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Paul van Ostaijen

In his short life, Paul van Ostaijen (1896-1928) touched on an immense variety of literary genres, which he imbued with the impetus of the new. He was a great innovator and experimenter in the Dutch language, not only representing the contemporary trends of modern poetry, such as French cubism and German expressionism, but also contributing to the development of these schools through his work. This lyric poet and intrepid form experimenter also engaged in theatrical criticism, pondered art and politics and was a poignant essayist.

Van Ostaijen introduced expressionism into Flemish literature. He was a confirmed Flemish Radical and fled to Berlin after World War I. There, he came into contact with writers and artists involved in the Dadaist and Expressionist movements.

Van Ostaijen debuted in 1916 with the collection of poems ‘Music-Hall’, and in 1918 ‘The Signal’ was published. A great deal of typographical form experiment and highly sonorous poetry, with the poem ‘Boom Drumbeat’ as the climax, ultimately followed in ‘Occupied City’ and ‘The Feasts of Fear and Pain’, published posthumously in 1928.

His later prose work is also diverse: his writings vary from brief descriptions to a ‘self biography’ and grotesques, in which he evolves towards nihilistic Dadaism. The enormous diversity in his literary production makes Paul van Ostaijen an elusive figure in Dutch literature. Partly under the influence of Dadaism, the typographical execution in Van Ostaijen’s work is extremely important. He endeavoured to achieve as great a harmony as possible between graphic form and content, thus influencing the work of many later poets.