Connect with us

African Renaissance

What Emily Dickinson can teach us

Published

on

The sun is a laughing, talking, walking miracle today. If it shines, it shines only for me and Lavinia. What perfection, because it shines with an otherworldliness. It is a forceful warrior, (and I’ve known prayer warriors in our community here in Amherst). The sun is like a woman who is a siren, in the company of other men. The sun is fire, means fire, is powerful, a powerful commodity. It grows during the day, ablaze with heat, eddies of dust rising up from the floors of the homestead as I walk, as I wander from the downstairs to the upstairs.

It is much like me, much like I was in my early twenties, popular and admired at dances. It is a dazzling sun. It dances in shadow. It plays with leaf, another omniscient miracle. Leaf, and leaves, tree, and trees, those most ancient, like the instrument of change, like a symphony orchestra, a violin being plucked at repeatedly with expertise, a composer being, again, plucked from obscurity into fame, and fortune. The wildflowers found in nature, the most natural feeling in the world is to feel as if I am like that wildflower. Built temporarily to sustain the hidden energies of beauty, wonder. Am I wise? But am I wise? Am I courageous whenever I’m articulate? Austin, my brother, does not belong body and soul to me any longer. I can only imagine what his life is like now, shielded from the view of sometimes perplexing me, intense me, playing with ideas, bringing life to words, awakening a truth in them. No man has ever said to me that he loved me. Taken me in his arms, but understand this. I am a token soldier. I can see. I can hear. I have this powerful knowledge within my bones, planted there, and it resonates through the entire marrow of my being, season after season of this terrible war that they call the American Civil War. Men are dying. Boys are dying. Can I trust in the knowledge that I have the personality of a wildflower? I like the expression. I can guess at its hidden meanings. I can trust myself in the daylight.

I don’t cower away from the light, from the life, from the wakefulness that it gives me. The sun is divine. On it lives fire. On it burns a volcano. I only want the freedom to be an individual. I dare not call my writing art, for art’s sake. My vision is my own, and, yet, it is not my own. It has something to with divinity, those strongholds, those realms, and my own intuition. The process is for me to make as much progress as I can in the afternoon, work in the evenings with the lamp at my side guiding this process, navigating the trajectory of the moonlight. Yes, yes, I am fond of working my nimble fingers to the bone until the early hours of the morning. Until daylight breaks into a kind of passive resistance against the night sky, the unfolding and putting away of the stars under the jurisdiction of God’s grace, and His supreme mercy. I need clarity and vision when I write. There’s a brightness lit in my brain, every living, breathing cell. I worship every crack in this system, watch every nerve tick like a clock chiming in on every hour into homestead life, into Amherst, and with writing comes despair. There is hardship. I don’t want to fool you about my preoccupation. Perhaps one day my childhood home will be a museum that people will all come to explore. They will see my life for what it really is. Loneliness personified. They will say I lived like a recluse. I don’t want anything to be published while I am still alive. That is strange. Stranger than fiction. For all poets want is an audience to tell them how wonderful they are. How wonderful it is to be published. I often ask myself, Emily, Miss Dickinson, where does this gift of poetry, of writing about minor flora, the wolf begging, knocking at the backdoor come from. My soul begs my spirit to answer.

I live in a just world. I am robust. I have health on my side. I am neither superstitious or sentimental. Why do you call it both terror, and Master? Deceit, well, it never rises to meet me when I wake n the morning. Yes, I am a difficult person, don’t ask me to transform my personality. This is bone season, feast season, meat country, the communing of the brethren meeting on every Sunday morning without fail. I have to wear a hat, that’s how hot it is now outdoors. I want to say remember me, or, do my words, does my poetry frighten you. Give you cause to think that because of my output of sometimes three poems a day, that perhaps I am touched with madness, or playing with madness. Making it ally, instead of foe. Oh look, how crestfallen the tomato plants look in their green finery. As if they are all dressed up with nowhere to go. As if they are living in a dream. I keep waiting to hear the words said, told to me in secret, or, conspiratorial whisper, or, confidence that I am special, (yes, that I Emily Dickinson is special, is beloved, is a saint after the outcomes, and aftermath of this mad war, young men dying like flies, maggots in their wounds, ) nobody has ever said that to me, or, that I’m shy, miserable at holding a conversation when meeting a stranger for the first time. The work, the passion that I have for it, I fall under its spell. Never to forget, always to be quick to forgive, to be cunning, and witty in my letters to male friends, male counterparts. I share my life’s work with my sister-in-law. Love. What is love anyway? It can strike you infirm. Its possibilities are endless. The limits of the work are totally up to you to a point as poet. It is exhausting. The hours that keep. I see no one now. Nobody comes to the house. Nobody visits. My close friends are my family members. It sometimes feels as if I have a dune to climb. It is giant. The sand is so hot I have to wear my walking shoes in this pretend reality. Everything I do, which concerns the family, I do out of love. It is a spectacular giving, and forgiving love. I study it from afar first. The first line of the verse and so on, and so forth. I am small in stature, but my words make up for that fact. I take it by the hand, kiss it ever so delightfully, remembering the church doctrine, the minister, the sermons delivered as lectures to the congregation that I adhered to as child. Summarily, I would adjust my behaviour accordingly. And sometimes at the end of the day I feel tired-happy, or, mentally exhausted, physically drained, and please, please don’t tell me that they are only words, for they are my life, they are my very breath, every inhale, every exhale. The words are lovely. They are truly perfection. Meanwhile it is I who is imperfect. It is I who is the sea, and the words are like a mountain stream in the dead of the wild.

You’re something else, you’re the love of my life, I say to my children, the poems because they are. I birthed them, gave life to the words, before abandoning them in a bureau drawer. I become someone else when I write. It’s completely absurd to me to even to be thinking of another life. I cannot say I have been persecuted. By whom? Nobody in my family has ill-treated me badly in any way, shape, or, form. And then I think of how courteous and professional spring is, the wildflowers, the lavender, everything in the natural. Am I behaving these days? Sometimes I have my bad moments, but my family is good when it comes to forgiving me, forgiving the words spoken in the heat of the moment in a fit of anger. I am a flame. I am a flame. The snow will fall and I will still freeze out the winter, the layers of soppy time, and I, the poetess of Amherst will still be a flame. Star bright in the paradise of the homestead. I sometimes will look at what I have written, weep a little, be overcome with emotion, or stare in awe at this feverish creation on paper that will stay alive forever in my heart, and nature, and life. I think of the rain sometimes (when witnessing a downpour that seems to eclipse everything in my brain, like for instance the language of blood, the comfort of strangers).

How wise, and thoughtful, and knowledgeable blood is. I think of this spitting rain in a half-condescending way, in an itinerant fashion, in the manner of a non-believer, because I cannot work for the very life of me outside, or go exploring Amherst with my sister, Lavinia, or work in the garden, toil the land, survey the landscape that was built by my grandfather.  I do not often think about my lucky circumstances, and I try not to think, but it does come to my mind from time to time, I do think often that I am wealthy, or rather the word that I’m looking for is, ‘prosperous’, because of my family name. It is the work, the love of my life, the master of my life that yields those results. The reward at the end of the day is my angelic tongue, which is connected to my brain, which is connected to my thought patterns, and every living soul in my world. Even the wildflowers that Lavinia and I pick have souls. She declared this to me one day in passing, and I thought what intelligence you have for someone so young. I can’t imagine a day without the sun. And after I have put in a day’s work, I think to myself that this has been a remarkable progress, an enchanting journey from beginning to end. I think to myself, what direction will tomorrow bring. For if I had a compass, which direction would it face, to the west, or, the east yonder, and how to navigate the unknown without a foe in the world. When I write, it seems my mind is as ancient, as darling, as fetching, as beguiling, as fertile as Eden. It is evergreen there, and for the rest of the day I am not stuck in a rut, I am inside a valley. Just adding life to the joyful activity of writing, scratching out that which does not please me. On the inhale the sun hits my desk. The heat of the day seems to warm everything up. Joyfully, I start a new page, give my all, give my everything. I am a woman on a mission. There’s a peace of mind that comes over me, and everything about life that has somehow altered me for the good, all of my sheltered intentions, and protected me humbles me, stares me in the face, hunting me down. Where am I to go? I only have this desk. I only have my older brother. I have Lavinia. The page, the page. I see the dune again. It splits my brain into intelligence and stupor. I freeze suddenly, helpless, I feel I am not alone in the room. I turn around but no one is there. I am alone, sitting at my small desk, polishing what I did the day before, or settling own to work on the latest poem. I think of botany and nature, geography, time, and place, fire spilling over from a volcano, geology, the face of a rock, and the mountains of my imagination are breath-taking. Nothing can break that spell, transform my mood when I am working, when I am writing. The world is a beautiful, sensuous-filled place. But I am alone. I am quite alone. I am in my palace, sitting on my throne, king and queen, and my words are my loyal subjects. The terror of before passes, creativity comes upon me once again. I begin.  Begin to write until I am sated. Until I am quite thrilled, quite elated with what I have in front of me, what I own. I am both (speaking here of my mood) is high and low, mad and sane, ruthless and determined in the composed hush of the silence in my bedroom. The air smelling like damp and rust, the heat of the day and citrus, a forest deep-deep in the Amazon. I am in a rainforest.

