Dawn Garisch has had three youth novels, two adult novels, a poetry collection and adult literacy books published. She has had a short play and a short film produced, and has written for newspapers, magazines and for television. Three of her novels have been published in the United Kingdom.
She is currently working on an autobiography, Words and Flesh, travels in the Eloquent Body (working title) which examines the two legs of her working life – writing and doctoring – and how science and art perceive the world and the truth. It proposes that both established fact and personal symbol are necessary to understand the meaning and solve the problems of one’s life. This will be published by Modjaji Books this year.
Awards and grants include an Avanti Award for a documentary Dancing with the Ancestors for which she wrote the script, a DALRO award for poetry, and an ANFASA and a NAC grant to complete Words and Flesh. Her latest novel, Trespass, was nominated for the Commonwealth prize in Africa.
She is a practicing medical doctor, has two sons and lives in Cape Town.
“There is a balance of emotion and craft in Dawn Garisch’s poetry, a seamless welding of raw experience and self-observation, of music and thought. She writes the most personal spaces, always lit by her wry, focused understanding.”
– Ken Barris
“Dawn’s poems reveal a warm, keen eye for the intricacies, delicacies and difficulties of language and love.”
– Tania van Schalkwyk
“The motif of the body is central to Garisch’s work – like relationships it breaks/is breaking; it changes – it can leave. It is also a place of sustenance, and offers the possibility of transcending grief. The images stay with me: the pungent eroticism in the poem ‘The Proper Use of Flowers’, or love encountered as a ‘trout that breathes polluted water’.”
– Alan Finlay
My father caught great fish, tiger fish.
He pulled their gleaming, dancing bodies
from the jaws of the Zambezi, severed
and salted their heads and strung them up to dry:
necklaces of death.
I felt them watching as I played
with trucks, earth and sticks,
amongst the mielie stalks;
their trapped, flat eyes
never leaving my back.
Sometimes I would chance a look
and see their rows of razor teeth
invite the blood that leapt in my finger
to touch them.
I could have touched,
seen my blood run.
I went inside at my mother’s call,
washed the dirt off my hands and face,
sat still and straight at a white, starched table,
and ate their bodies.
The man I met with kind, hurt eyes
– over drinks at a braai –
described his work with bees:
how he’d hold a swarm,
drunk with smoke, in his arms.
I could see it: armfuls of sleepy bees
pouring from his embrace – slow honey.
He put a glass of mead he’d made
into my hand. The smooth honey-wine
slid into my centre and stung.
I wanted more
but as day succumbed to night,
with the insistent buzzing of insects,
I saw how he undid himself
– smoking drunk –
unable to hold a thing except
the ferment trapped inside his face –
swollen and red
with the woken rage of bees.
We live next door to graves and owls;
some avert their eyes to say
we flirt with night, and brush
too close to that we should not touch.
But earth is lined with death
and we are rooted in it,
the dirt of us already packed
black beneath some future farmer’s
fingernails; buried bones
lie karossed in wood and fleece
dead blood seeps through soil
in long red ochre entrails.
Eyelashes fall, dissipate into sleep.
The owls preside,
pegged upon two fence posts;
they linger, rotate their heads
and arc their eyes in vigilance.
On the ground they’ve posted pellets
of rodent bones and fur; the tree above
roots down and stirs ancestral wrists and ribs.
A wind sweeps past, alive
with millions of last, expelled breaths.
Dust settles softly on our table.
We sit and eat, drink and talk till late
and arc our eyes.
Silently we survey the dark.
Like owls, we sit and wait.
The Difficult Gift
Here again: the difficult gift of love arrives
– a parcel placed in my hands.
The sensible thing is to refuse, knowing
it isn’t possible to live with certain gifts.
A parcel arrives, placed in my hands.
And I accept, trying this time to learn
how the gift might possibly be lived with.
After all, this pain is not the same as love.
I must accept it, try to understand
the motive and invention of the giver.
After all this pain, I can’t correctly see love –
the trout that breathes polluted water.
The motive and invention of the giver
test the filters I have put in place.
A trout might die in these polluted waters.
How to keep myself and be true to love?
The filters I have put in place test
what to admit, what to refuse.
How might I be myself, and be true
to this difficult guest, arriving, bearing gifts?
from Difficult Gifts (Modjaji Books, 2011).
Order Difficult Gifts from email@example.com.
Date: Wednesday, 8 June
Time: 18h00 for 18h30
Venue: Kalk Bay Books
Emily Buchanan will be in conversation with Dawn Garisch.