Tag Archives: Modjaji Books

A trip to beautiful Cape Town

'The Tavern of the Seas'

Next Sunday I’ll be flying to Cape Town, the Mother City, the Tavern of the Seas. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends, meeting new poetry friends, reading at Off the Wall in Observatory on Monday, 27 June, and launching The Suitable Girl (co-published by Pindrop Press and Modjaji Books) at The Book Lounge on Tuesday, 28 June.
If you’re in the area I’d love to see you on Monday or Tuesday evening – or both! 

Reading at Off the Wall

A Touch of Madness, the Victorian Quaffery in Observatory

Hosted by Karin Schimke and Huge Hodge, Off the Wall is a well established weekly event held at A Touch of Madness (love the name!), a Victorian Quaffery, ‘in the heart of bohemian Observatory’.
Date: Monday, 27 June 2011
Time: 20h00 – 22h00
Venue: A Touch of Madness Restaurant, 12 Nuttall Road,
Tel: 021 448 2266
Google map directions.
After the reading there will an open mike session so come along and share your work.

Bohemian dining

Launch at The Book Lounge

The Book Lounge, Cape Town

The Suitable Girl is being launched at The Book Lounge, an independent bookshop in the Eastern Precinct of Cape Town City Centre. I’ve heard so many great things about Mervyn Sloman, the Loungers and the wide range of local and international books available on The Book Lounge’s shelves. I hope to have at least fifteen minutes to browse and buy …
I’m thrilled that Helen Moffett will be introducing me at the launch and can’t wait to see Colleen Higgs again. Colleen is the inspiration behind Modjaji Books and the last time we saw each other was at the Cape Town Book Fair in 2006. It’s been far too long.
Date: Tuesday, 28 June 2011
Time: 18h00 – 19h30
Venue: The Book Lounge, corner of Roeland and Buitenkant Streets
Tel: 021 462 2425
Google map directions.
There’ll be wine sponsored by Leopard’s Leap, soul food and books – lots and lots of books.
Please RSVP.

The Suitable Girl (co-published by Modjaji Books)

Dawn Garisch’s Difficult Gifts

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
Great Fish
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.
Bee Man
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.
The Owls
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 cdhiggs@gmail.com.

Date: Wednesday, 8 June
Time: 18h00 for 18h30
Venue: Kalk Bay Books
Emily Buchanan will be in conversation with Dawn Garisch.

Sarah Frost’s Conduit

Sarah Frost is 37 years old and a single mother to a six year old boy. She works as an editor for Juta Legalbrief in Durban. She has been writing poetry for the past fourteen years. She has completed an MA in English Literature, and also a module on Creative Writing, through UKZN. She has been published in various South African journals, and also some in the United States of America. Her first collection, Conduit, is published by Modjaji Books.

Conduit is a book of pared-down poems graphically tracking a young girl’s journey from the lonely spaces of childhood to the creative, powerful realm of womanhood. At times stark, Sarah Frost’s formal yet tentative grappling with the experiences of being a daughter, a mother, and a lover, reveals the growth of a strong, yet guarded poetic persona.
“These are poems of drowning and coming up again. Of surviving with lungs that breathe water and sunlight. These are poems of longing and loss. Of searching for a foothold in a world where all slides and changes. Sarah Frost is a new voice in South African poetry. A clear and strong and exciting voice. Read her.”
– Kobus Moolman
On the slopes the charred spines of the winter pines.
The town still in the valley below,
a pulse just visible in the soft hollows of a skull.
Lonely the forest road billowing sunset-red
for a girl on her bicycle, going home.
For her there can be no leaving, yet. Nothing to find.
Just a waiting as gradual as the evening train
shunting its heavy load free of the station.
Bed time, and the wind chime jangles.
Beyond the glass, a planet stark against the sky.
Restless, she turns under her covers at dawn,
hearing a truck shift down to its lowest gear.
The deep engine roar judders on the highway, departing.
The capsicum pot-plant tilts,
as you carry it precariously,
speaking of your wife, and how you owe her flowers.
Carting my own star-jasmine tethered to a wooden stick
to where we parked – we came separately –
I feel the cake we shared at the café above the nursery,
sit heavy in my stomach like woe.
You turn your car around and with a careful wave,
drive off, leaving me, hot-faced, heavy –
scrabbling to collect the coins that just fell out of my purse
into the gravel in the gutter.
Like a CD track stuck
the old song reverberates in my head
‘the girl at the window/
waited all day for her father to come home/
thought that if she flirted with him/
he might love her more.’
At the table beneath the spreading fig tree,
I let you see my black bra-strap slip
from behind my green-yoked dress.
Felt your glance stroke my hair,
as you told me about paying your bond (and hers).
Your dessert fork glinted in the dappled light,
itching to wound.
My serviette, smeared red,
crumpled on a side plate.
One year in
We argue all night, until I ask you to leave.
The next day we walk along the promenade.
I want to view the sea between the trees, but
you pull me back, showing me wild jasmine.
We find a bench on the dune.
Below us, a family; a woman
smears sun-cream onto a man’s face.
A brother and sister build a sandcastle.
You want this. For us, you’ve said.
I know I must relinquish my other search,
a father I have lost and survived;
but still the longing, an ache in the throat.
The sun glares, and waves barrage the beach.
I watch the small girl wrap her legs
around her daddy’s waist, a limpet, not letting go.
You stroked my face
The Southern Cross, like a spoon
dips into the city bowl
scoops up the harbour lights,
the distant rattle of ships leaving,
freight trucks returning.
A fruit bat swoops into branches,
elusive as an unanswered question.
Saying goodbye, the man I want
so much it makes me silent,
kisses my face on both sides,
then turns away, shouldering the night.
Indoors, I lay my restless son down to sleep,
my fingers stroking love across his face.
I recollect the way you, my father, traced my forehead so,
when I was a child, when you held me during storms.
My tears prickle like dry grass against a bare foot
for what came later; for what you did not do,
for the leaving, and the staying away.
from Conduit (Modjaji Books, 2011).
Order Conduit from cdhiggs@gmail.com.

News and a special offer

The Suitable Girl in Atlanta with a Californian Cabernet © Christine Swint

Some good news.
Independent publisher Modjaji Books will be bringing out a South African edition of The Suitable Girl in April.
You can see from the photograph that she’s made her way to Atlanta in the United States. Thank you, Christine Swint.
And Julie Buffaloe-Yoder writes about the collection at
The Buffaloe Pen:
The Suitable Girl has many faces. Sometimes she whispers her stories. Sometimes she speaks with her tongue in her cheek. Sometimes she screams.”
If you’re interested, The Suitable Girl can be ordered via Paypal from the Pindrop Press website (see details at the bottom of my author page).
And, if you’re in South Africa, Modjaji Books is offering a fabulous deal:
R300 – Any 3 poetry books – if they have to be posted – add R20, will wait till the last one is out before posting
R50 – Whiplash, add R30 for postage
Any 5 Modjaji Books for R500, add R30 for postage
All of these amount to huge savings for you, compared to regular prices of between R135 and R190
For more information about Modjaji Titles:
Modjaji Books 2010 Catalogue  
Recent and soon to be released books can also be bought as part of this offer.
Wame Molefhe Go Tell the Sun (short stories) (Feb 2011)
Modjaji Books
Colleen Higgs Lava Lamp Poems (Jan 2011) Hands-On Books
Alleyn Diesel (ed) Reclaiming the L-Word
(stories by different authors)(pub date March 2011) Modjaji Books
Sarah Frost Conduit (poems) (pub date March 2011)
Modjaji Books
Dawn Garisch Difficult Gifts (poems) (pub date April 2011)
Modjaji Books
Michelle McGrane The Suitable Girl (poems)
(pub date April 2011) co-pub Modjaji Books/Pindrop Press (UK)
Robin Winkel-Mellish Leading the Lioness (pub date April 2011)
Hands-On Books
Email Colleen Higgs at cdhiggs@gmail.com if you want to take up this offer.

Colleen Higgs’s Lava Lamp Poems

Colleen Higgs

Colleen Higgs launched Modjaji Books, the first publishing house for southern African women writers, in 2007. Her first collection of poetry, Halfborn Woman, was published in 2004. She lives in Cape Town with her partner and her daughter.

“The poems in Lava Lamp are compelling: at once conversational and uncanny. Colleen Higgs tells the truth but tells it slant, insisting on the singularity of everything that is familiar – domesticity, marriage, motherhood, family. The sequence of poems set in Johannesburg is captivating.”
– Finuala Dowling
“Alternating between the most economical of free verse and the most elastic of prose poetry, Higgs shows a dazzling facility with both mediums. Her poems reach into the past, isolating long-gone moments and imbue them with talismanic significance. Humour runs through the collection like a glowing thread – from the gentle and affectionate ‘an ode to Perry’ to the utterly female satire ‘on wanting a washing machine’ and ‘where these things lead’, to the dark undertones of ‘blaming Lulu’ and the bitter pill of ‘excuses’.”
– Fiona Snyckers
Praise for Halfborn Woman:
“The poems mine the most personal territory, and there is considerable tenderness and vulnerability. In poem after poem there is a steely clarity, naming pain and fragile love without flinching, allowing the dark dimensions of people’s feelings to reveal themselves even while the hope and realisation of love is allowed to blossom. The consciousness of a mature artist is at work in all these poems.”
– Karen Press
“Higgs’ simplicity of language reads like pencil sketches – a few strokes ceate a locally recognisable living form”