Then I am in a jungle. Then I am standing next to a volcano breathing fire. Then I am in nature, the place where I most want to be. Then I am in a small room in Amherst, that is all mine. Then I am explorer.

Then I am scholar deep in the frame of my textbooks. I am Keats studying medicine. Then I am Keats the poet. Of course, I relish all of this. This world has nurtured me since birth. Father and I, we have our discussions about church and the larger than life Christ-figure.

There are times when I myself don’t understand why I don’t go to church anymore. Father doesn’t understand me, I don’t understand him.

He is a law-man involved in politics, carrying on his father’s legacy, in the same way my brother will one day in the not too distant future.

I want to be great friends with his wife. I now we will be. Already she has expressed an interest in the poems, but she doesn’t understand why I don’t publish them. The sun is romantic to me. I want every bite of it. Look, it is a new day that has come upon all of us. I can feel it. I can feel it. The sun, as it plays upon my hair, every silken thread of it. I think of the nocturnal. I think of all the sights in the moonlight that is so charismatic. I think to myself what would feel like to be an owl, or a bird. What would it feel like to flit like a bat, to stare death (open and wise and vulnerable) in the face, celebrate the verbosity of life, to acknowledge that women have it differently in the world than men do when they write? I am life. I am life. There are no other words to describe this beginning, or this end. In another place, perhaps not this lifetime, but the next one, I will find love, and truly captivate a man. A man, a love, a master even greater than the poetry itself, than that heavy burden of suffering, and all the sorrows that I feel I must accept if I am to pursue this course of life. The writing life. I must always take this swift action when it comes to the demanding work of the writing of the poetry, and not the other. The writing of the poetry is my shield, and master now. The sun, this bewildering sun. The strange thing is, is how it makes me feel inside of myself. That today of all days it gives me such satisfaction, such closure, and even such mirth in the face of the loneliness I must tolerate, and understand, and live with on a daily basis. Don’t think that I’m tragic for one minute. Don’t, please, make a fuss over the writing of the poetry. It is mine. It is all mine. It is my gift to either want to share it with the world if I want too, or to not share with the world. The sun, this bewitching sun in my room that hovers, that hovers over there nearby my desk. Look at me. Look at this feast of the day in front of me. In this place in time, there is wonderment, childlike wonderment at the world around me, at the worlds and realms and empires found in Amherst, the worlds of the homestead. In my writing, the world opens itself up to me, offers itself to me on a silver platter. I make myself open to it. I must. For there is simply no other way to get the work of the day done, the chores, the kitchen, reading the newspaper to Lavinia, going out on the town. I remember in my twenties how I was a socialite. When I am writing it feels as if wave, after wave is breaking inside of me.

Vibration after vibration. The sun is a miracle. I am ethereal. I am emotional. I am sensitive. Does, can the world understand that, can, does the world see me as special, as a wonder. Some days I am high on life. Other days I am as low as the branch that can bough down to major earth meeting minor sky. Distance meeting the remote. Sky meeting brides. Earth meeting grooms. Sky meeting the wolves of the earth. Amherst is my country. Perhaps, perhaps one day the world will be my country. Perhaps, perhaps one day I will be loved by that world, that country. It feels as if I am pulsating with a kind of natural rhythm. As if I am almost being pulled and pushed in all directions.

In life, I must go several ways. In the writing-life, the world of my poetry, that pulls me down another rabbit-hole (a kind of black hole) trajectory. My course is set. My voice is stone. My voice belongs to the wilderness, overshadowed by absolutely nothing that I can possibly think of. My voice is like the wind. My voice will one day reign supreme, but all of these are just thoughts processing themselves repeatedly. I think of seduction too. How words can evolve. How words can seduce vision into art. They are beautiful, aren’t they? They are magnificent, remarkable even. For sometimes it feels as if I am standing too close to the edge. That this precipice, or whatever it is will mark me for life. Oh, how I want to glorify the page. Perfect it.

How I want to be cleansed of that vision of what comes after winter.

Master, master, the writing of the poetry, my correspondence too, are the greatest loves of my life. My eternity come close, come even closer to me. Let me kiss thy cheek, and do thy will. Amherst, you are muse. I am a visionary in your hands.

Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.

Continue Reading
Comments

African Renaissance

The Language of Africa’s Girl Child In Water and Tears

Published

on

My youth is finished and along with it my bright star, and tears. I stopped thinking of the future.

