Frank Starik leads a group of Amsterdam poets engaged in a highly unusual civic project -- attending the funerals of the city's unmourned dead and remembering them at the graveside with a specially-composed poem.So a depressed loner commits commits suicide and a friendless woman succumbs to old age, and you, you sensitive poet, show up to use their funerals as a political platform against the people who are outraged by the murder of Theo van Gogh?
It spares people the indignity of a funeral without mourners, says Starik, a gaunt figure in a black jacket with an air of the Romantic poet about him.
"I want to give them back a life, a history," he said.
Amsterdam social services bury some 250 people a year, about 15 of whom leave no trace of relatives or friends. In such cases, the poets are called in....
Starik acknowledges there is a political aspect to the work.
"Part of the hidden agenda of this is that we have a very right-wing government, who are against foreigners, Muslims, and who are trying to reconstruct a society we had 50 years ago."
"This is not such a nice, tolerant country any more."
For migrants or asylum-seekers who die alone, the funerals are a chance to give them back their humanity and to consider their individual hopes and experiences in a climate contriving to demonise them and view them as a single mass, Starik says.
Dutch society is still reeling from the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-Moroccan Islamist militant in 2004 which provoked an anti-Muslim backlash.
The murder of anti-immigration populist Pim Fortuyn in 2002 also saw mainstream political parties move to occupy his ground.
April 9, 2006
An Amsterdam project: