“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)
Monthly Archives: July 2009
Hazel Frankel on Counting Sleeping Beauties
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.
C K Williams’s The Singing
I’ve been reading C K Williams’s ninth collection, The Singing (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), for which he received the 2003 National Book Award. The four part volume includes meditations on family, relationships, aging, mortality and bereavement. The final section concerns terrorism, destruction and the nature of civilization.
I am awed by ‘The Hearth’, a reflection on war, moved by the tender ‘Elegy for an Artist’ dedicated to Tucson painter Bruce McGrew and, in the final stanza of ‘Lessons’ (previously published in Tin House), find five lines particularly striking in their honesty and simplicity:
” … And the way one can find oneself strewn
so inattentively across life, across time.
Those who touch us, those whom we touch,
we hold them or we let them go
as though it were such a small matter.”
There’s a flare of recognition every time I read these words. This recognition, this resonance, this fleeting identification and connection with a stranger, is one of the reasons I read poetry.
Henry Miller, small stones and the alchemy of awareness
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
– Henry Miller
It’s lovely to have a small stone up at Fiona Robyn’s a handful of stones.
Fiona describes a ‘small stone’ as “a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment. There are no strict rules for what makes a piece of writing a small stone, as there are for forms such as haiku. The process of finding small stones is as important as the finished product – searching further will encourage you to keep your eyes (and ears, nose, mouth, fingers, feelings and mind) open.”
Read more about writing your own small stones here.
Paul Stevens was born in Yorkshire, England but lives in Australia. He has an Honours degree in English, teaches Literature and edits The Flea, The Shit Creek Review and The Chimaera.
The Paragon of Plants
Eye to eye we track, grown heliotropic,
And sunlight ripples ticklish on our skin;
Your touch on my touch, phototactic, sticks.
We bathe in energy, our element:
Sky trickling liquid down bare branches,
Earth fingering upward through deep roots.
Now buds and foliage spring from manic limbs,
Hands metamorphose to the fruit they reach for:
Sense is exactly what sense apprehends,
And in this growth engrafts all difference
Of sex and soul, with scion cleaved to stock
And trunk to shaggy trunk. Swaying as one,
A paragon of plants, we rollick there,
Breathing light in, gasping out spicy air.
Previously published in Umbrella.
Wislawa Szymborska on inspiration
” … inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It’s made up of all those who’ve consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners – and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous ‘I don’t know’.”
– Wislawa Szymborska, 1996 Nobel Lecture
Valeria Melchioretto’s The End of Limbo
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.
Sheenagh Pugh’s ‘The Bereavement of the Lion-Keeper’
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.
“A good poem takes something you probably already know as a human being and somehow raises your capacity to feel it to a higher degree. It allows you to know your experience more intensely. When you meet your life in a great poem, it becomes expanded, extended, clarified, magnified, deepened in colour, deepened in feeling.”
– Jane Hirshfield
Sharks, Poets and other Endangered Species
On Thursday, 30 July 2009, the Two Oceans Aquarium, in collaboration with the UCT Writers Series, will present DEEP: A Night of Creative Currents featuring Sharks, Poets and other Endangered Species. The event is in support of the Aquarium’s Adopt-a-School Programme.
Tickets cost R40.00 and include entrance to the Two Oceans Aquarium and a free glass of wine on arrival. Fairview will present cheese and wine and a cash bar will be available. Art, and books from the Book Lounge, will be on sale. Doors open at 18h30 with performances starting at 19h00.
Writers and poets have been inspired to speak and write in celebration and defence of the oceans. In today’s rushed world there are fewer and fewer places available for contemplation and creativity, especially in cities. Just as our creative spaces and practitioners are under threat, so too are our oceans and their creatures. DEEP is an opportunity to celebrate the oceans and some of South Africa’s most creative artists.
Central to DEEP is the launch of Hyphen, a debut collection of poems by Tania van Schalkwyk, which is published by the UCT Writers Series. Included in this collection are a number of poems inspired by the sea including ‘Siren Song’, ‘Abyss’, ‘Lionfish’ and ‘Water’. Lindsey Collen, author of The Rape of Sita, Mutiny and Boy, and twice winner of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, Africa, said, “Tania van Schalkwyk’s poems are warm, sensuous memories that often shock and surprise at the same time … They are not just on inner space, but are poems of place, as they move from islands to the veld, from cities to the desert”. No stranger to the Aquarium, having assisted with the launch of Shoreline Café, van Schalkwyk also curated DEEP in collaboration with Michelle Matthews of Electric Book Works.
The launch of Hyphen will be supported by a collection of three minute sea-inspired flash readings and performances by select poets and writers, including Gus Ferguson, Justin Fox, Sarah Lotz, Helen Moffett, Malika Lueen Ndlovu, Henrietta Rose-Innes and a collaborative piece by Toni Stuart, Michael Mwila Mambwe & James Jamala Safari. The MC for the evening is the inimitable Suzy Bell; writer, columnist and pop culture aficionado.
Ferguson has had seven collections of poems and two books of cartoons published; Fox is deputy editor and senior photographer at Getaway magazine; Lotz is a scriptwriter-cum-krimi author with an insatiable greed for the macabre; Moffett has recently published her first collection of poems; Ndlovu is dedicated to creating indigenous multi-media works in line with her personal motto ” healing through creativity”; Rose-Innes won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2008; Stuart works with young people, using poetry as a means of self-expression; DRC born Mambwe’s has performed on various stages from the Cape Town Book Fair to the Africa Centre’s Badilisha Poetry Exchange and Jamala Safari’s earliest artistic exposure came in the form of theatre at a young age in Bukavu, South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
These well-known word-artists have a wealth of performance experience and publications behind their names and will give voice to the ocean’s deepest secrets.
Word art by Gabeba Baderoon, Gus Ferguson, Tania van Schalkwyk and others in The Vinyl Collection, will come to life against the backdrop of smaller exhibits in the Aquarium. Baderoon is the author of three collections of poetry and was the recipient of the DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Poetry in 2005.
The evening will also feature seven short films including three from the City Breath Project – Waitless, The Electrician and Omdat ek die stadsrumoer (Because I chose the city noise). The writer of the latter film was blinded at age four, but at sixty-nine, still has vivid memories of visiting an aquarium. A film, alpha, by Kai Lossgott, curator of the City Breath Project, will also be shown. City Breath is an urban oral history video project which seeks to interrogate the official understandings of South African cities conveyed in television, film and other mass media.
Other film pieces include Umbilical Cord by poet/filmmaker Shelley Barry and Sea Orchestra and The Tale of How by the Blackheart Gang. Barry’s films have been screened at major festivals and events around the world and The Tale of How has won numerous international awards, including “Best Independent Film” at the Bradford Animation Festival in London in 2006.
Artists Rebecca Townsend and Colwyn Thomas will show their work which will be available for purchase. Townsend works predominantly with glass and creates sculptural glass vessels that reveal the magic of the ordinary things we live with every day. ‘Kelp’ by Thomas is a 12-part light-box installation which, according to Thomas, “is a rumination on some of the changes that take place when we grow up.”. Thomas is influenced by traditional and modern Japanese art and his works often show both humans and fish or animals in dreamscapes animated by trailing clouds, plants or jellyfish tendrils.
Local band Benguela will take to the stage against the spectacular backdrop of the I&J Predator Exhibit. The trio, including Ross Campbell, Alex Bozas and Brydon Bolton, has played at many of the festivals around South Africa. According to James Garner, “Benguela’s sound is an atmospheric, uncompromisingly adventurous fusion of constantly shifting elements…” The name ‘Benguela’ is taken from the cold current running up the West Coast of southern Africa and reflects both the flowing nature of the music as well as being geographically representative of where the band came together and the climate in which they live.
Proceeds from DEEP will go towards the Aquarium’s Adopt-a-School Programme. This programme provides the opportunity for children from previously disadvantaged schools to visit the Aquarium and to discover the wonders and beauty of the ocean and its inhabitants. Such an opportunity can be a life-changing experience for these children and instill a deep and long-lasting appreciation for the oceans.
Tickets cost R40.00 and include entrance to the Two Oceans Aquarium and a free glass of wine on arrival. Fairview will present cheese and wine and a cash bar will be available. Art, and books from the Book Lounge, will be on sale. Doors open at 18h30 with performances starting at 19h00. For more information contact:
Communications & Sustainability Manager
Two Oceans Aquarium
Tel: 021-418 3823