– Silke Heiss
the comfort of parquet
I don’t miss those years of pert
jacket swinging hopefully down two flights of stairs
into the car headlights, streetlights, warm bars, sexy strangers
nor the flirting and longing and prowling ahead
I don’t miss the phonecalls, and the waiting and
arranging, and rearranging and driving, and analyzing
sifting, drifting, endlessness
I don’t miss waking up in men’s beds
men I hardly knew. Perhaps I miss
the way you could lean over and kiss someone
or touch him lightly on the thigh
Except, mostly I couldn’t
do it like that, wasn’t so cool, so nonchalant
Instead my mind raced, What will it
mean? Will he like it?
I couldn’t just be a young woman sipping
whisky in the gloominess of a jazz club
leaning over to the man she happens to be sitting next to
and kissing him because she wants to
I miss the Market Theatre, Jamesons, Kippies, Rumours, Scandalos
the Black Sun, film festivals, installations, walks in wet November
streets late at night. But not the too finely tuned
anxiety of all that was going on around
and within me – crushing, brutal, oppressive –
and didn’t seem about to end any time soon
All was taut, tense
Not sinuous, relaxed, sensual
except when waking alone and stumbling
from bed to bathroom in the sleepy coziness
of semi-wakened, semi-dreamwalking clarity
feet heavy on the parquet.
my Yeoville
Where were you when you could play
freedom fighter, a dangerous game,
a particular way
of being worried about spies?
And who was really ANC and who wasn’t.
And we danced. The Lurchers. The Yeoville Rapist.
Weird and wild and strange. Sex, drugs.
Because I lived there it was wonderful,
and the library, Tandoor, the Harbour, Midnight Express
Elaines, Rumours, Mamas.
The park at night, the path, the plane trees
the police station. Yeoville Checkers.
Bigger and wider and smaller my world was then
realised how much and how many
were mostly Zulu speakers
and so many who didn’t speak any English. Only Serbian.
Any night of the week on Rockey Street
there wasn’t one uniform
if you liked, you could fit in.
You could go and experience something –
come in from the cold
from Alberton, Kempton Park.
By the mid 90s the banks started redlining
kickstarting slumlording.
You could hear buses changing gear
from the bedroom at Homelands.
One day the swimming pool opened to all.
from a balcony
for G.
On New Year’s Eve, a couple of years before the millennium
we stood on the balcony of your house in Troyeville
high in the dark sky, lights below
and distant fireworks, bangs like gunshots,
bursts of colour – shouting, hooting,
the air vibrating
We stood there, I’d made a decision
only later I’d feel the pain of.
That night on your balcony I was happy
the air was warm. I’d been to your hairdresser in Illovo
and paid more than I believed possible for a haircut
I felt sexy and courageous in my short hair
and my new life ahead. All of this was visible to me
as I stood there, free and full of possibility,
inviting the new to flow into the empty space I was clearing
I didn’t see the pools of tears, the anguish
at leaving the stone house, the white stinkwood trees
which had grown tall and shady in the five years I knew them.
I didn’t see the progressive rage
I would feel about a vacuum cleaner
I didn’t see how I would go beyond all of that
to where I truly wouldn’t care, wouldn’t mind
about the vacuum cleaner,
or the books,
or the trees
It’s not quite true that now I don’t care, don’t mind
in fact I am pleased that those things exist, that they are there,
and that they aren’t mine.
From a balcony you can see far into the future
much is visible from a balcony
and there’s so much that you can’t ever see
from Lava Lamp Poems (Hands-On Books, 2011).
Lava Lamp Poems will be available in better bookstores from the end of January 2011. You can order a copy from cdhiggs@gmail.com or through African Books Collective.
You are invited to come along to the launch of Lava Lamp Poems by Colleen Higgs. Finuala Dowling will introduce the poet and her work. There will be a short reading from the collection.
Event Details
Date: Thursday, 20 January 2011
Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
Venue: The Book Lounge, Corner of Roeland
and Buitenkant Streets, Cape Town
Guest Speaker: Finuala Dowling
RSVP: The Book Lounge, booklounge@gmail.com, 021 462 2425

