The Refrain of Other People’s Lives

Arnold Jansen op de Haar

A poet in search of his history

Sample Passages

  • First name 'I'

    you are the man you have
    long since become

    no longer the youth
    from the lean years
    of ferriferous smoked meat

    but of the hot plate
    that quivering quavering
    breeds fat folds of flab

    in this house that never sees visitors
    where there has been no loving

    your hand that on paper
    turns down the town

    against the window the chippings
    of fictional characters

    you are an accessory to no one
    but the first name ‘I’

    the breathing of nicotine walls
    has appropriated the hours
    behind the buckling wallpaper

    the tableware that has fallen into disuse
    the length and breadth of the night
    the knife that makes soft scratches

    the whetstone of two feet
    under the skin of the carpet

    there the fibbing
    of truth began

    the soft-falling rain
    of recollection
    onto the crackled land

    the one you were accumulates
    in young shoots

    somewhere the questions and days
    grow rampant
    as if time accelerates

    and when the crops
    reach your lips

    the nervous doubt
    between countries
    blossoms as spring
    grows hard as winter

    the harvesting comes
    with the sharpness
    of machines

    One of the poems from The Refrain of Other People’s Lives for more information and review copies please contact the publisher: – +44 (0) 7792611929

Sample Information


Arnold Jansen op de Haar will read and talk about migration together with Jacqueline Saphra and Norbert Hirschhorn in the Poetry Library on 10 January 2018.

Isn’t everyone the ‘refrain of other people’s lives’? This collection has to do with the feeling that your own life is determined by other people.

Arnold Jansen op de Haar (1962) moved from Arnhem to London in 2014. His emigration brought everything into focus. The poems of this collection combine to form a story. What makes somebody the person he is?

What do you do when everyone has disappeared and you are the last one?
Arnold Jansen op de Haar, shuttling between two countries, sets out in search of his history.

at my birth
my own father called me
son and heir for later
but later is last

I am the refrain of
other people’s lives
I repeat a self-evident truth

from on the other side of the water

I smell london
in the evening

with the russian girls
of tar
in inflammable streets
and furious female hair

from london calling

The poems

an ordinary day
first name ‘I’
merciless recalling
on the other side of the water
merciless loving
london calling
daily work
written for whom
london view
the submerged land
in a town like this
in this town
princesses of Portobello
letter from Edinburgh
highgate cemetery
meanwhile on the home front
the cycling jeweller
morning walk
poste restante
poem for my 49th birthday
the sleeping boy
a discovery of wings
in this moment eternity lies
wage war again
anniversary of the dead
so there are holes then

The Refrain of other people’s lives has been translated by John Irons.


Listen John Irons’s wonderful reading of merciless loving on SoundCloud.

Watch a video of the author reading part of on the other side of the water from his study on YouTube.

For more information or preview copies please contact the publisher Bernadette Jansen op de Haar:, +44 (0) 77 926 11 929.

Jansen op de Haar’s previous poetry collection Yugoslav Requiem was published by Holland Park Press in 2009.

ISBN: 9781907320729
Number of pages: 80
Price: £0


‘What his poetry does is to capture a dramatized, aestheticized sense of what it is like to be living outside your own country.

Jansen op de Haar’s poems seem to be groping for a greater meaning all the time; and sometimes this is glimpsed in arresting snippets of images: “the widows’ small dogs / with widowers’ eyes” (‘london calling’) or “the light falls like a guillotine” (‘highgate cemetery’).’ – Richie McCaffery on London Grip