You know I don’t know when exactly that happened all I know is one morning I woke up and I decided you are not loved, you are not loved. You will never be loved and the universe was laughing at me. There was no navigational system set on course for a husband, there was no solid path to follow to a career, no beautiful journey with challenges and an obstacle course to raise children only images of things, imaginary things like hallucinations, psychotropic medication that soon became not so imaginary and the usual Disney-fare, unicorns, talking mice and fairies and the Cheshire cat of which I speak so often in my short stories and a damned waterfall, David Livingstone’s waterfall, no trajectory, only adrenaline pumping through my veins. Whenever taste and sickness becomes fascinating your physical body begins to smile. Your fake mirror reflection smiles back at you, obsessed with the ethereal being you’ve become. Madness is my addiction. Missing it is my crush, my babysitter, my thin if I had an eating disorder or two. I think it’s sexy. Every day I’m seduced by it. Madness is my truth, my statement, the commentary I am making about the society that I live in today, my mother who is thin, who scolds me because I am not even though I tell her it is because of the psychotropic medication I am taking that makes me stay sane, put together, keeps me grounded but it seems to me she wants me to be high even though I am now healthy. I am fixed and the chemicals in my brain have formed their own social cohesion in their closet.  Dopamine has her own shoes. Serotonin has a drawer full of pharmaceutical pamphlets. They’ve learned to be roommates, get along, and give each other motherly or hell sisterly advice. All I know is that they’ve got it into their brains sometimes to talk about me and my weight.

I don’t go anywhere about the weight theory. I don’t entertain it. There’s too many conspiracies about that out there. For a long time I thought thin was good, easy, effortless but now I just think it is just a sick mentality. Women come in all shapes and sizes. They’re good mothers, lovers, career women, filmmakers, photographers and take pleasure in everything that they do but they do not experience highs and lows. They do not crumble under pressure. My sister is a photographer. I just thought I’d put that in there. Skinny-sister, kohl-rimmed, peacock-eyes who spends her weekends in galleries or at dinner parties. A life, a life, a life. One must amuse one self.

There might be a leap of faith, but you can never forget about the madness but how can I forget about drowning, falling half-asleep in warm bathwater after I have taken my sleeping pills. I want someone to tell me that they have done those kinds of things too.

I am falling, falling, falling and oh it is so intoxicating and who is to blame for that. Even in therapy I do not talk about my promiscuity. My other-life in another life. There’s a shift that I cannot fix. The men protected me, said I had integrity but the women had eyes like slits, bits in the workplace and they all reminded me of my mother. They stripped me of everything. How daunting it was to be nineteen. To be twenty and sinking into madness, into despair, only finding hope in books and not to have found love yet, yet always the absence of it. Of course my expectations of finding love never grew. I had known what to expect from an early age. I grew up with it. My father worshiped me and I worshiped him (it was pure, it didn’t come with drama even though perhaps in the end it was only an illusion) and I would find that out all through my life you’d get dropped fast if you did not give in to the physical love. I had convinced myself as a young child that my parents were not made for each other. Instead they were all wrong for each other and they were not soul mates fated to be together in sickness and in health till death do us part. Young, old, young-at-heart, divorced with children, single flying solo so how could I ever forget not being the daughter who was adored, who was adorable, who brought home impressive merits one after the other, success after success, the scholarship girl, the Maths genius who went to space camp and worked in New York to pay her university tuition. I have forgot how to shine unfortunately (at thirty-four can a girl still shine, no, she should be having babies, her wedding dress wrapped away delicately in tissue paper). I have forgotten how to illuminate, to blur reality, to blur the normal until it feels like snow, winter settling, filling, being driven, channelled, wedged into the sides of a lake, feeling your way into this world as the interloper, always the Outsider, the loner and not feeling that that is the weirdest part of all. I don’t dream anymore and people who have died, crossed over they visit me in my dreams and ask me after staring at me (poor brilliant girl are you still sick, what happened to all your fierce intelligence and potential when you were fourteen years old in high school) for the longest time, ‘Do you remember me?’ and I say in return. ‘Yes, yes, of course I do. You were my English teacher who died of pancreatic cancer before your time or you were diabetic, alcoholic, pill popping aunt who died before your time. You were my favourite teacher. You were my favourite aunt, my second mother and now you’ve gone dead on me.’ I wish you both were still here. Unfortunately I am still sick but nobody really seems to understand what is wrong with me when my sister seems to have the perfect life. Hatred, I will never let her go. I will never surrender her, clever girl.

What does it matter if I am a stupid girl or a clever girl? Mourning is destructive. Morning is sabotage set loose. Dreamlike, slow, metaphysical braiding the soul with the spirit, a broken self-portrait.

