Named with an archaic adjective Shakespeare used to connote “whole,” Versal has been the voice of Amsterdam's diverse literary community since 2002. Unlike the heroine of the bard's Romeo and Juliette, described by her nurse as “pale as any clout in the versal world” when romanced by a beau other than Romeo, the newest incarnation of the renowned English-language literary journal is a colorful montage of poetry, prose and art by creatives from around the globe.
Versal was founded by Megan Garr, an American poet who followed her heart to the Netherlands in 2001. Finding a vacuum of expressive platforms for non-Dutch-speaking writers, she launched “wordsinhere,” an Amsterdam-based literary collective, and Versal, its annual journal. In 2002, the first issue debuted, showcasing experimental work that might otherwise go unseen. Over the years, Poets & Writers magazine has lauded Versal as a “top indie innovator” and one of 22 literary publications that “do more” for writers.
In 2013, Versal staff and volunteers took a three-year hiatus to re-group. A 2016 call for international work interpreting a “migration” theme yielded Versal 12. Published in June 2017, the coffee table-worthy volume reflects experiences perceived through myriad cultural lenses, with haunting storytelling and art that transcends geography. The limited edition features provocative voices from Amsterdam, Berlin, Dubai, Manchester, San Francisco and Seoul that aim to shift cultural tectonics in literal and metaphoric ways.
“Don't forget—you have yellow skin,” a father fiercely reminds his son in “In the Middle of Dinner,” Jing-Jing Lee's poem in Versal 12 recalling when he was “fresh in a foreign land....before I opened my mouth and stepped into my own skin.” In abstract photographs, Baha Gӧrkem Yalim documents the massacre of villagers' beloved mules by the Turkish army. With graphic sculptures depicting genital mutilation, Keyeza raises awareness of the horrific practice in “Stone Orgasms.”
On the second Sunday of every other month, Versal adds performance art to its creative mix at VERSO literary and arts evenings at Mezrab—an intimate theater in the heart of Amsterdam that bills itself as “a house of stories, music and dance.” Presented by an international cast of writers and artists, the programs feature interpretations of poems and stories before a live audience.
Reflecting on the evolution of Versal from an Amsterdam-based literary journal with primarily local contributors to a compilation of global voices, Garr observes, “We're all translocal now. What is local and global in a given experience is becoming more and more difficult to discern. Who is left untouched by the world?” The Versal world, she might have added.
Dreaming of being a writer? Join the Literary Globe and become part of our community.