Spring the Life Fandango
I want something and there are twinges in my heart.
My heart twinges so badly that I fear the act of dropping
down dead before I get what I want. How is that for
momentum or for a god that has the sauciest way of telling
me that I have pushed the boat out too far, I have let
the boat land with a splash and a hoot and I am left in mid
ocean without a paddle – the paddle they had warned me
about, the paddle that takes on a life of its own and even beats
me over the head in my dreams to make me wake
up in the middle of the night with a bunch of hair stuck in my
mouth and my cat licking the back of my hand, frantically
reaching a high meter of lickability that says the big gong is
going to gong and tell me Time’s Up. I’d hoped to never want
something as badly as I want this – all the karma and jinxing
in the world could take it from me with one loose crack
of the whip. I could be sent marching the long way home
without the thing I want badly tucked up in my inside
pocket near my heart, no, on my heart, which now has stopped
twanging and is doing a la-la-la beat. It is not about wanting
to hold your hand nor about shaking all over, it’s about seeing
a tiny dream, like a foamy insole for a favourite winter
boot (a size too big), become something I can lay
myself on and spring, spring, spring the life fandango.
from The Wrong Miracle (Salt Publishing, 2009).
Read more about Liz and The Wrong Miracle here.
Visit Liz’s blog.
Tag Archives: writing
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.
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.
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
Tania van Schalkwyk’s Hyphen
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.
Eleanor Rees’s Andraste’s Hair
– 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’