And what do you remember about our childhood I ask my soul and it replies nonchalantly. I want to, need to, desire to remember nothing.

The abnormal, what does that mean? Why, why do we use our heart as a weapon? My mother’s tears come to me in angelic dreams. Is this all that she had hoped for me? Misery and failure. The wolves at the door.

I am bleeding. Space. Exile. History. Nerves. Fatigue. I give it room to breathe. It is the only thing that makes me feel as if I am a woman now. Mothers and daughters must talk about these kind of things, bond over them but we never did. Insanity isn’t it?

What my mother taught me about female poets is that their words were like bows, arrows, apples wasting, falling in heaps and that a child’s eyes can see everything. Vanessa Woolf, my veil, and my apprentice. I will caution you as Achilles was cautioned. As I’m sure Virginia an incest survivor and victim of sexual violence will tell you.

I am growing old. I am growing older. Who will be my mummy then, make me tea, and see that I get out of bed, open my curtains. I believe that she thinks I have always been a threat to her. She is killing me. Her knives are sharp.

The great thing about childhood and two sisters (hating you hating me) sharing a mother, a father and a brother are that there are outgoing scars, there are wounds, that the material that they are made up of is luminous but that there is also a haunting sensation of death and there you will find an honesty open and truthful, perhaps dazed and adventures that will always lay scattered before me, before us as a family. Salvage it as a stamp, an axed scrap or splinter, an album that you page through with trembling fingers looking at dark wonder after dark wonder and one day you know it will be destroyed. Observe the comic. There is both comedy and tragedy in it. Observe the bird, its agony and often its own attempted-suicide as it falls from the nest. Sacrifice is totally unsexy.

I began to fly, see things in a different light once I reached out to books. Marvellous, wonderful things that made up for my childhood and my mother forgetting me, for her to see that I was simply non-existent in her eyes. Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes in my eyes became the beet king and queen to me perched on their earth-thrones. She was both a mother and an older sister to me. Don’t talk to me about dysfunctional families. Every family is dysfunctional in their own way. Don’t talk to me about cruelty to animals. All human beings are animals. They‘re barbaric. Tears are simply water. Believe me they can be wiped away. They shouldn’t define who you are, or your pain.

By this time it is winter. I hate love. Always have. Ever since I was a child. Don’t touch me. I would think. Don’t kiss me to say hello. Abuse can do that to you. Estrange you from people, your immediate family, and the common people. The only thing I love is madness. It’s Hollywood to me it really is. A bright light city. You have to be so careful letting people in to see the real you, trusting people and even as you are reading this I am hating you too. Look it just comes with the territory, the district. I cannot trust anyone. Mummy you really hurt me. Remember that. I need to know what humanity up close and personal really means. I was never taught what it was. Human rights were always hip during apartheid, post-apartheid, the African Renaissance, for our Rainbow children (I’d rather grieve than say Rainbow Nation). But what on earth were they? I knew as a child mine were always denied or was I simply living in a state of denial.

I could not have wished for better rejection letters. ‘You write with such energy, variety but we cannot publish this.’ Oh that one I remember with wit, it had tasted like spit before it had tasted like honey, milk, butter cookies but also bitterness and hurt. I took it quite personally. Reject. I felt that that word was illegal. Simply put. My mother constantly reminded me it was just a label. It was just as storm in a teacup. My sister smiled as if it had made her happy, joyful but already I had suffered an early death. I knew what the words suffering and sorrow meant. I also thought the rejection of my poetry and haiku was political. My guess the proverb of a skeleton.

‘I enjoyed reading this but unfortunately it will not be placed first.’ They liked it. They liked it. I was overcome, overwhelmed, felt jubilant. But still nothing was good enough. I learned to hate women by hating my emotional, my elegant, and my beautiful mother and I became another version of her but of course I was not vigilant of this in youth. Adolescence, how I miss it. Living in borrowed ignorance. I really am an orphan.

This soft, erotic woman with the strength of a man in her arms, and in her tennis legs, her beautiful white teeth biting into the soft yellow sunny-side up of a fried egg while I watched her and shrieked at her where was my own breakfast while she would just smile, her Mona Lisa smile. She was my Trojan horse, my little shop of horrors, my cancer years, my addiction for all of my life and so her pain became my illustrious pain, her struggles became my own, her burning winter became my project and soon I was the anonymous ghost-child who was a flower in the attic turned into a thief. My sensual-flawed-mother, exotic-smother over her only son.