Kerry Hammerton’s These are the lies I told you

Kerry Hammerton

Kerry Hammerton is a poet, writer and alternative health practitioner. She is a graduate of The University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg) and The College of Integrated Chinese Medicine (Reading, United Kingdom). Her poetry has been published in South African literary journals such as Carapace, New Contrast and New Coin, online at Litnet, Incwadi and iTCH. She has also been a contributor to The Empty Tin Readings (May, 2010) and The Poetry Project. These are the lies I told you (Modjaji Books, 2010) is her first poetry collection. Kerry has fewer wrinkles than she should have at her age – or so her friends tell her.

“Kerry Hammerton is an anatomist of romantic love, from the rumpled hotel sheets of lust to the shared tattoos of intimacy. With its roller-coaster ride of erotica, sensuality, heartbreak and laugh out loud hilarity, These are the lies I told you is a debut volume destined to break sales records in this country. The Marian Keyes of poetry has arrived.”
– Finuala Dowling
Once I knew
A porky-pie, a flirst,
a man whose appetite was bigger than his thirst.
A smargy-smark, a flowel,
a man who couldn’t pick up a towel.
A dringy-drogue, a cheddle,
a man who really liked to meddle.
Once I knew
a spreaky-spreck, a growlth,
a man who couldn’t shut his mouth.
A reepy-rost, a jost,
a man who was always lost.
A marfy-makker, a mhale,
a man who confessed and went to jail.
Once I knew
a peedle-pudum, a shile,
a man who couldn’t smile.
A hirgy-hattle, a brister,
a man who was all a pister,
a fleety-fluster, a basfitter,
a lespy-lerper, a verter,
a crutter, a creter,
a werter.
But worst of all, once I knew
a mishy-mashy, welljuten,
a zandripertosster.
Planting olive trees
When you plant an Olive Tree
don’t sing to it,
don’t sing songs of stars and moons
and distant galaxies, don’t lean
into its leafy ears and whisper
honey words, don’t even mouth
‘I love you’, don’t recite poems
of open valleys and journeys,
don’t talk.
When you plant an Olive Tree
plant it away from other trees
and then: don’t visit it,
don’t entwine your arms through
its branches, don’t place your
face against its patterned bark
or reach out your tongue and taste,
don’t rub your back against its trunk
don’t stroke it.
When you plant an Olive Tree
don’t water it or shower it
with drops of dew, don’t sprinkle
it with the watering can of your
love, don’t pray for rain,
don’t snake a hosepipe
over sheer mountains or
climb treacherous rock
to bring relief.
When you plant an Olive Tree
find the stoniest ground, don’t
prepare the planting with
fertilizer and soft soil, don’t mulch,
let its roots feel the harsh bite
of the earth, let it scrape
against jagged rocks, don’t dust
rose petals on fresh white linen
before you bed it down.
Let it lie in sharp gravel.
When you plant an Olive Tree
don’t cover it,
let it bend in the wind,
let its leaves crackle in the sun,
don’t build a boma of comfort,
don’t try and protect it with
your manly intentions,
let it struggle to find its own shade
let it shrivel.
Then it will bear fruit
for you.
I am not
an Olive Tree.
from These are the lies I told you (Modjaji Books, 2010)
Launch details
Monday, 22 November 2010
The Book Lounge
cnr Roeland and Buitenkant
Cape Town
17h30 for 18h00
RSVP: booklounge@gmail.com
Visit Kerry’s website.

