Review: Bodyhood, Leon de Kock

19 October 2010, 10:02 am

Leon de Kock, Bodyhood, Umuzi, 2010

(Afrikaans original at Boekeblok)

With its eye-catching cover designed by Michiel Botha, Bodyhood is Leon de Kock’s third collection of poetry. As the back cover describes, the themes of the poetry revolve, among other things, around the body and being, love and its loss, and desire. There are also poems about eating and poems about raging jealousy.

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Mongane Serote, City Johannesburg

17 February 2010, 10:08 am

The following was originally published in Afrikaans in Rapport’s ‘Groot Woorde’ series (6 February 2010). Wish I had had more space:

City Johannesburg – Mongane Serote

This way I salute you:
My hand pulses to my back trousers pocket
Or into my inner jacket pocket
For my pass, my life,
Jo’burg City.
My hand like a starved snake rears my pockets
For my thin, ever lean wallet,
While my stomach growls a friendly smile to hunger,
Jo’burg City.
My stomach also devours coppers and papers
Don’t you know?
Jo’burg City, I salute you;
When I run out, or roar in a bus to you,
I leave behind me, my love,
My comic houses and people, my dongas and my ever whirling dust,
My death
That’s so related to me as a wink to the eye.
Jo’burg City
I travel on your black and white and roboted roads
Through your thick iron breath that you inhale
At six in the morning and exhale from five noon.
Jo’burg City
That is the time when I come to you,
When your neon flowers flaunt from your electrical wind,
That is the time when I leave you,
When your neon flowers flaunt their way through the falling darkness
On your cement trees.
And as I go back, to my love,
My dongas, my dust, my people, my death,
Where death lurks in the dark like a blade in the flesh,
I can feel your roots, anchoring your might, my feebleness
In my flesh, in my mind, in my blood,
And everything about you says it,
That, that is all you need of me.
Jo’burg City, Johannesburg,
Listen when I tell you,
There is no fun, nothing, in it,
When you leave the women and men with such frozen expressions,
Expressions that have tears like furrows of soil erosion,
Jo’burg City, you are dry like death,
Jo’burg City, Johannesburg, Jo’burg City.

(from The Lava of This Land: South African Poetry 1960-1996, ed. Denis Hirson, TriQuarterly Books, 1997)

I FIRST encountered this poem as an English I student at UCT in 1986, and it soon became one of my favourite poems. Coming from Afrikaans-medium schooling, I struggled in English I and enrolled in the department’s academic aid programme. Every Friday afternoon, I spent up to two hours with a tutor, Wendy Woodward (now herself a writer and a lecturer at UWC), trying to unlock the secrets of “critical analysis”.

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Fiona Zerbst, Four Poems

27 May 2009, 2:20 pm

FIONA ZERBST’s fourth volume of poetry, Oleander, is due soon from Modjaji Books, and will be launched alongside volumes from Sindiwe Magona,  Joan Metelerkamp and Helen Moffett. Here are four poems from Oleander:

Moths

At night, they bloom to light, like buds that burst
for air. As if they had no wings, they startle
into glass. That muffled knock
again, again, again –
they are like stars that break against the darkness,
break like vases,
brown containers,
tiny insect vessels of a great hope; longing
for the light; even dying for it.

Hart Crane, 1899-1932

Prodigal, shucking off the first-class hell
of being you in bar and cheap hotel,
you leapt. The S.S. Orizaba churned
on anyway; propellers flensed and burned
the waters battering towards New York.
A fellow passenger, who saw you leap
and thrash, watched only for your body’s cork
to float up. As she shudders into sleep,

the juddering vessel, droning, is the bell
that sounds your verses, amplifies your voice,
American Rimbaud. Given the choice,
would you have gulped the broken world as well
in sober hopelessness? Your sailor’s voice
must first be lost in fatal tides to tell.

Politics

India’s alarming Pakistan.
America is rumbling, after oil
and vengeance. And I’m fumbling with one
completely dud, half-burnt mosquito coil.

It’s winter. Still, those insects will attack.
Lights go out and houses in the street
begin to flicker. Candles offer heat
as much as arguments do, and looking back

it seems as if we’ve argued far too much.
The world’s an angry red; the smudgy blue
of dawn-lit ash is arty, but the hue
is cold-cut bloodless; flesh you dare not touch.

We stutter with the paper’s platitudes.
A drive into the country’s dull and sad.
Not even death can end the bloody feuds
that families have and so I’m very glad

we don’t have kids, my grandfather’s dead
and nobody but you and I can suffer pain.
Last night, in a clumsy leap from bed,
I smeared a big mosquito as a stain,

against a wall. I wiped the dry remains
away this morning. Commas of our blood
were brown, unreadable. And later, floods
came swollen, breaking on a white-flat plain:

a natural disaster. Sheep and cows
went under, surging to a muddy end.
You held my hand. A multitude of ‘nows’
came crowding back. Of course I won’t pretend

you haven’t stung me, gutted me, deprived
my life of air. I’m grateful all the same.
All’s fair in love, war, etc. Your game
remains apolitical, hopelessly contrived

yet pure. The Middle East is poised for war.
Relief’s been sent for victims of the flood.
Food and candles. Fresh-donated blood.
You reach me, wordless, as I cross the floor.

In praise of loss

Lose
Until the loss
Feels right.