My sister was happy. She thought she made the right life choices. Perfect doll-child. Perfect adult wearing the perfect shoes, undergarments made of lace, the daughter who is not part of me, the winter guest (I say this in all of my short stories to remain anonymous but there I am a rag doll like M. Night Shyamalan in all of his films) There I am in my little cute box, wooden, not flesh, not blood, not made of skin only violently curious (thinking I am a branch. I am a tree. I am a leaf. I am a stem. I obey. I am Whitman’s grass. I am the weather girl. We’re anticipating clouds today.) She wants no part of me, no portion because perhaps there is meat-to-my-bones.

I seldom worship God. I seldom wonder why that is.

Continue Reading

African Renaissance

The Simplicity Of Reading Matters

Published

on

My father would read my journals with the savage intent of a beast. What on earth was he searching for? He read it over and over again furiously. Passion is a kind of love medicine. You never completely grow out of it. Searching for longing (I think here I was playing the same mind game my father was as he was looking through my thick black scrawl, my scribbling) you never completely grow out of that either like playing bingo or scrabble. I knew that my mother and her sisters (my mother was the youngest out of all of them) treated me differently. A child can feel the onset of the lack of mother-love like the early death of men in the faces of their fathers, their older or younger brothers. The world is always different for beautiful women. Nobody asks of them. And what of the illumination of pain? It is not as if they sit and think about the psychological analysis in the cerebral cortex of Ingrid Jonker’s black butterflies or Ingrid (still a beautiful woman) as she would have been in the autumn of her years surrounded by family, her family, her daughter, her grandchildren, manuscript after manuscript published and unpublished. Once she was a daughter who lived for a short while in exile in Europe. But what is Europe? What is the London, the Austrian, the German, the Parisian, the Scandinavian experience? Lonely cities every one although lovely but lonely especially if you have no one to share it with. The sights, the sounds, everything illuminated, images, accents, even the aroma of coffee and freshly baked bread wafting in-the-air different. Even the night glare is different in each city as different as it was for Carson McCullers as she set out to write her autobiography. Why is it that women, that it is female poets who are touched with an almost self-imposed exile in the hours leading up to before they end their life? I mean all the greats were like that. The great female poets.

They’re the source of inspiration for male writers, for their female contemporaries, for the youth, the generation that wants to live forever, for posterity, recorded in the annals of time for researchers who can be found behind the spires of university gates. Who want their poetry to be published in slim volumes and sold to their families and friends? To be criticised would be the death of them. For their poetry to be held up to the world, to a critic in jest would be the death of them. It would mean the end of that ode, or that sonnet, or that simple haiku, their handwritten beautiful cursive notes forever about the joys and the feast of autumn (here I think of Keats, the oh-so-talented and beautiful Rupert Brooke, the Romantic poets, the stunning verses of the war poets, old men, young men, the talented and the not so gifted but who find it within themselves to see the world and to write about it every day). Rolling hills through their beautiful eyes will be as soft, gentle, and voluptuous as a beautiful woman, her skin will be as rich and creamy and thick as thick slices of bread and butter, and the sea will eventually become breadcrumbs dusted off the kitchen table (useless, used over and over, described in hundreds of ways already and would have died a hundred deaths as well. I mean isn’t there only so many ways that you can describe the sea, its dream reality, its fishy airs-and-graces, fish with blinking-eyes that can only conjure up plankton, fish with bleeding gills like slits, the waves, all of their brilliant power, magnificent symmetry, imaginary and not imaginary sea-green brutality). The woman, the angelic goddess-muse well her skin is ripe, her flesh, blood and the throne of bones that her cells rest upon will become as rich as tea to him. Watch out for them, these poets for although their hearts long for solitary life they will need the laughter and screams of children around them, a woman’s conversation too.

They think (a grave error on their part) that their personal space must be filled with a great amount of sacrifice and loneliness, that to be a poet they must only think pure thoughts. Thoughts of wuthering heights, and that they must have little writing rituals even though they think they are mocked by their peers. They think they must suffer to be a poet. They must live somewhere out in the countryside and always write and think with a brilliant clarity of vision. And the best of them unfortunately think a lot about living in poverty, not having a stable income and not being able to provide for a wife and a family, finding a house. Most especially they think that they are about to fail miserably even before they attempt to write a masterpiece. A man’s poetry well their stems will be rewarded. They will grow, they will find their own journey, their own routes to follow and be nurtured and be peeled from the sky. But it is much easier for a man to find solitude, to find peace and rest, find a little piece of heaven for the roots of his poetry to take. A man will read voraciously, eat voraciously, have a quick temper if his friends do not find his ‘anticipatory nostalgia’ up to scratch and of course they, the male of the species must be free to travel to obscure places, to leave if he pleases. He must drink a little too in the spirit of things because it is in every poet’s nature, that and to fall in love too. And the best of them well they will sink into despair. They will think that everything they write is a failure. They will hide from the world, seek the company of other men because this is what all men do with notebook in hand and hands stained with ink they will want a stamp of approval. They will want someone to say there is depth there. And the best of them, the brightest star amongst them, and the cleverest will take their critics to heart and just sometimes it will crush him and his epic consciousness.