Ingrid Andersen’s Piece Work

Ingrid Andersen

Ingrid Andersen was born in Johannesburg, read for a degree in English literature and film and theatre criticism at Wits and is presently completing her Masters. Her work has been published in poetry journals for 16 years. Excision, her first volume of poetry, was published in 2004 and her second, Piece Work, was published by Modjaji Books in September this year.
Her influences include the French Romantic poets, Imagism, Ted Hughes and the writings of Bashō. She is the founding editor of Incwadi, a South African journal that explores the interaction between poetry and image. An Anglican priest, she works in human rights, healing and reconciliation.
Andersen’s work has been published in local literary journals including Imprint, Slugnews, Carapace, Green Dragon, Botsotso, Incwadi and New Coin, as well as internationally. Her work has been anthologised. She presented her work at WordFest at the National Arts Festival in 2004 and 2005, as well as at the Hilton Arts Festival in 2009. She contributed the libretto for a musical which was produced twice in the early ’90s. Her creative writing workshops focus on allowing creativity to overcome disabling self-critique.
She worked as a theatre publicist in the 1980s, the days of political protest theatre, at the Market Theatre and PACT, amongst others, working with some fascinating people.
As South Africa began to rebuild after the first democratic elections, she became active in community activism and development, at The Salvation Army Territorial Headquarters, as CEO of the Rosebank Homeless Association and then as Community Engagement Manager at Rhodes University. She works presently at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in human rights, peace building and reconciliation, with a particular focus on the Alternatives to Violence Project. Ingrid was nominated for Rhodes University Amnesty International ‘Woman of the Year’, and was awarded Honorary Membership of the Golden Key Society.
Ingrid has lived most of her life in Johannesburg, worked in Grahamstown for five years and relocated to the KwaZulu–Natal Midlands in 2007. She lives with a cherished Persian-Siamese cat called Dickens.
“Andersen’s poems fuse the best of Imagism with a heartfelt compassion; with a few well-chosen words, she can turn the rawness and imprecision of emotion into poems that reach simultaneously for clarity and for the reader’s heart. She is generous, careful, passionate – all these qualities make her work profound and accessible. Each poem is a self-contained loveliness.”
– Fiona Zerbst
“Ingrid Andersen writes poems for an ‘age of loneliness’. With words of powerful simplicity, this book cuts open the heart and mind of the reader, stitches and sometimes mends. Darting lightly in and out of life’s small and lonely spaces and places, her quiet truths offer respite from the world’s noise.”
– Tania van Schalkwyk

Amongst the whirled cones of small shells
and fractures of molluscs and pieces of stone
between my young fingers,
a tiny fragment
of china:
startling blue on clean white,
thrown up on the beach by a storm.
There were more over time,
fragile pieces
of clarity,
gathered and treasured,
kept together.
Some rounded, worn,
others new-broken.
Once, the whole
bottom of a bowl.
As a child, I’d imagine the sea drawing
back from the shipwreck.
Risking the water’s return,
I would glean what I could.
I haven’t been back
for more than ten years.
I still have them. Now
I know how
to pattern my own.
Good Friday

Meditation – First hour
I began the Good Friday meditation:
“Imagine Jesus walked into this church today.
What would he look like? How would you respond to him?”
Heads bowed, they didn’t see Monica,
church cleaner back at work
her CD4 count up,
slip quietly in and take
her seat.
Eucharist – Second hour
You’d known that your
burgeoning plan
would need blood and pain
for fruition.
Your time must have drawn inexorably near:
the suffering, then the triumph.
Easter bells – Third hour
Good Friday’s solemnity
draws to a close.
And the sacred
solid silence
of the stone cathedral
is suddenly broken, from the back
by peals of bells
and laughter
as an acolyte swings into the air,
flying, helpless,
at the end of the rope.
Burning the Fire Break
I’m called from my books,
this peaceful space
away from you.
The wind has whipped
the fire out
of control, it threatens the farmhouse:
all hands are needed.
I stand, armed with beater,
upon the border of veld and garden.
I think of National Geographic,
of fires in Australia, California –
I’ve not done this before.
Smoke burns bitter in my throat.
There. In the haze,
flames at the base
of the khakibos
in the close-grazed stubble
five strides ahead of me.
The wind behind them
suddenly shoves.
The fire flings up,
reaches into
longer grass nearby:
an angry wall that
spits and roars
towards me.
I face the flame,
stand firm.
You shall not pass.
from Piece Work (Modjaji Books, 2010)
Visit Ingrid’s blog at Book SA.
Visit Modjaji’s blog at Book SA.

Beverly Rycroft’s Missing

Beverly Rycroft

Beverly Rycroft was born in the Eastern Cape. She is a graduate of the University of Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand. She worked as a teacher for several years before turning full time to writing and journalism. Her articles have been published widely both locally and internationally. Her poems have been published in local literary magazines such as Carapace, New Coin and scrutiny2. She lives in Cape Town with her family. Missing (Modjaji Books, 2010) is her first collection of poems.

In 1997 Beverly Rycroft was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. The poems in her debut collection, Missing, chart the experience of facing mortality, illness and the hope of recovery.
“This astonishingly moving debut collection reads compellingly as one complete story. Missing covers the archetypal journey from sickness and near-death to transformation and hope. Rycroft wears her exquisite poetic technique lightly – through rich and deftly crafted images, the poems are profoundly inviting, readable and memorable. I could not put it down.”
– Finuala Dowling
The telephone, once a domestic creature
has turned into a raptor.
At nine last night it sprang, the first attack.
The Doctor’s voice spinning from it
steamed warm
and sticky as fresh entrails:


When I dropped the receiver back
the shriek became a burr again.