Lose at cards.
Fold.
Refuse to play.

Don’t respond
To provocations,
Words.

Don’t invest.
Be certain
That it doesn’t matter.

Hold yourself
Aloof; lose
The men you know

To other women.
Fold.
Refuse to play.

It’s no shame
To spare your neck.
Let it in,

The knowledge
Of this loss
That is dying, living.

© Fiona Zerbst, 2009
© Modjaji Books, 2009

(Thank you to Fiona Zerbst and Modjaji Books for granting permission to have the poems appear at Groundwork. See below for details of the launch and a sample from Moffett’s book, Strange Fruit.)


Helen Moffett, Four Poems

24 May 2009, 4:02 pm

THE FOLLOWING poems are from Helen Moffett’s forthcoming debut volume of poetry, Strange Fruit, published by Modjaji Books (manifesto). Strange Fruit will be launched, together with three other volumes of poetry, at the Cape Town Book Fair on Sunday, 14 June at 5.30 to 6.30 pm at the DALRO space in the Exhibition Hall. Thank you to Helen Moffett and to Colleen Higgs of Modjaji Books for granting permission to publish the poems. Copyright remains with the author and the publisher.

Gathering waterblommetjies

A wintergreen afternoon in the Overberg:
the bust of a woman on a shelf of dam-water
her frizzed halo electrified by four o’ clock sun –
one hand holds a plastic bag aloft
the other threshes, garnering from
the raft of slippery porpoise blooms
upon which she rests her stolid breasts.

Mined

Loving me must be like visiting the Balkans.
I’m told it’s lovely there; seen the pictures
of pastoral valleys, dappled woods
secluded inlets of blue dispersing islands;
all dotted with bridges, quaint villages
and monasteries of antique masonry
speaking eloquently of culture and craft.
But a flak jacket and tin hat are advised;
over some innocent hill you’ll find,
without warning, a site where violation
has soaked into the earth, something
has been razed, horror still haunts,
with shrapnel and tank-traps in the lulling grass.

And the history – the history: no matter
how hard you try, you’ll never quite grasp
why one sniping shot triggers a world war.

Amphibian

The penis is an amphibious creature;
mostly it lives on dry land,
but given the chance, it slips
joyously back into a moister
environment, where it grows
gills of glee, glides in this
primordial clime, this balmy
tropical sea, swimming
in ambergris and musk,
slithering through humid clasp
and pulse, leaping
higher, diving deeper:
in its element.

Envy

This is my lot: to see pregnant women,
mothers with babies everywhere,
families, parents with orbiting children,
the parade never seems to stop.
So envy and I are very old friends:
I have the upper hand – mostly –
although the odd shaft runs me through.

But the clammy agony subsides in the end,
I don’t go careening down the street,
screaming, hissing, stabbing at eyes with nails:
instead, I attend baby showers and christenings
armed with thoughtful gifts and tasteful hats;
I congratulate, dispense adorable booties,
make casseroles and allowances too.

This is my dubious gift, the compensatory coin
the bad fairy left behind when cursing me:
the capacity to contain without spilling
the viridian bile. Others are quite safe from it,
especially you, poor forked thing, a man –
wombless, childless: you have nothing I want.

© Helen Moffett, 2009
© Modjaji Books, 2009


My Countrymen – Kelwyn Sole

20 November 2008, 9:33 am

My Countrymen

As our treacherous land spins now
away from the sun, and a carpet of stars
descends on the cold floor
of winter

we, separately, yawn
brush our teeth with the defence budget
and go to bed without each other -
the Magopa patriarch flung at Pachsdraai
a clod of crumbled soil;
the cleaner who’ll climb the skyscraper night
now cooks her husband’s supper
already sick with tiredness

and old and powerful men
sucking their thumbs in sleep, one hand curled
round the cuddlesome security of the Nkomati Accord,
faces blissful

and the rest of us

the many lessons we haven’t learnt
the courageous stands we never took
the synapse between pain and knowledge
of ourselves, our nerve ends bathed
in acetylcholine and history

where fate plays roulette with our skins
(but we daren’t call it russian)

my countrymen

of the homespun hopeful visions
we wear as underwear this season

our night has come again

– Kelwyn Sole, The Blood of Our Silence, 1987


Short selection at Poetry International

2 March 2008, 9:07 am

Poetry International has just published a few of my poems. It includes the following five poems from This Carting Life:

Cape Town, Jerusalem

Easter

In Moscow with Mandelstam

Kingdom of Rain

Reading Heaney’s ‘Nerthus’

It also contains “Kingdom of Rats“, previously unpublished.


Comrade Guava Juice

24 January 2008, 6:29 pm

Many of you may know that Sandile Dikeni, famous and notorious in the late 1980s for his poem ‘Guava juice’, which, apocryphally, spurred on youth to adopt the Molotov cocktail as a ready weapon, was involved in a horrible car accident two years ago. He lost two friends and he himself was in a coma and reportedly had also lost his memory for a period of time.

Well, it seems that Comrade Guava Juice is on the mend, as BookSA today features two clips of him reading two short poems. Here’s one:

And here’s the post about it, including both clips.


Moedertang

3 July 2006, 5:36 pm

SOME AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL reflection on the interplay and tensions between Afrikaans and English, published at LitNet.


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