We were always free
My history is not slavery,
My history is the Shamans of the old-earth,
the readers of the sun and the animals.
My history is bare-foot Kalahari-desert exploration,
a skin unafraid of a burning gaseous mass,
a skin which can withstand even the roughest conditions.
My history is sun-kissed cheeks and hands not lazy to work in the earth.
We ascended from a people who shut the crevice between two worlds,
with a void so big that you will be forced to renounce your ‘colour’,
all in the name of power and economic freedom.
My people never were ‘yellow’, ‘coloureds’, ‘basters’, ‘hotnots’, ‘meide’,
We were always all beautiful-brown divine,
all bountiful hips and unapologetic hair,
pearly teeth with mouths wide enough to swallow our grief,
and a skin imbued with the song of the moon.
My people had their souls roaming free.
In space and in time, unashamedly free.
free from the preying eyes that would, eventually,
make sweet-meat out of them.
I am shedding myself from historical oppression,
and I become the Khoi-San gods:
I am Heitsi-eibib,
here to collect the royalties of the past,
readying for the redemption.
I am Coti,
giving birth to enlightenment,
in a world which is ignorant to the truth.
I am Tsui'goab,
with rage rumbling inside,
prophesising the fall off those who have denied us.
Heitsi-ebib, Coti, Tsui’goab.
My people were always free.
I was always free.
We will forever stay free.
Choosing a Heritage
White South African?
Nay my tsina
Citizen of the world?
Okay how about compulsive outsider?
Hmmn delusions of grandeur
Remember that off the wall teacher
mathematician, dope mert, free thinker,
painted his front door purple
with yellow spots?
'A banana is a chemical formula'
A most profound metaphor
Okay just for today and
for the purposes of Heritage Day
I'm a banana.
Granny left her tea set.
Grandpa left his eyebrows.
Someone left the barn.
My daughter wants to drink tequila.
His eyebrows make me look like him.
My husband got the barn
With a barn owl:
Eyes like saucers turned at us
Peering in the door.
I want to look like someone else;
I don’t know who.
The barn burned down,
The owl left;
My daughter, too.
names and religion come just after date of birth – Paul Simon
what’s handed down
to me at birth
to see the world by
names for things
the shape of home
the body’s growing
the way of things
the jokes and songs
& lullabyes of cruelty
the rules to know
who has gone before
what ties me
to the crooked truths
your ancestors burnt
a way of being
our brothers took up arms
to break each other’s lives
& deaths into this land
like the sunshine and the mountains
and the lies we hold
what we choose
to hold dear
not yours only
the writ of our pain
the fingerpaint of hope
the years and years told
wall by wall
each brick and its breaking
can we bear it
can we bear each other
what we share
the one by one
and is this the where and now of people everywhere
the slip-fret way of alive
where to return
is home then this
in an open door
why this way
you want it
could you ever be
what blames you
the thingness of place
echoes in need
In the room men and women came and went,
talking of Hawking and the firmament.
on escalator ascending.
She lifts her mouth to kiss.
They touch and touch.
Twenty-five years earlier
in almost-deserted mall,
we felt that importunity of need.
A security guard passing asked, politely:
Please stop doing that.
We felt it in almost-deserted museum
in the Whale-Well,
before the ammonite fossil display,
the flint axe-heads.
Our clinches were like a deadly wrestle.
When we walked out security guards
smiled and smiled.
Closed-circuit cameras had caught us,
“…And so to recap:
Shakespeare we venerate, above all,
now and always.
We speak the language spoken by
millions. Millions more are needed.
Those who know, tell there are
6909 spoken languages.
That is 6908 too many.
We do not need such babel.
Such profusion sows only misery
Moribund tongues must be helped to die.
Self-immolation of the rest, save ours,
must be encouraged.
We will – we must – work tirelessly to make
this land, this world, safe for our language
and to ensure Liberal Democracy.
So ends our discourse.”
Peroration from the address given by the president
of the Monolingua Society (S.A. Chapter) (MONLINGSACHAP)
on the occasion of Heritage Day (S.A.) 2014.
Merchants of Greed
Don’t ask me to keep quiet!
I must defecate what is stinking in my mind.
My brother! Pour me more palm wine to straighten my tongue;
I must talk wisdom in dangling.
Behold! There they come, agents
appearing in fragrance; rot in mind.
Corrupt creatures; deceitful tongues.
With purified lips, they proclaim saviours but
their hearts thunder to plunder.
They have paralyzed the law; made foe, the right ways.
They have created illusions; made captives the gullible.
They have injected the masses with leprosy
to meander their fingers through their little wealth.
Sin-sick souls: coughers of pestilence.
Shenanigans! Aficionados of criminality!
Chameleons! Ladders of slavery!
They have planted pain and wail on the streets
to make us spectators of life; beggars of our own heritage.
Here they are. Alas! Our own kinsmen.
