Fiona Robyn is going to blog her next novel, Thaw (Snowbooks), starting on the 1st of March next year. The novel follows 32 year old Ruth’s diary over three months as she decides whether or not to carry on living.
To help spread the word she’s organising a Blogsplash, where blogs will publish the first page of Ruth’s diary simultaneously (and a link to the blog).
She’s aiming to get 1000 blogs involved – if you’d be interested in joining in, email her at email@example.com or find out more information here.
Spring the Life Fandango
I want something and there are twinges in my heart.
My heart twinges so badly that I fear the act of dropping
down dead before I get what I want. How is that for
momentum or for a god that has the sauciest way of telling
me that I have pushed the boat out too far, I have let
the boat land with a splash and a hoot and I am left in mid
ocean without a paddle – the paddle they had warned me
about, the paddle that takes on a life of its own and even beats
me over the head in my dreams to make me wake
up in the middle of the night with a bunch of hair stuck in my
mouth and my cat licking the back of my hand, frantically
reaching a high meter of lickability that says the big gong is
going to gong and tell me Time’s Up. I’d hoped to never want
something as badly as I want this – all the karma and jinxing
in the world could take it from me with one loose crack
of the whip. I could be sent marching the long way home
without the thing I want badly tucked up in my inside
pocket near my heart, no, on my heart, which now has stopped
twanging and is doing a la-la-la beat. It is not about wanting
to hold your hand nor about shaking all over, it’s about seeing
a tiny dream, like a foamy insole for a favourite winter
boot (a size too big), become something I can lay
myself on and spring, spring, spring the life fandango.
from The Wrong Miracle (Salt Publishing, 2009).
Read more about Liz and The Wrong Miracle here.
Visit Liz’s blog.
“Every good poem begins in language awake to its own connections – language that hears itself and what is around it, sees itself and what is around it, looks back at those who look into its gaze and knows more perhaps even than we do about who and what we are. It begins, that is, in the body and mind of concentration.”
- Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (HarperPerennial, 1998)
Hazel Frankel lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, close to where she was born. She is an artist, calligrapher and teacher, currently registered for a doctorate in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. A collection of poetry, Drawing from Memory, was published by Cinnamon Press in 2007. Counting Sleeping Beauties (Jacana, 2009) was shortlisted for the 2006/07 European Union Literary Award.
“When I began writing, I had no intention of writing a novel – I didn’t know I could. I wrote small vignettes that were poems in prose, but when I gathered these together they were like beads, jewels waiting to be strung.
Spanning the pogrom years in Lithuania and 1950s South Africa, Counting Sleeping Beauties weaves a delicate tale of despair, loss, love and attachment to place. It evokes the post-war years in heartbreaking detail, tracing relationships within an extended family and their struggles with guilt and grief.
A multigenerational story, the Jewish family is central to the narrative. Its values are explored through the voices of the bobba, Leah, the mother Susan, the young girl, Hannah, and the extended family member, the domestic worker, Sina. It blends South African histories and cultures using a polyglot of Yiddish, Sotho, Afrikaans and English to build the characters and express their viewpoints.
My main impetus was to uncover how the characters were affected differently by one critical event and how this complicated their relationships. I worked outwards from this kernel and framed it with a narrative that begins in the present, returns to the past and concludes in the present. Isolation is an important theme, as the characters never communicate their feelings or opinions with each other.
Set in an era familiar to me, I drew on my memories of Johannesburg when the Wits Rag Parade with its floats and queen was an annual highlight, when the woman’s place was almost unarguably in the home and the domestic worker had no status or rights. I enjoyed the explorations, making discoveries and learning as I went along.
The title of the book was initially Girl on a Swing, which indicates the pivotal role of the child, then Stone House, pointing to the overriding impact of place, but Counting Sleeping Beauties carries multiple meanings, and the way it combines with the cover image is both beautiful and sinister.
The novel has been many years in the making and has gone through numerous incarnations – originally there were six voices, two of whom were male. This created a concatenation. Instead, by focusing on the women I could emphasise the drama of the domestic.
Although I dreamed of being an artist, finding that I’m a writer is an unexpected delight. The processes are not that dissimilar: one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one stroke at a time, a few minutes here or there may be enough to catch a thought or idea or image, each a link in an episode, a chapter, a painting. In both writing and painting, nothing happens until there are marks on the page.”
Hazel’s exhibition of paintings opens at The Thompson Gallery, 78 3rd Avenue, Melville, Johannesburg, on Sunday, 2 August, at 15h30, where Counting Sleeping Beauties will be available.
Counting Sleeping Beauties will be launched at Exclusive Books, Sandton City, Johannesburg, on 11 August, 18h00 for 18.30.
Airship Italia left Spitzbergen on 23rd of May, 1928
Hermetically-sealed matchboxes couldn’t save the holy mission,
sanctioned by Pope Pius XI to bless the very tip of the Pole.
One morning in May, the Zeppelin reached that point
where meridians touch like segments of a forbidden fruit.
The crew threw out a blessed crucifix, some coins and a flag.
It showered the snow below like a Pentecostal sacrament.
They dumped all that was sacred upon the melting desert.
On their way south the airship crashed. Mayday signals
came out of the blue, stirred only silence and vanished.
They thought to be prepared for anything but never used
their ice axes. The windproof-overalls were worn by the wind
and the life jackets saved no one’s life. The Finnish shoes
didn’t carry them to Finland. After the virtuous artefacts
fell out of the window they clearly said adieu to salvation.
from The End of Limbo (Salt Publishing, 2007)
Read more about Valeria and The End of Limbo here.
Read Angel Dahouk’s Poetry Society interview with Valeria.
The Bereavement of the Lion-Keeper
for Sheraq Omar
Who stayed, long after his pay stopped,
in the zoo with no visitors,
just keepers and captives, moth-eaten,
growing old together.
Who begged for meat in the market-place
as times grew hungrier,
and cut it up small to feed him,
since his teeth were gone.
Who could stroke his head, who knew
how it felt to plunge fingers
into rough glowing fur, who has heard
the deepest purr in the world.
Who curled close to him, wrapped in his warmth,
his pungent scent, as the bombs fell,
who has seen him asleep so often,
but never like this.
Who knew that elderly lions
were not immortal, that it was bound
to happen, that he died peacefully,
in the course of nature,
but who knows no way to let go
of love, to walk out of sunlight,
to be an old man in a city
without a lion.
from Later Selected Poems (Seren, 2009).
Read more about Sheenagh’s Later Selected Poems.
Visit Sheenagh’s website.
Tania van Schalkwyk
When you plunge your arms into the heavens unseen,
red-robed and lean, veins straining
to reach your god with this wafer –
all the women gathered want to fall on their knees
and pleasure you.
We clamber to receive Christ’s body from your beautiful hands,
naked and trembling, fingers touching
our lips, we kneel –
all us women tilt our heads back and offer
our belief to you.
We confess our sins to your body, hidden in darkness,
attention hovering between your imagined form
and the very real smell of you –
all us women who thirst for your blood, your gaze, forgiveness,
but mostly for the sacred in you.
We ask you to marry us,
to another man, another body, another life
and you oblige our wish, bless our union –
all us women get married, have babies, baptise our children
for the love of god in you.
We invite you to dinner at our family tables,
drink in your tales of redemption and duty
as you sip our wine, nibble our food, taste our hunger –
all us women watch you eat – and later
dream of being eaten by you.
Previously published in New Contrast
and included in Hyphen (The UCT Writers Series, 2009).
Read about Tania and Hyphen here.
For queries regarding Hyphen, please email:
Hyphen will be available on Amazon from mid-August 2009.
- Andraste: Iceni goddess of war and victory.
In the woods they are burning her hair
three of them
they light it with a match
and she lets them
she lets them burn her hair.
Watches the ends smoulder.
Watches the ends curl her curls
curl up like leaves.
She lets them burn her hair.
There are long dark shadows
blocked with boulders.
- The area is cordoned off. -
She let them burn her hair.
- The area is cordoned off. -
When the sun splits open
the gaps between trees
and the sun slices into the scene
that she let them burn her hair.
The light opens up the morning.
A plait lain out on the end of the bed
like a rope
several metres long it hung there
tied with a yellow bow.
It belongs to no one now
lopped off at the nape of the neck.
The door is closed.
Arms raised to hug the sun
eyes like sods
hatchet arms creak and clank
sleeping under sunless light
another sun gone
reaching obedient: she dreams.
From among the ashes
from what had not burnt
gathered to a mass
of brown turf gathered
- a cloud in her arms -
to the river
to spread in the warp of water.
The light smooth and silting.
The forest behind -
too much too much
dark cannot exist?
The sun swings to the right.
She went left
to the river
old dirt track
stepping over grass
hair taken down to depth.
In the forest they look for her.
she walks along the path by the river
her hair in her hands
what had been taken
to the river
to the water
the smooth strand that curves its path
over the head of the hill.
Something has passed.
Behind in the forest
in half dark heaving afternoon
they claw at earth
scratch around for a trace
in the woods
search through evidence
make lists of explanations
make lists of reasons
for her absence.
The sun guides steps,
imprint on soil.
It wasn’t about who was listening.
If anyone was listening
- to the song not the words -
speaking would mean silence
- dead ears dead ears -
the pull and placing
in a line brimmed to full
was almost love and almost listening.
Quiet response to quiet sound.
A song heard in the forest days later
made a young boy cry.
Wrapped round trees
stayed, not moving,
a stopping place.
We could meet
in the woods by the river
stand eye to eye
in the stopping place
words curdling our bones
a single drum beat, one long groan.
While she walks
a path behind her concertinas
each stride a fragile weight
pushes up the earth,
turf over grass over turf.
it is now to be stone now
to know how to finish.
Listen, she’ll break you.
Will you follow?
from Andraste’s Hair (Salt Publishing, 2007).
Read more about Eleanor and Andraste’s Hair here.
Andraste’s Hair was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best
First Collection 2007.
Visit Eleanor’s website.
Eliza and the Bear, Eleanor’s forthcoming collection from Salt in October 2009, explores wildness and what it means to inhabit a body, what it means to be an animal with a sense of self. The poems circle the tensions between a domestic, communal experience of selfhood and the individual wild feminine of the “I” of the title poem. They explore love, longing and esire with unabashed imagination.
My Granny used to soak the spuds too
making it easy to peel them later.
Part of morning’s ritual was topping
their pot with water. Later, after
fowl were fed and tae and bread were ate,
she’d peel them slowly, humming all the while
a medley of Moore’s Almanac songs.
Steeping my potatoes now, as she did,
brings her Four Green Fields down the years to me.
Scaly and red, these Roosters, instead of
her soft Queens; mine tattle of modern machinery,
long scars that I smooth away with a stainless
peeler. I split them with a long broad knife,
rinse them down and leave them by for dinner.
from Kairos (Doghouse Books, 2007).
Read more about Barbara here.
Order Kairos here.
Visit Barbara’s blog.
“For me, opera is a place where all the emotions can be fully felt yet safely contained. Certainly this has therapeutic value, but art is not therapy – at least not principally so: it is a profound engagement with life itself, in all its messiness, its glory, its fear, its possibility, its love.”
– Jeanette Winterson, Introduction to Midsummer Nights (Quercus Publishing, 2009)
In celebration of the Glyndebourne Festival of Opera’s 75th anniversary, British novelist Jeanette Winterson has compiled a collection of opera-inspired stories by contemporary writers. Contributors to Midsummer Nights include Alexander McCall Smith, Ali Smith, Andrew Motion, Andrew O’Hagan, Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín, Jackie Kay, Joanna Trollope, John Mortimer, Julie Myerson, Kate Atkinson, Kate Mosse, Lynne Truss, Marina Warner, Ruth Rendell, Sebastian Barry, Toby Litt and Jeanette Winterson.
Read Jeanette’s Midsummer Nights Introduction and story, ‘Goldrush Girl’.
Jeanette writes about the Glyndebourne experience for The Independent.
Read Lavinia Greenlaw’s review in The Financial Times.
Read Catherine Taylor’s review in The Sunday Times.