The Links Project



1989, May
The poet

Although 1989 sounds decidedly different from 1889, there were still some things that had withstood the passing of the hundred years that separated those two moments in time. We were children of the 1970's, the off spring of the love generation. Spurred on by the perils of war and the economic resurrection of Europe that followed it, the love generation generation developed a dreamy sub culture. By the 1970's teachers in Dutch high schools recommended pupils to study something that would teach them to pass their remaining life span pleasantly, because none of us would ever have to work. Robots were going to do that for us, and the Dutch would all be living on coconut islands. Apart from the fact that there aren't any coconuts to be found in The Netherlands outside the supermarkets, that notion does put things in perspective regarding a certain young poet in the printing facility of the Academy of Fine Arts in Enschede, The Netherlands, May 1989. He was only 1 poet in a world that had just started marching toward the 21st Century with George Bush Sr. They were of course worlds apart, the poet and GWBSR, and yet their worlds also had a lot in common, given that they were neatly divided in two halves: the commies + Fidel against the West. Arabian leaders were still merely goatherds that had found themselves sitting on an oil bubble overnight; Latin America, South-East Asia and especially Africa figured in an endless string of aid fundraisers that, in hindsight, were the first reality soaps in disguise. In short, a West-European poet in May 1989 was born into a world that had two sides with enough atomic bombs aimed at each other to ensure that everyone could sleep safely. The only thing worrying our poet in that particular printing facility on the German border, was that computers were still mere 5mb machines that barely enabled you to type a word doc. Printing poetry was still done in plump, which is a material that significantly shortens one's life span if you work too long with it. The other problem of the young poet concerned a poem that just didn't want to bend to his will.

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Undestined I listen to his beautiful words,
carried on the winds they are saying nothing,
they are undestined,
tempting the empty

pic1Attached to the shapes and forms of world religions and the Olympic Rings the words were charged with the energy of, say, a protest song. The young poet faced only two problems: the original print was barely readable and the poem was more or less caught in its own trap, since Undestined was made up of merely the next few 'beautiful words'. At that point graphic designer Steven Boland walked in with coffee, and a linguistic discovery that he had learned from a radio news item: dialects tended to cross borders because they still remained remotely attached to the ancient division lines of language. These harked back to the times when borders were little more than stones in woods and meadows.

The young poet looked up from his work. Here was a perfect solution: if Undestined would be recited in every village and city from the far West point of Europe to the far East point of the Eurasian continent, the filmed edit would capture how people were linked from West to East. The poem would transform from being just words to being a living entity. It would cross the limit of language, which ultimately is set by the notion that words are only words. Steven said something like, 'Yeah,' and took another sip of his coffee, 'If you could just do that, it would be cool.' The young poet, of typical, poetic build, fragile, pale faced, and perhaps appearing a shade more convinced of himself than he really was, shrugged his small shoulders: 'Where's the problem?' Steven took another sip of his coffee. 'Well, 80% of your project takes place in communist territory, you can't just go there. Then, it would take a little more money for equipment and travel expenses than the state gives us for housing and food.'


The young poet thought over the designer's words carefully. There were some practical problems to tackle, sure, but... it had to be done. The designer finished his coffee and walked out with a respectful smile. About a month later they met again, in the same printing facility. The poet was printing hundreds of hand crafted parts of a meters long map that listed all 508 places between Clifden in Western-Ireland and Tokyo in Japan; the route for The Links Project. The designer looked at the design, a piece of art that might have pleased any given artist enough to leave things at that. The slight, challenging tone in the designer's voice was gone though, when he asked his poet friend how he was going to solve the practical problems? The poet then showed him the concept of a sponsor booklet, which explained the project and drew a road map to it's completion: 508 places to visit during 7 months travelling would cost, including equipment, about 100.000 Guilders (50.000 Euros in today's currency), if one travelled on a budget level. Given that such sums were easily thrown away into water well projects in the Amazon or the African deserts, raising such a petty sum of money seemed like a piece of cake. As for the East-West controversy and the communist border issues, the poet had written al culture attachés of the countries concerned, inviting them in a committee of recommendation. Once they were all in, sponsors would follow. All you had to do was look up which businesses traded East-West. The plan was of such simplicity that it couldn't fail... The designer's eyes lit up. It was indeed a perfect plan. The poet was going to do it!

A few months onwards, all culture attachés of the countries in the project were on board, including Mr. Winkler of the East-German Ambassy, Mr. Jan Larecky of the Polish Ambassy, Mr. Najdonov of the Soviet-Union, and Mr. Gao Di of the People's Republic of China. It was July. Three months later the Berlin Wall came down; communism vaporized in bananas thrown to bewildered East Germans. The Soviet Union dissolved in a big question mark.

