Collaborating in the Netherlands: Day 1

Today was the first official day of my on-site collaboration with Dutch artist Erna Kuik. She and I have been collaborating on a book project (a book of poems and images) since early 2017, and this week I flew into Amsterdam for a three day in-person workshop at her beautiful home and studio in Steenderen, a city in the eastern Netherlands.


Blue Dot on Steenderen.

On Saturday evening, I arrived in Amsterdam and met Erna’s daughter, Jara, at the train station, and she was gracious enough to let me stay in her flat for the evening. She prepared me that her flat was tiny, and so it was, but it was also very warm and charming and full of character. We at burgers in the city, and then back at her flat, we had stroop waffles and tea, and she showed me videos of her clarinet playing (she’s a music major) and of her beautiful trip to Georgia (the country, not the U.S. state). We enjoyed a peaceful evening of culture and language exchange 🙂


A photo I took in Amsterdam on Sunday.

The next day I went off on my own to explore the city before meeting Erna at the Artsplein Spui (a weekly art market on Sundays in Amsterdam). I had a few ideas in mind of places I wanted to visit, but then I had this overwhelming urge to find a café (my thought was to put “coffee shop,” but that is a very different thing in Amsterdam) and write this email I’d been needing to send. Suffice to say it will probably be in the TOP 5 most important emails I’ll ever send, and I did so at a café and bakery called Mensink, a name I quite enjoy. I then wandered the city. Amsterdam is so good for meandering with its dreamy canals, canal houses, gabled facades, and bicycles moving through the streets alongside the cars. I’d toured Amsterdam properly in December 2016, so on Sunday, I just wanted to walk and to observe and to eat fries with mayonnaise and peanut sauce (a Dutch favorite). An artist I met at the market told me some people call Amsterdam a “large village,” and I really agree; it feels so manageable and cosy, even through it’s a capital city of Europe.

After the market, Erna and I made our way to her home, which is about a 1.5 hour drive from Amsterdam. This morning Erna woke me up, and after I got ready, I met her downstairs for breakfast where she was already rereading my poems and sketching ideas. She had fried an egg for me and laid out bread, cheese, and orange juice. She also made me a very delicious and much needed cup of coffee.

We spent most of our time together today planning the project, choosing poems, choosing

Erna's Studio

Erna’s Art Studio.

images I would write on, talking book design, and Erna sketching three new images to correspond to three of my poems. We also talked about the book cover, which she will also design and which I’m immensely excited about. It looks like we’ll be including around 40 pages of poetry and around 16 images, and I am happy to report that all but around 5 poems are in some form of existence with 20 poems totally finished and another 10 in late draft stages.

Collab Board

Me working on the collaborative idea board.

I think what we both enjoy is that the other’s work deeply inspires our own creative work. We also both share the idea that art to image or image to art work shouldn’t be literal. When writing an ekphrastic poem, it’s far more interesting to push beyond the image itself – it’s colors, shapes, angles, objects, characters – and develop a new meaning, a new vision that uses but doesn’t merely summarize the artwork or poem. Since our vision is so in sync, we had an idea of working on an image/poem together, letting ideas ignite and fuse at the same time rather than one or the other writing or drawing on an existing image. So, tonight we started a collaborative idea board and worked on sketches, word associations, obsessions, and themes, which proved extremely plentiful, generating more ideas than I know what to do with.

In terms of themes, both Erna’s artwork and my poems include a lot of bird and nest images, so I found it quite meaningful when she told me today that the following is considered the only remaining example of Old Dutch: “Hebban olla uogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu uuat unbidan uue nu,” which translates to the following in English:  “Have all birds begun nests, except me and you – what are we waiting for?”

Such a lovely day in Erna’s happy home and studio, which is filled with art, warmth, love, books, food, and mirth. It’s a place to rest and to create. More tomorrow 🙂

“A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life.” – Virginia Woolf

1 Comments on “Collaborating in the Netherlands: Day 1”

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