Philip Rozema (21), a bachelor student in Dutch Studies, is the sixteenth in-house poet for the RUG. He succeeds Jephta de Visser. According to the jury, his work was undeniably the best. ‘His poetry is minimalist yet full of conviction.’ In his winning poem ‘450 members, 1,800 limbs and a new mega farm’, he holds up a mirror to his Christian fraternity, The Navigators.
It’s a common question for every new in-house poet: where do you think your poetic inspiration comes from? Typically, memories arise of nervously reading poems aloud in the local library, a collection of favourite verses kept in a homemade album or a father who would give feedback each time that he found a poem of his daughter on his pillow.
For Dutch studies student Philip Rozema, the new university in-house poet, it started very early. While lying on a cushion when he had just begun talking and forming his very first sentences, he spoke the prophetic words: ‘I rhyme sometimes!’ His parents still remember it perfectly.
How a barely two-year-old child even knew what rhyming was remains a mystery. But apparently, songs and poems had already captured his imagination, and he wrote his first poem in group five about the beauty of the beach. In group eight, he achieved his first nationwide success with his poem, ‘I Yearn’, which was printed on thousands of bookmarks distributed by the Children and Poetry Foundation. ‘I still remember how happy I was when I ran home. “I won a prize with poetry!” That was very important to me at that time.’
Of course he was also lucky that he attended the Nassau school near the Noorderplantsoen, where his teacher, Arjen Boswijk, always had his group seven and group eight students write poetry for half an hour each morning. He submitted the best ones for a national competition, and that is how Philip wound up winning a youth competition for Poetry International for his poem, ‘I yearn’.
‘I yearn/for something/that comes/in one day/I am different/than how the rest/look at me/I yearn/for what/can happen/in one day/where my thoughts/I know/what comes/is what/I want’
It’s a mature poem wherein the sober, precise style of his later work can already be seen. ‘When I performed last year in the garden tunnels during Poets in the Prinsentuin, people couldn’t believe that that poem was written by an 11-year-old. And to be honest, I was also kind of surprised myself when I read it again. It’s sort of a search for my own identity. When I was young, I already felt the challenge to be myself and to really connect with others.’
He wasn’t much of a reader, though. Even now, he only sporadically reads the work of other writers. ‘That way, I can develop my own writing style and find my own voice. Writing is freedom to me, and being able to follow my intuition. As soon as I have rules or boundaries in my head, it doesn’t work. I could write a sonnet for example, but I wouldn’t really enjoy it.’ His role models? Remco Campert, Lucebert, Toon Tellegen and Charles Bukowski – ‘the purity, the rawness, no fuss, that speaks to me’.
Anyone who sees the impressive CV of the 21-year-old Philip would be surprised to learn that it took him three tries to become the in-house poet. As a high schooler, he published various poems in volumes from ‘Doe Maar Dicht Maar’ (‘Poetry: Let’s Do It’), a poetry competition for young poets, and when he was 16, he was nominated for the Gouden Lijst (Golden Frame), a national prize for up-and-coming talent. ‘That was fuel for me.’
He travelled to Amsterdam with his mom to do a reading during the Afternoon of the Children’s Book. ‘That was very exciting. It turned out to be a venue with 500 people in the audience with all kinds of famous children’s authors: Ted van Lieshout, Francine Oomen. I didn’t win, but I got a lot of positive feedback, and afterwards, I thought:“Wow, this is super cool. I have to keep pursuing this.” My mother said, “This is where you belong.”’
‘Faith provides freedom’
Philip Rozema sought his own path. He meandered through the theatre world, began studying Dutch, took a short detour into art history and become a member of the Christian fraternity, The Navigators. ‘I was raised religious, but in my time at university, my faith has endured. People think that if you’re religious that you have all kinds of rules and obligations. But for me, faith is not a limitation: it provides freedom.’ He wants to exude faith, but that doesn’t always mean that his poetry has to have a religious message. ‘Sometimes that is a part of it, but it’s usually beneath the surface. I don’t want to force myself on anyone. I’m just Philip, and faith is part of me. But I’m not afraid of that. If I write a poem with a religious message as in-house poet, then I plan to publish it.’
Last December, he wrote a poem, ‘Immanuel’, for a Christmas service for 800 Christian students in the New Church. He shared some of the text for the interview: ‘Our God the storming god/who is so human with us… He finds hearts beyond ribcages/and draws them in…’
It is living poetry, articulating conviction and delivered with warmth. ‘I do love acting’, he confesses. ‘I am less confident in my words than in my performance. One word can do something to you: you may love it or hate it. For me, it’s about the word, not poems that tell stories, the word that comes from another perspective or has another structure so that it takes on a new meaning. When a poem has an effect and can disorganize a person just a bit, then it’s a success.’
That is also what he wants to do as in-house poet: to reach people who are not familiar with poetry and to move them. He is considering placing poems on YouTube and combining them with films. ‘You can get a thousand views online, but finding a venue with one thousand people is a whole different story.’
Recently, he stood beside outgoing in-house poet Jephta de Visser in the Albert Heijn performing poems. ‘It was awesome to stand on a crate and read works aloud at the check out line.’ He is especially interested in performing regularly, meeting other poets and rounding it all off with a spectacular act that he already has planned in his head. ‘I am looking forward to bringing some new and fresh energy. Here I come!’