LITERATURE | ENGLISH POETRY IN BELGIUM
Remembering Marcus Cumberlege
When I was younger I sold my services as a poet and wrote obituary poems on call, about people I had never known, but their loved ones would tell me their stories and show me photos and many of them would have difficulties withholding tears — and I was there for them in their moments of grief and loss and my poetry, the product I sold, was a mere by-product of what was really happening.
What they needed was a monk helping them transition to a new reality — and what they got was a writer of commissioned poetry.
I learned a lot from this — that remained of value in my later work as a consultant and teacher and facilitator of groups. What I learned most was that listening and questions always matter more than speaking and answers.
Marcus Cumberlege was the one suggesting the idea of commissioned obituary poetry to me. On a ride we shared to Utrecht. He thought I’d be good at it.
Marcus passed in the darkest of winter, December 30, 2018. I was with Michaela and our daughter in Tangier when it happened — readying myself to drive our rented car to Chefchaouen and hike up Jebel Tissouka in the Rif — oblivious to the event that unfolded up north in Bruges, where a friend I hadn’t seen for more than twenty years breathed his last.
In the leftist/artful/indie scene in Bruges in the seventies, Marcus was impossible to avoid. The little town was and is absolutely small and conservative, I am trying not to write parochial, and everybody who thought of themselves they weren’t, knew one another. Marcus and I kept meeting wherever we went, sharing at least three of our circles.
The art cinema gang hanging out on Thursdays at Café De Lokkedize, close to where Marcus lived, where we loved being hoity-toity and rave over Tarkovsky and Antonioni, name-dropping Kurosawa and Kieślowski, discuss the latest shows put up by Pina Bausch, and go on about Satyajit Ray. While we listened to albums of Manfred Eicher’s emerging ECM jazz catalogue, sang along with Hasta Siempre on the Bobo Stenson Quartet’s seminal Witchi…