Totally White Room


Kouwenaar often wrote about death, but in this work it is much more personal. He wrote: ‘poet, nothing rhymes with death’. Yet in this collection, from a figuratively point of view, everything is in tune with death, with a marvellous choice of words, which will appeal to many readers.

Kouwenaar’s earlier work was somewhat hermetic. This collection is more accessible. In his earlier work he often uses the pronoun ‘one’ in his poems, in Totally White Room this changes to ‘you’ and ‘I’. Yet he retains his characteristic use of metaphors. Even though he writes in free verse, all his poems show an almost hypnotic rhythm. His style is immediately recognisable as that of a poet of the highest order who knows exactly what he wants to achieve.

Poet, I’m here again for a moment, jolted
awake in you, I’m walking with you
through the stilled future of our past

The wonderful title poem Totally White Room was inspired by him and his wife painting one of the rooms in their French holiday home completely white. A poem about loss, memories and saying goodbye and justifying this in writing. A white room that can be coloured in by the reader’s own experiences. This makes this very personal poem so universal.

Let’s make the room white one more time
one more time the totally white room, you, me

this won’t save time, but one more time
make the room white, now, never again later

we’ll almost echo perfection
our lines more white than legible

so one more time that room, once and for all total
the way we lay there, lie, shall lie there
more white than, together –

This collection not only eulogizes his wife but also his oeuvre.

Poet and translator Lloyd Haft created the wonderful and meticulous translation.

We’re delighted to make one of the best Dutch language poetry collections available to English speaking readers.

The poems

a glass to break

a latter day
while the dragonfly
a spring
a happy childhood
when we were still young
winter stands still
a glass to break

four variations on a triptych


between times

stroll in the park
words on glass
poem made of stone
water path
poets musicians
between times

totally white room

words like these
totally white room
mind, word
not written
in the orchard
when we
poême, lancôme
so peaceful the evening

ISBN: 9781907320972
Number of pages: 44
Price: £0

Publication Date: 30 March 2023


‘The themes, word choice and poetry in Totally White Room seamlessly fit into the oeuvre Gerrit Kouwenaar has created since his debut in the 1950s. In this collection too, metaphors for words like ‘death’ and ‘food’ are used to show that poetry is a transformative process. Most reviewers were impressed by his mature mastery of poetry and consider this collection one of his best.’ – Jaap Goedegebuure

“‘Nothing rhymes with death,” Kouwenaar famously said in a documentary about Totally White Room which was written following the death of his wife Paula from Alzheimer’s. However, he does manage to capture death in poetry.’ – Dieuwertje Mertens

It’s moving to see how the death of Kouwenaar’s wife forces him, for the first time in decades, to use personal pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘you’. When it really matters ‘one’ simply won’t do. In the stunning title poem, white doesn’t refer just to the colour, but also to the actual bedroom he shared with his beloved.’ – Piet Gerbrandy