Simon Vinkenoog (1928-2009)

Allen Ginsberg and Simon Vinkenoog at Musee Rimbaud, Charleville, December 1982. Photo: Joep Bremmers

As Stewart Home pointedly noted, in his review of Wholly Communion (Peter Whitehead and the Sixties) – “Curiously it is Simon Vinkenoog who is featured on the cover of this BFI (British Film Institute) DVD, despite the fact that (his) Vinkenoog’s on-stage performance at the Albert Hall was not recorded by Whitehead”. Indeed, Whitehead (in an interview with film scholar, Jack Sargeant) takes it one step further, professing to have no memory whatsoever of there ever even having been such a performance. What is captured – and has remained indelibly memorable, however – is Vinkenoog, in the audience, high on mescaline, interrupting the frail figure of poet Harry Fainlight reading – it was, very much, a drug-influenced night that night – Fainlight was reading his quintessential LSD poem, “The Spider”.

As Whitehead recalls:
“Harry was waxing lyrical in the middle of recreating his LSD trip, and suddenly this howl came from somewhere – we didn’t know where – someone was shouting. I didn’t even know what the sound was, finally I figured it out that it was “love” that he (Simon) was shouting: “Looovvve! Looovvve!” you see. He’s shouting “love”, but, number one, he is Dutch, number two he’s on mescaline. And this interrupts Harry’s poem, and of course he finds it then very difficult to get started again. Harry turns around and accuses Simon, who was a friend, “You’re a lovable idiot”..”

This key moment should illuminate this – a copy of Vinkenoog’s Plutonische Ode (Plutonian Ode) in a bi-lingual (Dutch-English) edition – “signed by Vinkenoog, who has also written the word “Love” three times across the rear endpaper and inside of the rear wrap”. Simon was, and remained, Allen’s esteemed Dutch translator.

Jap van der Bent in his groundbreaking essay, O fellow travelers I write you a poem in Amsterdam – Allen Ginsberg, Simon Vinkenoog and the Dutch Beat Connection” :
“Strangely enough neither of the Ginsberg biographies which have been published to date [he’s writing in the year 2000] pays much attention to the artistic and personal relationship between the Dutch and American poet, even though the two met not only in 1957 and 1967 but also during Ginsberg’s visits to Holland in the 1970s and 1980s. On each of these visits Vinkenoog served as Ginsberg’s translator, after having published the first, and still the only, substantial Dutch translation of Ginsberg’s poems, “Proef m’n tong in je oor” (Taste my mouth in your ear), (1966). [he also published the book-length collection, “Me and my peepee” (translations of Allen) in 2001] It was also during one of those visits that Ginsberg found the inspiration for his poem, “What The Sea Throws Up at Vlissingen”, published in White Shroud: Poems 1980-1985 (1986) and dedicated to Vinkenoog.”

In 1982 Vinkenoog famously accompanied Allen to Arthur Rimbaud’s birthplace in Charleville. Joep Bremmers has been engaged in annotating and footnoting Allen’s notebooks from this period (some of which may be accessed here ).

Simon was European Beat personnified, “poet, activist, lifelong hippy, and [not incidentally] cannabis connoisseur par excellence “,he, as this short but succinct biographical note points out, “never seemed to go out of style and was regularly rediscovered by new generations of poets and performance artists”. He wrote and published extensively (his 1972 anthology with George Andrews, The Book of Grass , might, perhaps, be singled out, but that was just one of many, of a host of titles; he wrote novels, biography, journalism, as well as singularly influential translation). As an anthologist, his 1950 anthology, Atonaal (Atonal) launched an important movement, the ” Fifties Movement ” in Dutch poetry. Towards the end of his life, in 2004, he was chosen as “Dichter des Vaderlands” (Poet Laureate) for the Netherlands. On his death, in July 2009, an international community mourned. Even Dutch Queen Beatrix sent her condolences, from her summer residence in Italy, stating “With this man the world has lost a unique writer”.
His web-site (posthumous tho’ it may be) is a veritable trove and well worth examining. Among the treasures therein, we select this. Ever the optimist, this is how Simon faced the world:

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