This morning it perches beside my unmade bed
wings folded, eyes shut
feigning sleep.

I’d like you to look at your X-rays
On the sixth floor we’re almost eye level
with three white clouds that have
strayed into the maze
of buildings around Wynberg Hospital.
They’ve no language for
where they’ve been left, lost
above the traffic
and hawkers selling fruit
and taxi drivers we can hear
even from behind the double-glazed windows
of the doctor’s room.

No one’s forced me here.
I’m free if I wish to catch
– for five rand only –
a ride to
or Cape Town Central Station.
If I wanted I could
take a train to the east coast
disembark at East London
hitch to Transkei.
I’m told long-horned Nguni cattle still bask
on the Wild Coast rocks and
get called back each evening
by barefoot boys in school uniform.
I’ve seen for myself the clouds
that sprawl and slur untranslated
across that sky
beneath which poverty
     and death
are quite unremarkable.
Dying women should not wear lipstick

dying women should not wear lipstick
or pink-checked mini skirts that shriek
sexy! and shoot right up
past their skinny knees
towards their truncated breasts.
they ought not to wear
pillbox hats that lodge on their stubbled heads
like stranded yachts or put on
stiletto heels or shiny earrings
or even oddly-matched shoes. they
must stay at home and
wear brown scarves. they must
turn their dying faces away from the rest of us
and not eat ice cream on Sea Point promenade
or enjoy spring
or breed hamsters.
they may not run in the annual school sports day mothers’ race
and definitely never win.
of course they are allowed to cry.
but only in the privacy of their own
locked rooms
and only when holding
a pillow over their
warm and dying mouths to stop
their children from knowing:
     there is something a little more
     than dying going on in there.
For Thomas in California

Do you lie awake at night
– cousin Nolan asks –
and worry about your kids?
I knew someone else – he sighs
She looked fine, just like you.
     Until she died.
And the woman who cut my hair
at the hairdresser’s in Cavendish Square:
She had an Aunt with the illness
who’d been one hundred percent OK.
     Until six months ago.
Then there’s the nurse in Wynberg
who sews prosthetic pockets and enjoys
keeping me up to date with each
fresh death
amongst her dwindling
I save them all up for you, Tom
for Sunday nights
when you phone and I can finally fume:
I’m going to live
to bury all those people who think
I won’t make it

I wait for you to tell me:
Don’t say that
That’s awful
People don’t
mean to
be unkind

But you just say:
Hand me that shovel, girl.
I’m gonna help you dig.

i don’t remember what
made her cry that day
– her brother teasing? her sister ignoring her? –
running to where i sat
in the armchair of the sunny lounge
that was before they allowed
a prosthesis to lie
over the healing scar
and i only remember
– long after she’d stopped –
how hard her skull felt
on the bones of my chest.
What I plan

I plan to eat oat snaps (more than two)
while drinking Lady Grey tea
in a house at Plettenberg Bay overlooking
the mountains and a sea
rolled flat as pastry by the fussy wind.

I plan to not-plan or anticipate
the abrupt scream of metal
or the phone call at 3 am
or the silent busy-ness of my own
multiplying cells.

I plan to forgive myself if I do.

I plan to lose myself – often –
in the temporary
or chilled)
to sit out the turbulence when it mauls
at the equator of my muscle and bone
I plan to remember I’ve kept afloat till now.
And remembering better times I plan
to call them once again to account
to hang them from my warped mainsail
like worn and mended sails that shout:
Here you have held the wind.
from Missing (Modjaji Books, 2010)
The Launch 
You are cordially invited to the launch of Beverly Rycroft’s Missing:
Date: Saturday, 17 July 2010
Time: 18h00 to 19h30
Venue: Kalk Bay Books, Cape Town
Enter your details here to be added to the guest list.
Visit Reach for Recovery.

