perfect duo: Niki Romijn and Erik Robaard team up in Roos Van Jou Mond: The Poetry of Ingrid Jonker.

Celebrating the poetry of Ingrid Jonker, Dutch musician Niki Romijn has set some of the acclaimed poet’s work to music, writes Theresa Smith.

INGRID Jonker would have turned 80 on September 19. Fitting tribute then that her poetry will be celebrated at the Kalk Bay Theatre, thanks to Dutch artist Niki Romijn, with Roos Van Jou Mond: The Poetry of Ingrid Jonker.

Romijn became fascinated by Jonker’s poetry when a 2001 documentary by Saskia van Schaik – Korreltjie Niks is My Dood – screened on Dutch TV.

She noticed the Jonker poem Korreltjie Sand in the TV guide and “it blew me away”.

“It was the language, the feeling behind the poem… it was like an arrow that went into my heart,” Romijn said in a Skype interview from Amfoord, just outside Amsterdam.

Not only did the poem and subsequent documentary appeal to her, but it encouraged her to delve into the work of the celebrated South African poet.

Going through a break-up at the time, Romijn – a musician who occasionally sings back-up for jazz artists and is a voice-over artist for films in the Netherlands – started setting some of Jonker’s poetry to music.

“Here was this poetry that somehow comforted me. I was in my room with my piano and I started writing music about how I felt.

“For me it felt like they were already lyrics to songs, I just had to write the music.”

Friends who heard what she was doing encouraged her to play it in public, and she realised that turning it into a performance meant a bigger sound than just her and a piano.

Romijn had studied at the Hilversum Conservatorium in North Holland with artist Erik Robaard and liked his bass playing.

“When writing I felt that the music needed a grounding of sorts and the bass was perfect. The way he plays was just a perfect complement.”

Robaard and Romijn travelled to the Western Cape in 2008 to present Roos Van Jou Mond at the Voorkamerfees in Darling, and have since performed it around the Netherlands, also sometimes working with schoolchildren around the concept of setting poetry to music (a workshop they will present in South Africa as well).

Romijn said the immediate response of schoolchildren to the work was very different from the more conservative attitude of adults.

“It’s funny because Dutch people don’t respond when you do the show and you wonder ‘Did they like it?’ They’re so… secondary with their response. I also perform for children and they respond immediately. Adults hold back. You can see they are enjoying it, but only afterwards do they show that appreciation.

“A lot of people love the work, they don’t understand the language immediately, but they get into it and pick up on the feel of it. They don’t know what they’re feeling. They are touched, but they don’t know why.”

Romijn likes the way the show encourages Dutch people to find out more about Jonker’s work and is curious to see how South Africans will respond to it.

Starting this South African tour in Kalk Bay makes sense to her, although she can’t help but wonder what Jonker would have contributed to the literary world had she lived and continued writing.

Jonker’s poetry has not only sparked Romijn’s Roos Van Jou Mond, but inspired other artists, like Chris Chameleon, who has made two albums drawing on it.

“I’ve heard Chris Chameleon’s work and it’s so different. That’s the great thing about art: you can see or hear something, or read something, and you have your own thoughts about it.”

• Roos van Jou Mond: The Poetry of Ingrid Jonker is on at the Kalk Bay Theatre from September 19 to 21. Thereafter:

September 25 and 26: De Kloof, Swellendam.

September 27: the Breytenbach Sentrum, Wellington.

October 2: De Malle Meul, Philadelphia.

October 3: Oude Libertas.

October 5 Villa Pascal Theatre, Durbanville.

• Workshops: September 23 and 30, October 1 at the Amy Biehl Foundation; Saturday, September 28, at ATKV, Wellington.