Tag Archives: Modjaji Poetry Publishing

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.

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.

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.

Helen Moffett’s Strange Fruit

Another Country
Helen Moffett
In other countries, I become a different person.
In Uganda, I drink beer after Tuskers beer,
and in Barbados, home-made herb rum.
In Alaska, I drive a four-by-four.
In Ireland, I stick out my thumb.
In Greece, I share a room with strangers.
And everywhere, I get up before dawn,
climbing out of windows if I have to,
scrambling to catch first light.
On the sacred isle of Iona, adrift in the Hebrides,
I walk along a beach, confessing,
clutching the hand of an impossible man
I have known for all of three days.
And I skydive into love, freefalling,
wind whistling past my ears.
A day later, I kiss him
in the middle of the night,
in the middle of a storm,
spray wet on our faces,
caught in the boom of a kettledrum.
At home, I never do any of these things.
I’m a white-wine girl who doesn’t see sunrise.
My car is small and second-hand.
I seldom take risks.
And while I might fall in love,
I no longer jump out of planes,
hurtle into the heart of the wind.
But maybe I should. Live in another country.
for Sean McDonagh
From Strange Fruit (Modjaji Books, 2009)
Read my interview with Helen on Litnet.
Read four poems from Strange Fruit at Rustum Kozain’s blog,
To purchase Strange Fruit, contact Colleen Higgs at Modjaji Books:
You are cordially invited to Strange Fruit’s launch – Helen will be reading – at the Cape Town Book Fair on 14 June 2009 from 17h30 to 18h30 at the DALRO Stage in the CTICC exhibition halls.

Fiona Zerbst’s Oleander

Legacy – after Frida Kahlo
Fiona Zerbst
‘We must sleep with open eyes, we must dream with our hands’
Octavio Paz

This column of air.
These nights of broken stone.
This flesh that speaks.
If Mexico is Frida,
It is also
Fig and prickly pear,
Water gods, dry ears
Of corn, torn as petticoats.
Vanilla jar of dead water
Circled by a peacock.
This is what is left to those
Who linger in the courtyard.
Her legacy of nails in flesh,
Tears of pomegranate:
A broken column
Painted as herself.
Frida dreams in turquoise;
Now vertical, her bed
A crushed infinity.
Reflected in her mirror,
This heart that frills the sand’s
Dry life with blood.
This column of air,
These nights of broken stone,
This flesh that speaks.
If Mexico is Frida,
Then it is also
Paintbrush and suffering,
Icon of desire,
spine of jewelled bone.
As she paints,
She dreams with her hands.
As we watch,
A butterfly sticks
To coils of her hair.
That flat plate of brow
Is a golden canvas
To feast from.
From Oleander (Modjaji Books, 2009).
Read four poems from Oleander at Rustum Kozain’s blog, Groundwork.
To purchase Oleander, contact Colleen Higgs at Modjaji Books:
You are cordially invited to Oleander’s launch – Fiona will be reading – at the Cape Town Book Fair on 14 June 2009 from 17h30 to 18h30 at the DALRO Stage in the CTICC exhibition halls.
Visit Fiona’s blog.