Melissa Butler’s removing

Melissa Butler

Melissa Butler lives in Cape Town and Pittsburgh, PA. In the United States, she teaches kindergarten. In South Africa, she writes and works with pre-schools in the Eastern Cape. She has a Masters degree in Curriculum Theory from Penn State University and a Masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. removing (Modjaji Books, 2010) is her first book of poetry.
“In these poems Melissa Butler has the unique ability to take almost anything that happens to catch her eye or to figure in her mind’s eye – these can range from a bowl to a hadeda, from the concept of edges to the cusp of a silence –and make it speak volumes not only about itself, but about us in our human lives. Such are her poetic gifts; and such is the quality of this remarkable debut.”
– Stephen Watson
“The experience of reading the poems in removing is, wonderfully, one of a late-night conversation with a warm, imaginative, thoughtful, observant and compassionate friend. In pellucid language and deeply satisfying images of the real – hadedas, shelves, coats, bowls, characters in Long Street, plastic bags, pigeons – Melissa Butler manages to talk about the great questions of humanity (how we find meaning and how we know what we know) as lightly and easily as if she were tossing out a picnic blanket. The poems in removing are memorable for their playful and inventive use of form. Read them aloud among friends, but be wary of the discussion that follows: Melissa Butler’s poems have an uncanny ability to read their readers.”
– Finuala Dowling

In ‘I travel differently’, the introduction to removing, Melissa writes:
From the time I was young, I wanted to leave. My most vivid childhood memories are of watching people’s feet from underneath a table. I took myself away from where I was and made up stories.
I have had 18 permanent addresses in my life. I have learned that permanence is always temporary. And my geographies are metaphysical. I have known home inside of moments: engaging in a community project, having a conversation across a table, watching a bird build a nest.
I came to South Africa from the U.S. for the first time in 2005. Originally, I came here in order to leave there. It was necessary to cross an ocean and live on this southern tip to realize that no matter where I go, I am still with myself. And perhaps this is why I have come to travel the way I do. I don’t scatter myself across the earth’s surface. I need the layers found in my return to a single place again and again.
I am drawn back to South Africa for many reasons: I study here, I work with schools in the Eastern Cape, I have good friends, I love the mountain, I need an outsider’s distance in order to write. But there is nothing here to hold me other than my stories – no passport, no piece of land, no name anchored in the history of this place. My connection here is one of small commitments over time and something mixed from instinct and knowing.
When I am here, people notice my accent and ask me where I’m from. The funny thing is, in the other place where I live, where the sound of my voice does not rub rough against a listener’s ear, in the place where I keep my books and my cat, I get asked where I’m from too. For as long as I can remember, people have asked me where I’m from.
Perhaps I project some sort of homelessness. Maybe my eyes tell my truth: no matter where I go, I keep myself both inside and outside of things.
In Cape Town, no one expects anything from me and I can slip often into the poetic space of not-knowing. I live here soaked in and confronted by my privileges and labels. I am student, tourist, woman, white, outsider, american, consumer, voyeur, friend, participant, teacher, activist, educated, connected, alone.
Something in this place both accepts and excludes me, again and again like ocean currents that pull me in and push me out. I will never be allowed to say this place is mine or that I belong here. It is this way. I accept it and perhaps I find some comfort in the distance.
It is this distance, this dissonance, that permits a poem to find itself.
Melissa Butler
May 2010, Cape Town
The name of foreigner
Melissa Butler

May 2008

We stand around a table to peel potatoes.
Four Muslim South Africans, an Israeli,
a Canadian, an American. We do not talk
about where we’re from.
The older women teach us
how to hold the potato, the knife,
how to pull pressure down
gently towards the thumb.
We fill large buckets with what we’ve carved.

We drive in caravan to Solomon Mahlangu
on the outskirts of Khayelitsha
to deliver crates of bread and a pot of soup
that takes two men to carry.
We drive slowly and think about what it means
to leave a home for another place, who gets
the name of foreigner in a place of need.

She sits on a blue plastic chair,
her baby wrapped to her back
with an orange towel. She waits to be served
four slices of white bread and a Styrofoam cup
of split-pea soup. She speaks from a place
of effort I do not know and says:
Thank you for bringing us food.

The children still smile. To them
it is just another place to explore.
They pick up five-cent coins, pieces of plastic,
small rocks and discarded chicken bones.
They hold pieces of bread folded
in their hands. Take bites and leave crumbs.
When I say: one, two … they say:
three, four, five.
from removing (Modjaji Books, 2010)
Melissa will be reading at Off the Wall tomorrow.
Date: Wednesday, 9 June 2010
Venue: Kalk Bay Books
Time: 7:00 p.m.

