dieren zijn heel lief,
Maar ik heb liever mijn hartedief.
mijn picknickmand mijn rechterhand
heet nog altijd Nina,
want ze is geen goedkoop hangplant
En niet gevonden op eBays webpagina.
Op zaterdag is mijn poesenmand weer leeg,
En is het weer tijd dat ik mijn geheugen raadpleeg.
De herinneringen zijn imposant
Al bewaar ik ze in een knijpermand.
Hier komt het woord ‘Sint’
Maar dat kan me niets schelen
Want ik ben voor verdriet geïnd.
[Trans: A Nina Found on the SinterKlaas Home Page: To have a Nina is pleasant / Even if she’s no Protestant. Animals are kindly / But I prefer my heart thief. / My picnic basket, my right hand / is still always Nina / because she’s no cheap houseplant / & not something you find on the eBay homepage. / On Saturday my cat basket will be empty once more / And it’s time to turn to go to my memory store. / The memories are a full pocket / Although I save them in a clothespin basket. / Here comes the inevitable word “Saint” / It’s easy to ignore this complaint / Because I’ve been vaccinated against this grieving taint.]
[2, Karin, friend] We have done a lot of things together over the years, from jazz to Tajien, and yet the words necessary to properly describe my joy have all but melted away like an oven melts a toy. See, that’s pretty awful right there, but maybe you will ignore it and just not care. They say to resist the insanity you must out-crazy the crazies, but that is difficult even for someone like me. I cannot resist joining those in the Tutcafe who brag about not knowing what to say. I too am caught on surveillance camera chewing on a pencil nervously, pulling hair from the top of my head absentmindedly, kicking myself purposefully, absorbed in the fascinating emptiness of my thought-free mind mindlessly.
Oh, it is so sad to witness people who have reduced themselves to looking in trashbins, in disused smokestacks, in the trunks of abandoned automobiles, on x-rays and on cafeteria food trays, even in the lyrics of Justin Bieber & Jan Smit. That is not even the worst of it.
I can honestly say I don’t understand the half of it. They go to fortunetellers or see messages in shadows where they see fit. Some have purchased designer poems in the hope that the expense will distract from the lack of originality. But I can’t believe I’ve joined them in their search for rhymes and poems in all the wrong places in the hope that a prize poem will give us back our self-esteem.
Some are looking in the bottom of a whiskey glass, others in the movements of a stripper’s ass. Some follow the stock market, while others have way too many rhymes and little room on their hard drives to park it. The world is unfair but there are so many songs and poems about this that most of us don’t care. Many turn to religion, hoping that god will whisper a magical poem in their ears. As we wait for that blessed moment, I suggest we climb the highest mountains, run through the fields, Only to see you, Only to become you, I have run I have crawled, I’ve rolled myself into a little ball, Only to write this for you. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. But I still haven’t found the poetry rental store.
So, in the end, God, as always, is late for his appointment and I give up waiting for him, with a special sugary drink I thought I knew he said he liked. I will just have to write my own, I’ll write it down on paper and in stone. I’ll set forth until the worn flesh on my fingers reveal bone…
Sinterklaas zat met hypocrietpiet te chillen,
Even rekening houden met de temperatuurverschillen,
en zorgen dat ik niet al m’n poetisch talent laat verspillen
Want het moet een goed gedicht worden,
iets om te vertonen op uithangborden.
De Sint is weer aanwezig
Hij is dun en ietwat pezig
Hij heeft geen tijd voor Karins gedicht
al noemt hij me al jaren een poetisch lichtgewicht.
Misschien moet ik gewoon
me verschminken als autochtoon
En zijn schatkist vol gedichten beroven.
Al kent ie veel filosofen
en bluft ie vaak over uitsloven
zijn verhaaltjes zijn nooit te geloven.
Maar nu moet ik je toch iets bekennen
voor dat je me ziet wegrennen
Voor dat ik het door had
Had ik m’n gedicht van een bewustelose man gejat.
[Dear Karin, / Santa was chillin’ with hypocrite Pete / Adjusting to the temperature differences was neat / & I needed to make sure I didn’t waste all my poetic talent / Because it’s gotta be a good poem / Something you can put up on a billboard. / Santa’s back / & he looks a bit wiry & whack / & has no time to help with Karin’s poem / & he’s called me a poetic lightweight more than once. / Maybe I should just / Make myself up as a native / and ransack his poetic treasure chest / & although he knows lots of philosophers / and often brags about bending over backwards / Most of his stores are simply not to be trusted. / But now I should just come clean / Before you see me running away / Before that I knew it / I had stolen my poem from an unconscious guy lying in the street.]
[3, Paloma, daughter] As I was running away, unsure how Karin would find my poem, I realized I had another to write. I turned to my garden gnome but he offered only a few annoying near-rhymes. So, finally, I contacted poet-singer Leonard Cohen, who is a genius Canadian and not at all Samoan.
He was indifferent and too busy to even look. I got so pissed, I melted all his records and burned all his books. I looked out the window and saw a boy, deep in Sint gedicht thoughts, run into a clothesline… a big red mark across his neck as he lay dazed on his back. The times are not getting better, the NOS Journaal reports that the Tweede Kamer just denounced anyone who fails to write his quota of poems as ‘nationale verraad’ by a ‘plagiaat fanaat’.
But then, suddenly … from Paloma’s room emerged a song… and then another. It was a revelation like when chocolate met peanut butter [history: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups 1928].
A duck lost her beak, a man found his shoe, an entire population lost its freedom. The symphony’s second movement was cancelled, frites went unfried, the haircut left asymmetrically incomplete & chefs forgot to season their entrées. So while a whole nation’s people were flipping out and while I rubbed Fifi’s snout, I began to see a way out.
I read a story about how people, in order to not waste and properly recycle, decided to use each other’s poems to escape this vicious wasteful cycle. I had for years paid the wrong personal coaches, had lost many euros in FEBOs Gedicht verkoopautomaat [or poem vending machine] and on fortune tellers and greeting-card poets I met on streets they did not even bother to give a name. I brainstormed with unsuccessful songwriters who lied about their pasts and drunks in bars whose movie careers consisted of being always miscast.
And then I heard it again and I sat there looking at my sad toes and said simply AMEN. Thank you Led Zeppelin for giving me hope and adrenaline. Thanks also to the Ramones without whom I would have been reduced to a backboneless clone, moaning sad overtones.
The Song Ramones The Same
I had a dream. A Crazy dream.
Anything I wanted to know,
Any place I needed to go
Where the kids are all hopped up
and ready to go
They’re ready to go now
they got their surfboards
And they’re going to the discotheque Au Go Go.
Hear my song. People won’t you listen now?
Sing along. Any little song that you know.
Paloma’s a punk rocker
Paloma’s a punk rocker
Paloma’s a punk rocker now
Strum your guitar well
My heart floats to an image
You’ve drawn of yourself