In Hyren Peterson’s praise poem, We were always free, form and content work well together. In celebrating both freedom from oppression and prejudice, and the power and stature of his ancestors, the long open lines and rhythm impart a sense of liberation. I like the evocation of the three Khoi-San gods as the narrator takes on their characteristics so as to escape his own historical oppression. There are some lovely alliterations and assonances imbued / moon, gaseous mass, prophesising / denied us. The second stanza contains a wonderful image of a crevice between two worlds being shut, but I found it hard to follow what the poet is saying about this. At the moment it reads that the crevice was shut by a void. Paradox is great, but I don’t think this was intended. I imagine that the void and crevice are the same thing. Also, it reads that one renounces one’s ‘colour’ in the name of power and economic freedom. I imagine the poet meant that the concept of colour was introduced by those who wanted to exploit race in the name of power and economic freedom. Just a few tweaks needed for clarity. Also, there are a few lines where the rhythm stumbles. I like the phrase unapologetic hair but in the line it trips the tongue. I suggest taking the out out of the line make sweet-meat out of them.
Ross Fleming’s satirical title Choosing a Heritage sets up the poem well. The narrator rails against labels and historical categories, recalling instead a maverick teacher who defied definitions. It’s a good idea, but the poem feels like notes towards a poem as there isn’t enough shape to it yet, and the leap from the spotted front door to the chemical banana is too wide for this reader. Well worth working on. Part of the problem could be the tight deadline between the posting of the prompt and the date the poems have to be submitted. The time period is going to be extended.
Emily Buchanan’s poem They Left deftly weaves three kinds of heritage into a bittersweet and hilarious poem about what is given and what is taken (or not taken) away. I would suggest changing Eyes like saucers turned at us to Eyes like saucers turned towards us for clarity; this also slows and enhances the movement. I also felt that I don’t know who should go, as it doesn’t add to the previous line I want to look like someone else, and I think the line would work well standing alone, but the problem with dropping I don’t know who is that one then loses the satisfying rhyme with the last line My daughter, too. How about altering it to: but who? In pondering this, I notice that the owl is present in the word who. Ha ha!
Marike Beyers sets up her poem titled heritage with a quote from Paul Simon: names and religion come just after date of birth . It’s a tough brief as the quote says it all, and the first thing I wondered as I started reading was what writing an extended poem would add to the punch of that one line. The poem has a weak start, but then succeeds wonderfully. I would cut the first stanza and a bit, and begin with:
the way of things
the jokes and songs
& lullabyes of cruelty
I like the form: the repeated refrain is it as the narrator revolves the questions in her mind that most of us fail to ask, as a fish might fail to notice water. I like the blocks of observations, like parcels that are handed to us as inheritance, or heritage, and the way the asides unpack these assumptions. The poem is well felt through, capturing pain and loss, and the unfinished question of the ending throws the reader into the void of how we might change our inherited beliefs and prejudices. The line the slip-fret way of alive is a wonderful play on words and images. I would change madiba magic, as thinking and feeling goes dead around clichés.
One reason I enjoy commenting on Slipnet Poetry Project is that it forces me to pay deep attention to a poem that I might otherwise have skimmed. My job is to try to spend time working out what the poet is trying to do. As Jeanette Winterson pointed out in her wonderful book of essays on the visual arts ‘Art Objects’, someone who is viewing a painting that has taken months to create, should not assume that they will ‘get it’ as they whizz past in their lunch break. We need to spend time with a work both to create it and to apprehend it.
Marike’s second poem heritage 2 is a case in point. On first reading, the meaning slipped out of my grasp towards the end. Sitting with it, I see that the form and content are working in tandem. In the first stanza, the poet starts in the concrete named world, questioning whether we want what we have. In the second stanza, she throws into doubt whether what we know (read: have inherited through naming) could make us whole. The way I read it, she leaves the question of what makes us whole unfinished, refusing to name it. The last two stanzas point to our reliance on inherited naming to categorise and blame, born of our neediness for certainty in the face of the unknown. I like the way the poem moves from what we know to what we are only dimly aware of.
Keith Edwards’ first submission Prufrock updated is one I imagine Gus Ferguson would publish immediately. Ha ha!
His second, Young lovers , is a reflection on three events where passion was expressed in public places, and the responses of the beholders. It’s a gentle, nostalgic, and humorous piece. I would situate the reader better in the first stanza – I had to read it over to understand what was happening: that the narrator’s sight of two lovers brought back two incidents from his past. I would also do a couple of small edits: Please stop that anddeleting she supposed. A suggestion for the third stanza:
Later, in the Whale-Well,
before the ammonite fossil display
and flint axe-heads,
our clinches were a deadly wrestle.
Keith’s third poem Planet Monolingua is putatively from a speech. Itreads like satire, yet the quotation marks suggest that the extract is a found poem, quoted. Stranger things have happened. If you’re interested in checking the facts, go Google. Ultimately, I feel this idea would be better as a Monty Python skit than a poem.
Merchants of Greed by Philip Addo takes the form of a praise poem, but instead denounces those who abuse power. The first stanza opens with a striking image of the narrator ridding himself of what is stinking in his mind, yet he needs palm wine to gather courage to reveal the true nature of corruption. There are some lovely images: Ladders of slavery! and They have planted pain and wail. The final proclamation: Alas! Our own kinsmen is the final blow, posing an implicit question: what does it take for people in power to behave badly? A quibble: in a free verse poem, the sudden insertion of a rhyming phrase thunder to plunder sticks out. I don’t think it works in this context.