A poetry list

I thought I’d share a few poetry titles I’m looking forward to reading this year. Some have recently been published, some are not yet available. If you’re interested in buying copies online, do make a note of their publication dates or ask your online book store to let you know when they become available.
Four of the poets are relatively new to me – Elisabeth Bletsoe (Pharmacopoeia & Early Selected Works), Mary O’Donnell (The Ark Builders), Carolyn Jess-Cooke (Inroads) and Anna Robinson (The Finders of London) – and I’m looking forward to becoming better acquainted with their work.
I greatly enjoyed Naomi Foyle’s bold, imaginative and sensuous collection, The Night Pavilion, and am looking forward to her pamphlet, Grace of the Gamblers – A Chantilly Chantey (Waterloo Press), illustrated by Peter Griffiths.
Philippa Yaa de Villiers’s second collection The Everyday Wife, published by the intrepid South African women’s publisher Modjaji Books, follows her popular first collection, Taller than buildings. As a poet living in South Africa, I’d like to mention how proud I am of the strong, beautiful books sent into the world by Modjaji.
Helen Ivory’s The Breakfast Machine (Bloodaxe), Pascale Petit’s What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo (Seren), Katie Donovan’s Rootling (Bloodaxe) and Penelope Shuttle’s Sandgrain and Hourglass (Bloodaxe), have been long awaited. Their previous collections – The Dog in the Sky (Ivory), The Treekeeper’s Tale (Petit), Day of the Dead (Donovan) and Redgrove’s Wife (Shuttle) – are favourites and occupy the top shelf of my poetry bookcase.
Edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra, Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word (Bloodaxe) will be available later this year. The anthology aims to reflect “the multicultural make-up of contemporary Britain” and to showcase the work of talented poets such as Mir Mahfuz Ali, Rowyda Amin, Malika Booker, Roger Robinson, Karen McCarthy, Nick Makoha, Denise Saul, Seni Seniviratne, Shazea Quraishi and Janet Kofi Tsekpo.
Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets, also published by Bloodaxe and edited by Roddy Lumsden, promises to be a feast. I hope, as I’m typing this, my copy is winging its way south from the United Kingdom.
Identity Parade includes poetry from Patience Agbabi, Jonathan Asser, Tiffany Atkinson, Simon Barraclough, Paul Batchelor, Kate Bingham, Julia Bird, Patrick Brandon, David Briggs, Andy Brown, Judy Brown, Colette Bryce, Matthew Caley, Siobhan Campbell, Vahni Capildeo, Melanie Challenger, Kate Clanchy, Polly Clark, Julia Copus, Sarah Corbett, Claire Crowther, Tim Cumming, Ailbhe Darcy, Peter Davidson, Nick Drake, Sasha Dugdale, Chris Emery, Bernardine Evaristo, Paul Farley, Leontia Flynn, Annie Freud, Alan Gillis, Jane Griffiths, Vona Groarke, Jen Hadfield, Sophie Hannah, Tracey Herd, Kevin Higgins, Matthew Hollis, A.B. Jackson, Anthony Joseph, Luke Kennard, Nick Laird, Sarah Law, Frances Leviston, Gwyneth Lewis, John McAuliffe, Chris McCabe, Helen Macdonald, Patrick McGuinness, Kona Macphee, Peter Manson, D.S. Marriott, Sam Meekings, Sinéad Morrissey, Daljit Nagra, Caitríona O’Reilly, Alice Oswald, Katherine Pierpoint, Clare Pollard, Jacob Polley, Diana Pooley, Richard Price, Sally Read, Deryn Rees-Jones, Neil Rollinson, Jacob Sam-la Rose, Antony Rowland, James Sheard, Zoë Skoulding, Catherine Smith, Jean Sprackland, John Stammers, Greta Stoddart, Sandra Tappenden, Tim Turnbull, Julian Turner, Mark Waldron, Ahren Warner, Tim Wells, Matthew Welton, David Wheatley, Sam Willetts, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch and Tamar Yoseloff.
Are there any anthologies and collections you’re particularly looking forward to getting your hands on this year?
I’d love to hear what’s on your list.
Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets,
edited by Roddy Lumsden (Bloodaxe Books)

Pharmacopoeia & Early Selected Works
Elisabeth Bletsoe (Shearsman Books)


The Ark Builders, Mary O’Donnell
(Arc Publications)

, Carolyn Jess-Cooke
(Seren Books)


Grace of the Gamblers, Naomi Foyle
(Waterloo Press)


The Finders of London, Anna Robinson
(Enitharmon Press)

The Everyday Wife
, Philippa Yaa de Villiers
(Modjaji Books)

The Breakfast Machine
, Helen Ivory
(Bloodaxe Books)

, Katie Donovan
(Bloodaxe Books)

What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo,
Pascale Petit (Seren Books)

Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word
edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra
(Bloodaxe Books) 


Sandgrain and Hourglass
, Penelope Shuttle
(Bloodaxe Books)