A drawing in the sand was never enough for me as a child.  I was a child who wanted to be like Keats, an angel from another realm. I was an Alice-in-wonderland chasing after her white rabbit. I was a collector. Scattered-heaps-and-brushes-with-dandelions, earthen-potpourri, picked up (investigate-them-first-then-clean-them) shells on the beach, gulls feathers, pieces of driftwood, I tampered with stamps, ephemera, postcards, letters from overseas, from pen pals, school certificates (I shone with success, merits and excellence), notable stage roles (leads and supporting), photographs of family dead and alive, healing and in recovery, ribbons and barrettes for my hair just like Sylvia Plath when she was at Smith and I saw the miraculous healing power, instrument and hand of God in everything that I touched, that I stole, hid away from painted sight, that I looked at in my treasure box (an old shoebox that used to be filled with Sunday school shoes with buckles. I used to wear them with white school socks). I needed a network of dead poets around me, female poets, mother-figures (please don’t try and psychoanalyse me on that one because I think it is quite obvious). There was life. A life to live for and to die for. My mother entertained me or rather I entertained her like a circus-freak I think. Is it horrible, is it awful to think something like that, that your mother was a monster but because of the way she treated me she also educated me and I grew up very quickly in that house with no visible address marking it on the outside. It was also not listed in the telephone book. Pinkish-light-streaming-through-my-curtains-on- a-Saturday-night-the-telephone-that-never-rang-for-me-on-a-Saturday-night. I needed to talk to the dead. I must write I felt somehow what I was being taught to feel, think, and wonder about the world around me. What was I seeing?

Poverty, poverty of the mind, the cemetery of the mind, Dambudzo Marechera’s, spiritual poverty, children, smiling, laughing, screaming children living in poverty. There had to be an explanation for putting on a fur and then getting into a car, turning, twisting the key in the ignition and then inhaling the fumes of carbon monoxide. Anne Sexton. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Live or die she said, she growled, she moaned, she hissed under her breath.  There had to be an explanation for a woman who lives to save the lives of her children and then sticks her head in the oven. Sylvia Plath. And then there was Ingrid Jonker who drowned herself. Beautiful women. Sad women. Women who suffered. Women like me who felt terminally like Alice-in-wonderland. How do I explain that? I was a child. And I was a strange child. I was reading D.H Lawrence in primary school. Not age-appropriate. Not that I could understand very much of it. My parents were very over-protective. My siblings and I lived a very sheltered existence. In school I was infatuated with Holden Caulfield and then when I became older even more so with the elusive Jerome David Salinger. I needed emotions. I needed to feel. I yearned for it. A lack of mother-love can do that to you. Perhaps that is why I write today. I sell my slim volumes of poetry to my father’s family and friends. I don’t think that this world knows what to make of me. Poetry to me is a wilderness. I love it there. It’s so organic. I am the creator making chain stitches, and there’s not a dead thing about them, they’re so elegant and leave me feeling satisfactory, pure and wholesome. When I write it is as if I am operating under the direction of another. The connection is permanent. Fingers weave active, endless imaginings like clouds, and nothing is wasted, even the wild has a certain sweetness rough though it is.

Thoughts are like skin, faintly in the beginning they are haunting and secretive, damning, larger than life, winter in my hands revisited again, and again ravishing me. They never touch my physical body though. Those fingers. There is no voice. Believe me it is easy for a child to think if she writes down the words on paper that roses are red that she is communicating with the dead.

Leave me alone. I’m a scorpion. I have vamp-fangs. Poison-and-oil, its twin dripping from them. But in the end I loved too much anyway. I fall hard. I fly high. People fall in love all the time so why the hell can’t I. Purity-being-dolls-forget-the-pain-is-that-what-the-terms-are?

Oh-shattered-pitiful-coming-from-pain-each-and-every-individual this can be family-life.

The adult in me wants a room. A quiet room in the sun and that receives a fair amount of light. An artist’s room. Artists need light like they need their workspace and their muse, their models, their inspiration, their entourage and of course a wife who would also function as a wonderfully efficient housekeeper. The room must only have the essentials. Of course like in Vincent van Gogh’s room there must be a bed and a desk. I have no use for an easel.

From my room I will watch the world go by and think of girls dancing in the pale moonlight arm-in-arm with their boyfriends or their husbands-to-be like my mother once was. She forced, dragged my father to go to dancing lessons. He was so terrible, always stepping on her toes. 

