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.
“I am a wind-swayed bridge, a crossroads inhabited by whirlwinds … You say my name is ambivalence? Think of me as Shiva, a many-armed and legged body with one foot on brown soil, one on white, one in straight society, one in the gay world, the man’s world, the women’s, one limb in the literary world, another in the working class, the socialist, and the occult worlds. A sort of spider woman hanging by one thin strand of web.
Who, me confused? Ambivalent? Not so. Only your labels split me.”
– Gloria Anzaldúa, from ‘La Prieta’
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.
Thanks to Pascale Petit, I’ve been introduced to Laurie Byro’s
The Bird Artists.
Jane Eyre’s Daughter
I kept thinking I was Jane Eyre’s daughter.
I suspected my mother really wanted a son.
Fascinated with attics I foraged through chests
with breakable locks filled with baptism gowns,
sniffed among moth-balls for matchboxes
from exotic pool halls, hints of adoption papers.
I kept thinking I was Jane Eyre’s daughter, trying
to find myself in the travel section of the library
searching for a honeymoon in Katmandu.
St John bristled when I wanted our first dance
to be to the tune of Sexual Healing. Every one
broke off the engagement before the tickets’
non-refundable fee kicked in. I kept thinking
I was Jane Eyre’s daughter. Weddings
were unpleasant since I would rush in late,
panting “I object” for the sheer joy of seeing
horrified expressions, maids tearfully ringing
hands and not bells. Today as I left another
thwarted nuptial, four fine blackbirds watched me
from the wires which connected my rubber ball
heart to my deeply anticipated “his”. My mother,
Aunt Reed, dear crazy Bertha, and daddy
in his mourning coat: the grim four posed perfectly
still like chessmen while I crossed my bosom
which throbbed like the July sun and waited
with little patience for mother to play her next card.
from The Bird Artists.
“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.
“The woman who confesses is frequently read as testifying only to her anguish and her own “weakness”; she is simply revealing the awfulness of femininity which was known to be there all along, and which, in the most simplistic terms has led to her oppression in the first place. And it is here that we see the exact nature of the problem: for if the woman poet does remain silent, if the awfulness of her confessional truth is such that it will only oppress her further, she is left where she started and cannot speak at all. Alternatively, she can speak a version of self which also confirms a certain kind of femininity – that of beauty, passivity, orderliness and self-control – but which nevertheless fails to “tell it like it is”.”
– Deryn Rees-Jones, Consorting with Angels: Essays on Modern Women Poets (Bloodaxe, 2005)
Read more about Deryn Rees-Jones, Consorting with Angels and Modern Women Poets, the companion anthology to Consorting with Angels.
I’m delighted to have an interview with John Siddique and two poems included in the third issue of poetry and art journal, ouroboros review. If you are interested, do take a look at the magazine here.
Contributors include John Siddique, Denise Duhamel, John Walsh, Susan Richardson, Karen Head, Matthew Hittinger, Dustin Brookshire, Louisa Adjoa Parker, Lorna Shaughnessy, Cheryl Snell, Carolee Sherwood and Joyce Ellen Davis, among others.