About Philip Meersman

Philip Meersman is a Belgian experimental poet with a strong interest in visual and sound poetry, very much in the tradition of Soviet Russian poets like Velimir Chlebnikov, futurist Italian poets like Paolo Buzzi, Aldo Palazzeschi, Corrado Govoni, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, or the young Salvatore Quasimodo, and of course Paul van Ostaijen. But Meersman has also been influenced by pioneers of concrete poetry like Ian Hamilton Finlay, Max Bense, Eugen Gomringer,  and Franz Mon.

Poems by Paul van Ostaijen

Clearly, to be part of such challenging poetic traditions that were immensely experimental implies also the desire to continue in this vein & push further into new 'terrain,' thus transcending that heritage. And this is what Meersman does. He ventures into performance art and combines the visual element of both performance and integrated video art with radical sound poetry. Such poetry can be subversively anti-war, it can tackle contradictions of contemporary Western consumerist society, and it can also become pure word play, an anarchical incantation of joyful, ironic, angry, sad, and desperate pre-logical sounds. From the expressive function of language to the exhortative, the full range of possibilities is tested, challenging the audience to discard all preconceptions and conventional expectations. For good reason Meersman sees himself as a man who is simultaneously an experimental poet-painter-&-conceptual artist. 

Philip Meersman commenced his creative career in the mid-1980s, not only as a poet (and sculptor) but also, significantly, as an actor – which explains perhaps, in part, his later turn to performance art. He performed at the time in seventeen plays, but soon became active as a dramatist, too. As a director-playwright he created original plays and translated the play "The Carp" by Bulgarian playwright Rumen Shomov. Together with Lieven Vercauteren he wrote two plays, “Flight 39.1” in 1996, and "Naspel" in 2003.  Vercauteren and Meersman also worked jointly on the project "de min."  In 2005, Meersman created "mijn (W)oor(D) mijn"  –  an in situ project on current affairs.

In the vein of Mike Horovitz and Pete Brown, early European pioneers of poetry and jazz performances (that were echoed later, in Germany, by Peter Rühmkorf), Philip Meersman has championed poetry & music performances in Belgium. In 2006, he was a key performer during the 1st International Music and Poetry Festival Portus Ganda in Ghent, and continued in this vein at the 10th Curtea Poetry Nights in Romania during the same year. As a poet interacting with musicians, he proved a talented improviser who was able to fascinate the audience both by his performative skill as an actor and by the 'bandwidth' of his audial expressivity. Turning into a star as a poet performer in Belgium, he was invited during the same year to work with Fernando Arrabal during the Lire en Fête in Metz (Lorraine, France). Several international poets collaborated with him, jointly realizing performances of his improvisation poems, “Feuerwerkgedichte ohne Feuer” (Firework Poems Without Fire).

Meersman's preparedness to take a stand and intervene in the public arena became very apparent when he, together with   Sergei Birjukov (RUS) and Peter Waugh (GB), performed "Bar None,"  defined as a "poetic action" intended to agitate the public. The explicit goal of this performance was to defend universal freedom of speech, but the subtitle of the performance – "48h non-stop reading of poetry in a cage (wearing orange overalls)" –  as well as the overalls worn and the cage placed on stage make the critical reference to Guantanamo explicit. The group formed by Birjukov, Waugh and Meersman defines itself as an international sound poetry collective, baptized "dastrugistenda" by the three co-founders, who see themselves as self-proclaimed DAstrugistenDA – a term that alludes to "dada" and the poetry of Richard Huelsenbeck, Tristan Tzara, Kurt Schwitters, and so on. The Dutch component "strugisten" [i.e., strugists]  refers to the fact that the poetry collective was founded in Struga, Bulgaria.

While experimenting with language (and writing also more conventional poetry), Meersman is vividly focused on visual-touchable poetry, performance poetry and 3D poetry.
He interprets the gesamtkunstwerk that  comprises the physical performance of the poet, the aural dimension and the visual placement of letters on a physical support (– a visual image that can be beamed onto a screen during the performance!) as a combination of elements that are dialectically interrelated. As was the case already with Italian futurist visual poetry, the performing poet Philip Meersman, or another performer, or the reader approaching such poetry on his own, must determine how to proceed from one written visual element placed on the support to another. The support (not necessarily the page of a book although this is often a preferred option) and the elements of the support become a score – not of a musical composition, but of noises, of sounds, of phonemes, of words. The basic approach that will make the audible realization possible can be described as a principle emphasized first by John Cage in music –  indeterminacy. By remaining faithful to this concept, the improvising performer reveals an attitude characteristic of the anarchist homo ludens. The pre-logical, implicit content of the performance points to its counterpart: committment, an attitude typical of the human being who cares for and about something that is not yet, but that should be allowed to sprout. This something is largely absent in our world, and the poet Philip Meersman is aware of it, It is freedom that his poetry evokes, as a desire, as a possibility. 

 fields of theatre, poetry and plastic arts since 1984. 

Willard Bohn called him "[e]ndlessly inventive, creatively confrontational," and "eager to transgress" poetic conventions.
The extraordinary work of concrete, visual and sound poet Philip Meersman has been described as “overwhelming and wonderful” with a style that permits the concept of an international language, underlying his strong anti-war stance. In This Is Belgian Chocolate: Manifestations of Poetry, Meersman translates sound into verse and verse into sound, creating an experiential form that is a pleasurable, immersive read.

Philip Meersman was born on May 5th, 1971 in Sint-Niklaas, a Flemish town not far from Antwerp.  He lives at present in Jette, located in the metropolitan area of the Belgian capital, Brussels (Brussel/Bruxelles).

- A.B. Meadows

Sources / links:

Yves Joris, "Recensie: Philip Meersman – This is Belgian chocolate," in: TZUM.INFO, August 22, 2014; and in: Meander / literair e-zine, August 2014.

Marijntje Gerling, "Philip Meersman - Manifest voor de poëzie
Een eigentijdse reliek," in: Meander  / literair e-zine, January 2013.

Philip Meersman, "One Way of Looking at Vispo" [i.e., at visual poetry], in: Cold Front Mag, August 30, 2014

Phiöip Meersman, "Philip Meersman: Sound poems: Summary," in:  Nokturno, n.d.

Philip Meersman, "Tableau Vivant III (Reading the rain)", in: reconfigurations, Dec. 2011.

"Bio: PhilipMeersman," in: SPOONINMYBRAIN.

go back to Street Voice # 5, Contents


G. Apollinaire

C. Govoni, Rarefazioni e parole in libertà (1915)

Ritratto, a poem by Marinetti (1916)

A  poem by Velimir Chlebnikov

Philip Meersman, This Is Belgian Chocolate: 
Manifestations of Poetry. New York : Three Rooms Press, Nov. 2014.
ISBN 978-1-941110-01-0; 120 Pages; $15.95 
Cover: Le Témoin by René Magritte (© Ch. Herscovici - SABAM Belgium 2014)

Three Rooms Press is a New York-based independent publisher. Since 1993, it has been active as a publisher of fiction, memoirs, poetry translations, drama and art. Three Rooms Press has initiated and promotes a variety of literary and cultural events in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Paris, Berlin, London, Corsica and more, including readings, plays, workshops and concerts.