Three years and a promotional exhibition in Pieter Brattinga's prestigious Print Gallery later, I had enough supplies to execute the first part of The Links Project: Ireland and England. Europcar supplied a rental VW-Golf, Sony sponsored the film equipment, Polaroid the photographic supplies, and some cities on the route donated money, or provided lodgings. Photographer Guido van Dooremaalen accompanied me, to document the trip.



Leaving home is never easy; it just seems impossible to pack everything you need on the eve before departure. How lucky we were to meet two friendly border policemen who allowed us, late comers, to enter the ferry from Hoek van Holland to Harwich at the cost of no more than a brief, playful twisting of our balls...

pic3'Nothing hidden there young man?'
'Uhm, no sir, nothing...'

Our Volkswagen Golf occupied the last available spot on the ferry that lifted its entrance even before we had properly shut down the car's engine. Guido, the photographer, and me, the poet, we were on our way to Clifden in Western Ireland, planning to travel village by village to Tokyo in Japan by whatever means possible. Our goal in those villages and cities was to collect recitals of the poem Undestined.

On the other side of The Channel border police awaited us once more:

'You wouldn't happen to have any pornography on you, young man?'
'Uhm, no 'mam, just a poem...'

In passing through England, I discovered that British coffee in cross-country motels could indeed make the Guinness Book of Records as the worst ever served. In an effort to get through England as fast as possible, we drove until I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore, parking the car under a hedge which at sunrise turned out to be less deserted than we had thought the other night. Under wandering eyes we hurried off to The Prince of Wales in Holyhead, where we arrived under thundering rain. We skipped the coffee, ordered two pints and hooked up with a chap that promised us a fine Welch translation of the poem upon our return from Ireland:

'Just ask the barman for a poem and he'll give two pints on top.'

Naturally, we payed his pints in advance - a small price to pay for 'a fine Welsh language translation' of Undestined...

Crashing into Ireland

The ferry brought us into the better Dublin weather. We were spent but hunted down the Irish landscape on the way to the Atlantic coast. We passed Dublin, Moate and Athlone, beyond which my eyes refused further service. Fifty kilometres prior to reaching Clifden, the first stop on our route to Tokyo, I turned into the driveway of an abandoned Bed & Breakfast. The sky was grey and forbidding. Five kilometres further on at Maam Cross there was a lake according to the map; maybe a nicer place to wake up in. I turned the car around, pulled onto the road and then, suddenly ... headlights in front of me...faces loomed... 'The wrong lane' it flashed through my mind ... brakes ... – I hadn't gained speed yet – ... The car sliding toward me digged its wheels into the asphalt... smoke came from his tyres... for a moment I thought he was going to make it ... but he slid on through ... and we crashed in slow motion ... I kept my eyes open and clang to the steering wheel. I was sure that nothing would happen, we weren't going fast enough... then, head-on: a dry bang. The two hoods crashed in front of me like rearing horses, expressions contorted, mouths foaming. An immediate backlash followed. The metal hulks came to a halt at a few dozen centimetres' distance from each other. I leaped from the car to comfort the sobbing and screaming people emerging from the other wreck. They were alive, we were alive, the cars were dead, total-loss... I was in the middle of nowhere, eye-to-eye with my life work, derailed during the warm-up lap ... it seemed all over.

At about 10 o'clock the police arrived in the person of Officer Peter Lee, who handled the matter casually and towed us, wreck and all, to his wife Patricia's Bed & Breakfast. Our room had a picture on the wall of a safe haven. I tested my camera that had sprang from its box in the crash – it still worked.

Our main problem was the car. With our heavy camera equipment we weren't likely to get very far. Since Europcar sponsored the car, we contacted the Athlone branch of them for help. Their response was a bit disappointing, to say the least:

'This is Ireland. We don't give a shit about the mainland where you come from. Tough luck. Goodbye.'

I won't bother anyone interested in poetry with the details of the next few phone calls with those guys, but I would like to mention deus ex machina Maree, the director's secretary at Europcar headquarters in Dublin. She needed but two lines to grasp the situation:

'So you guys need help, or this poem will never be? All right then. I'll call Athlone and will vouch for you financially. They will pick up your car and repair it just so you can drive it back to Europcar Amsterdam. That's good for us too, since transporting it back would be just as expensive as fixing it here.'

Officer Lee smiled while overhearing the conversation:

'That gives you at least two days to get started. Some of those villages are in my jurisdiction. Now suppose I'd take you guys along on my patrols, since I just planned to 'inspect' those villages you want to visit...'

One place before Clifden, at Maam Cross, Pete reached the end of his district.

'20 miles, that shouldn't be a problem. We'll just hitch hike to Clifden.'


Finding the ideal candidate to recite Undestined in Clifden proved a bit more difficult than expected. To begin with, we needed a man of age and intellectual weight, a true father figure, since this was to be the first recital and it had to be a monumental one. Apart from that, there was also the problem that the Irish are rather camera shy. They are not likely to volunteer, though willing to help poets in finding other victim; their neighbour, or someone whom they think more capable of it. In this case we ended up with a certain 'O Scanaill in the Atlantic Hotel, who was out. The reception desk girl thought he wasn't mister right anyway, since he was only 40 years of age:

'Not exactly what you are looking for... a man at the age of wisdom, who represents the past... What you really need is his father who lives up the hill! He would be a picture for this project of yours! Although, perhaps not... he's a very nasty old man and he'll never help you.'

I decided to try my luck anyway, since we had nothing to lose with a phonecall. A distinguished voice answered at the other side:

'Peader 'O Scanaill speaking, what can I do for you? What? To recite a poem? Naturally I'll do that for you. Your car broke down? You're at the Atlantic? Just wait there and I'll pick you up.'

The road to 'O Scanaills house at the top of a hill overlooking Clifden bay was a marvel in itself. He matched it to perfection with his appearance and splendid performance of the poem, both in Gaelic and English language. 'O Scannaill also explained us the surprising reasons behind Gaelic having all but disappeared as a spoken language:

'Gaelic, the original Irish language, has more or less vanished. Only in small areas it is still practiced by older people, and though one can find people who are capable of speaking it all around the country, it is hardly a living language anymore. The reason for it is not to be found in the English having tried to ban it though, but rather in the Irish catholic Church having urged the irish to speak English, so that we could spread the Catholic faith in their slipstream, as they conquered the world.'

Maam Cross

Still without a car, we took the bus back to Maam Cross, where miss Barbra Kelly recited the poem. As she was the neighbour of a certain miss Peacock, a friend of our friend officer Pete Lee, miss Kelly needed no explanation:

'I'll just read it, if I can help you with that.'

Her impressive recital proved relevatory. Some people simply have the voice for it, whether they know what they are reciting or not... Miss Kelly's voice was of such expressiveness, that any explanation would only have ruined the thunderous rendering she provided, and it has remained one of my favorite readings till date.




Roscahill-(Patricia-Lee)Even here, at our current home base at the Lee's B & B, the shy Irish nature took it's course when our 'saviour,' Pete Lee excused himself from undertaking the recitation of the poem:

'For poetry you need a more suited soul. Ask Patricia, my wife.'

After that it was time to say goodbye, as Europcar Galway had arranged a substitute rental car that would enable us to complete the Irish part of the project.


Upon spotting a church I wondered if a priest would be the kind of person to help us out. Unfortunately he was out and the woman answering our call at the door refused:

'I might get in the papers then young man, and that would be the end of me... I'd rather live my life anonymous than having people coming to me when I go shopping! I wish you good luck though, you're two brave young men!'


Oranmore-Conor-FarrellAfter having missed the chance to confess in Galway, we took another chance at the local church in Oranmore. The door was opened by a man without the slightest sense of humour. Halfway my first sentence his dry voice gnarled:

'Not interested.'

My reply that it was not about money was rewarded with a single extra word:

'Still not interested.'

My brief exploit got me no further:

'Again, not interested.'

As we left the scene, the road got blocked with cows. When Guido started photographing the scene, a boy approached us rather curious. When he readily agreed to recite the poem for us, I learned another lesson about poetry: one can easily overrate the value of one's poetic dwellings. In the end trivial details prevail over content; a camera can work magic beyond words...


Athlone-Womens-dayApart from official organizations such as hospitals and churches, where people fear for their job as it concerns the bosses' time, people seldom turn a foreigner down in Connamara, Ireland. Connamara appeared to us as an isolated remnant of ancient times, coloured by a deserted, yet beautiful nature. An empty country, where people lived like one would have lived in the middle ages, with the only exception of electricity, toilets and hot water from the crane.

The rural picture changed abruptly while driving through Athlone, famous as the birthplace of the great Irish tenor John McCormack who sung beautiful songs about Ireland - in the English language. It was a strange day for visiting Athlone. There was something in the air that one can also sense while strolling through, say, Naples. For the first time the poverty of Ireland became visible. At the social security office, well located between the cathedral and the police station, hundreds of women were lined up waiting for their check: young, old, silently waiting or stirring some action to drive out boredom. Unfortunately my attempt to get them to recite the poem in unison stranded upon an empty battery.

At the local newspaper we found a fine replacement candidate in reporter Jason Gill. Afterwards I hurry off to Patrick Dunne, a politician dedicated to the European case, active at the Westmeath County Council and author of the book Who's who in Europe. I asked him about the strange contradiction that the outspoken catholic media in Ireland seemed to be obsessed by stories about rape, abortion and adultery among members of the high society. Naturally, there would be a vague critical undertone, but at the same time they never missed the opportunity to insert even the smallest detail. Amazing for a country where some women told me bluntly that Ireland had no prostitutes, drugs or crime. Dunne:

'It may look strange, but it's not. Your historical sexual revolution has only just reached Ireland and everybody is trying to deal with these liberties. Rape has only recently been branded a felony. Before it was blamed upon the victim, who probably would have given due cause. For ages women have played the second, if not the third violin over here, and only recently have we had cases where woman stood up for their rights in court. The latter was caused by the strict anti-abortion legislation in Ireland, where you can't have an abortion even after you've been raped. And there are plenty of women being raped over here, as it has always been tolerated.'

That cleared the matter. Ireland had just entered the nineteen sixties, and the struggle was best reflected in the fact that the papers could describe anything they liked, as long as they spelled all F-words as F*ck. Which left the question as to why there were only women lined up at the social security department? Dunne:

'Today it's the women's day!'


Moate-Vera-HughesIf a woman tells you that you may wake her up anytime, it usually doesn't mean you should put the word to the deed. However, if you're in Moate you can call upon Vera Hughes anytime, provided you bring her a poem. After waiting in the antechamber for her to get dressed, the doctor's wife invited us to coffee. With her natural supremacy she then took over control by making a grand plan to get us through the next villages without too much trouble.

VH: 'What do you need?'

TP: 'Well, preferably something typical Irish, like a whisky brewery.'

VH: 'No problem. Here's what you do: in the next village you go to John Locke's Whisky. I'll call them, they will be waiting for you. Good luck. Remember me, and write me when you're back from Tokyo!'


At John Lockes Whisky all was indeed arranged, thanks to Vera Hughes from Moate. That led us another step away from how we had originally envisioned the whole undertaking. Instead of a poetic experience, we now entered the situation where the management offered us to pick any one of their employees - after all the Whisky farm was a tourist attraction. Extremely shy and very nervous, Laura Keegan was perhaps the first 'victim' of The Links Project. Nonetheless she was as Irish as a girl can get, and a natural talent in terms of poetic recitation. As the example set by Vera Hughes tasted after more, we asked the management if they knew another target in the next village.

JLW: 'What do you need?'

TP: 'Well, preferably a priest or a police officer...'

'JLW: A police officer it will be. We have fine connections with the chief of police. Just go to the police station in Kinnegad and an officer will be waiting for you.'


Kinnegad-SgtSergeant Eric Mc Taigue of the Kinnegad police squad was in a hurry to get home. In fact, he was already on his way out when he was commissioned to wait for us guys, in order to recite a poem... In hindsight, he proved to be the ideal candidate. In fact, he didn't even need any sort of explanation:

'No, no, don't explain it to me, please. I'll just do whatever has to be done and then I'm off. I only need to read it. Who cares if I understand it or not. Let's just get it over with.'

Sergeant McTaigue truly opened my eyes: his words bore truth. We were not the church, I was no priest and certainly no prophet of my own religion. I simply needed to collect five-hundred-something recitals of Undestined to cross the border of language and that was that. We were low on money and any quick job was a good one. Unfortunately we did need a lot of takes in order to obtain a satisfactory result from the Sergeant, which eventually made him a bit... suspicious:

'Look, you're not making a fool of me are you? Is this candid camera? With me as the monkey?'

Candid Camera, who'd have thought of that! As a police officer in uniform, Sergeant McTaigue was the pride of The Links Project till so far! Unfortunately he was only temporarily appeased by my reassurance that this was not Candid Camera, and when the time came to sign the publication contract, he looked at it as if it was Faust's contract with the devil:

Guido-van-Dooremaalen'Once I investigate the matter and all problems are cleared I'll send you the paper. If it's not candid camera you have my word for it, which is better than any piece of paper.'

Back in the car, Guido came to the Sergeant's aid:

'You shouldn't have put the poem and all that philosophical stuff on the release form. All these symbols make it look like we're members of some religious sect. Just stop talking about that poem and all will be fine. People are only interested in our camera's anyway. Let's just simply knock on their doors as a Dutch camera crew, and them ask them to recite the poem for a linguistic project.'