Poetry festival at Ruigoord, Amsterdam, June 3-5th, 2006
On my last night at Ruigoord (Sunday, June 4th), we had wandered back to the relative luxury of our borrowed house and bed (actually the ‘Director’s’) at around midnight, eschewing the continuing celebrations that seemed to emanate from every part of this island of grass. And it is almost an outcropped island too - I wandered round the perimeter early Sunday morning and came across a mosaic white statue, of a woman crowned and triumphant, as if she’d just been rescued from a ship’s prow and was now saluting her rag tag crew of rescuers by guarding the entrance to Ruigoord from the sea, which now I look it up on a map I see was the Noordzeecanaal. There were several huge tugs in the water, and a wind that rippled the surface of my coffee as I walked my way round the camp. Tents of all shades and hues. Funky, large buses painted brightly & madly, a few caravan style homes, and masses of Dutch children running barefoot in the morning sun while it seems that all their parents had partied too hard and remained locked in lethargic sleep. . . Back to Saturday night though . . .
Rhian (another UK poet) and I made it to the house, rolled cigarettes, boiled water for tea and then motioned to an apparition outside, who came in and turned out to be a neighbour and also one of the Ruigoord festival filming crew who was on her way to bed. But it seems that when the Dutch are about to go to bed, good company and coffee can tempt them to remain. And so we talked. And then another apparition appeared. The film-maker knew him, and as he walked through the door he staggered, as if taken aback. ‘It’s so clean’ he exclaimed, and promptly sat down next to me, and cap in hand, began to explain . . . He was the first squatter at Ruigoord. He had arrived at the empty village and taken over a house to mend. Some politicians did not like this and tried to stop him. Another politician perhaps saw an opportunity he thought, and supported this man so that 36 years, and a buoyant political careeer later, these once empty houses here have been lived in, and made ‘clean’. This man could not believe that everything was clean again because he said that Ruigoord had started out this way, empty but at least clean, and then people came, and more people, and there were parties, and drugs, and chaos, and painters, and artists and singers and poets and dancers and mess, and more mess and now people have left Ruigoord and no longer live as a settled community here . . . and yet . . . once again ‘everything is clean’. ‘It is like the beginning again’, he said, ‘even though it is the end’. I knew what he meant.
Sunday morning also saw me perform my ‘Activate the Poet’ installation at the camp. I chose the shelter of the Why Not ? circus tent, possibly to the surprise of the woman who was laying out fruit for her children and who read my signs (in Dutch & English) which said ‘Press Button to Activate Poet’. I sat still for an hour or so. Even though I really wanted to scratch my nose. The Dutch, fruit-eating children came to watch me, read my sign, and slightly afraid perhaps, decided not to press anything. I sat still for another half hour. No-one but this circus woman and her children seemed awake. I decided to move site, and packed myself up suddenly and moved to park by a pathway near the church, on a folded out camping chair, next to a fire being tended by a dreadlocked Ruigoord resident.
I put out my button, my sign, sit in the chair with my hat on my head and wait to be activated. I sit for 3/4 of an hour. People begin to wake up and wander past me towards the church in search of breakfast . . . or beer . . . I’m not sure which. No-one stops to activate me. The dreadlocked dude finishes building the fire, reads my sign, says something to me in Dutch and then laughs as I remain completely still and de-activated. Then he starts giving me a massage. This is great. I am stiff limbed and shouldered from 2.25 hours of de-activation, and 3 days of hulking a poetry library in a rucksack round on my back. He massages my shoulders, neck, arms, and the whole time I remain still in my ‘de-activated’ form, not turning my head nor moving my eyes or speaking or anything. I am full in my Art. Then he starts massaging my front and my first Performance Art Dilemma arises . . . he and no-one else has pressed the button to activate me so I must remain dead and still . . . but at the same time I’m not really down with a full-on breast massage by a total stranger in a camp site at about 11am near Amsterdam on a Sunday morning. . . what’s a girl to do . . . ? Does ART win the day? Does our heroine lance the scoundrel with an acerbic poem or batter him over the head with her trusty wireless doorbell . . . ? Stay tuned to our blog for the next episode in our ‘Adventures of a Poetry Librarian’ to find out . . . !