In the end it’s the ghost of my paternal grandmother’s sea that saved me really if I have to be honest. She was a maid, a domestic worker who also did washing and ironing and raised five children and my grandfather worked as a barman. He would go down on his hands and knees, a grown man and scrub the floors of that country club. At night he would eat his leftover plate of grease of meat and potatoes. A plate of grease. Gosh he had beautiful hair. Of course he had also gone off ‘fought in the war’ in Kenya and when he returned to Port Elizabeth, to the suburb of South End (before the forced removals, the Group Areas Act, Europeans only understand, and apartheid seized the hearts and the minds of the white minority) he was given a bicycle (a bicycle you understand) and a coat. And when he died they gave his medals to my father. The black sheep of the family. You see, that I don’t understand at all. Guess what?

It is inevitable that reading matters, that life has hips and poetry too.

I gave myself up to the tenderness in the dark. I could feel them. I was always at their mercy, that they (other poets, my companions for life) needed me a little too much.

I guess the grief that they had carried throughout their own lives had not been enough for them to silence them. Even in death they thought out of the box.

The voices. I promised them everything will come out in the end for the good, for the good. I will permit it.

Continue Reading

African Renaissance

Within South Africa’s Borders and What They Can Teach Us

Published

on

The integrity of the personality and poet is one that faces the philosophical gaze yet relevant opinion that winners in the political arena who are outspoken and authoritative women are generally feministic in their outlook and intellectual in their leanings towards the disposition of whatever firebrand, dazzling and political means. Digital empires and social media networking is neither a novel game or inasmuch gainful territory for the masses but for a sporadic few it means meaningful employment. When it comes to what is trending, forecasting or popular whether it be titular, misgivng, prophetic or revealing somewhat it seems that literature is either puritan or the writer thereof hero-worshiped in some way by not only the establishment but the masses have cause to as well. 

Given that the pendulum can often swing in the opposite direction corruption marks an exit from a tribal group of broader-based affinity, rather a kind of predestined and ordered influence of sound presentiment where then each sector sought to dominate thinking and class structure, personal co-dependency, to now an individualistic format of thinking, a gap of seismic proportions that is steadily increasing. This secular arrangement is tantamount to a Roman world where glory means the innocents who live in steadfast poverty cease to exist amongst wealth and prosperity, culture, heritage, livelihoods and traditions and the brutality of the collapsing society due to the pandemic’s onset where we cannot build bridges to secure both financial and emotional security and psychological appeasement for the exhaustion that threatens our livelihood, which is Mother Earth and climate change. 

Media, psychology, culture, poetry have all had their roles to play in the endowment of a cashstrapped and marginalised society. Largely the majority of a nation was overtaken by a minority which led to unsuccessful ways of dealing with the lack of training, skills and expertise to take the rest of Africa from a kind of purification plan from the minority to majority leadership. 

Segregation is more than a story about the acquisition of justice, emancipation and liberation. It is about culturalism, socialism, the enslaved African mindset and attitude, standards of protocol, patriotism and process. This landscape is constantly changing. As poetry evolves, so do our poetic voices and challenges. Being that as it may we must look not to power, we must look not to our social interactions within the context of race and faith and images of force (authority and leadership, education and psychology, philosophical undertakings), we must look not to equate them with partisan truth and compartmentalised beauty but to art and artistic endeavours. 

It has led to standing on platforms and talking shop on the mental strain, the underdevelopment of dealing with stressful and depressive episodes which has led to alcoholism, addiction and mental illness in families across the colour line in South Africa. The need for adequate medical information, change and impact to take place at all levels of civil society, political consent is a grave and urgent matter whereby the parties in question organise themselves into a coalition for the working classes. I think in that way both socialism in the sphere of a democracy will be recognised on the terms of policy and law makers and all stakeholders. 

There are important thoughts, words, deeds and actions that generations of writers and South African poets have embraced definitively that has improved our social standing, that has necessitated equality and debate of the infinite time and space that exists in action. Whether it be political action, poetic action, economic action, mental and emotional action on the wellness of the physical body. But does the sensibility of what we are writing make sense, is it understood in a linear arrangement, can it be investigated further, the dynamism of information technology in this age of digital media, and how does poetry reach the masses if our laws cannot, what do principles and values stand for in lawless communities if you alone are a law abiding citizen. 

Radicals have a passion for skating on thin ice. I think to improve the democracy we live in we have to look at what we yearn for. Not to fail, not to discriminate and to create art. 

In the end, our psychological framework has become our internal adversary and the environment the external.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending