Poetry Project

The Gift

In Lewis Hyde’s book called The Gift, he investigates different cultural attitudes to giving and receiving. There are people, he reminds us, who measure wealth by how much they give, not by how much they have.

We are entering one of the times of the year where we are pressed to consume goods and food that we do not need in the face of massive poverty.

One of my sons attended a Waldorf high school for some years. I once attended the first assembly, where the hall was filled with all the children in the school, from Grade One to Grade Thirteen. As part of the ceremony, the young adults who were entering their final year went up to the small children entering their first year, and, one by one, the tall, awkward, or svelte young people presented the little ones with posies of hand-picked flowers. Over and above the powerful symbolic gesture contained in such a ritual, I was struck by how many ways there are to give and to receive. No two of the forty-odd interactions were the same.

Write a poem about giving, receiving and taking in any context and send it to slip.stellenbosch@gmail.com before or on the 30th of December.

On the Subway

Sharon Olds


The boy and I face each other.
His feet are huge, in black sneakers
laced with white in a complex pattern like a
a set of intentional scars. We are stuck on
opposite sides of the car, a couple of
molecules stuck in a rod of light
rapidly moving through darkness. He has the
casual cold look of a mugger,
alert under hooded lids. He is wearing
red, like the inside of the body
exposed. I am wearing dark fur, the
whole skin of an animal taken and
used. I look at his raw face,
he looks at my fur coat, and I didn't
know if I am in his power-
he could take my coat so easily, my
briefcase, my life-
of if he is in my power, the way I am
living off his life, eating the steak
he does not eat, as if I am taking
the food from his mouth. And he is black
and I am white, and without meaning or
trying to I must profit from his darkness,
the way he absorbs the murderous beams of the
nation's heart, as black cotton
absorbs the heat of the sun and holds it. There is
no way to know how easy this
white skin makes my life, this
life he could take so easily and
break across his knee like a stick the way
his own back is being broken, the
rob of his soul that at birth was dark and
fluid and rich as the heart of a seedling
ready to thrust up into any available light.


Seitlhamo Motsapi

& so the new blackses arrive
all scent & drape to their clamour
head & heart the liquid odour
of roads that defy oceans

from the fiery splash of pool
pits they preach us redamp
shun from the dust
of the old ways

their kisses bite
like the deep bellies of conputers
the gravy of their songs
smells like the slow piss of culculatahs

& so
the new blackses arrive
& promise us life beyond the bleed
of the common yell
they promise us new spring
for the slow limp
of our heads

the ladder finds the sky at last
heart or herd slinks to the waters
mbira grows into a synthesizer
the songs ask for more sugar
& my salt sets sail for babylon

Submitted Poems


You ask me out and I
say yes to the with-other-couple
We are both hitting our mid-fifties and you

with, oh – those eyelids
(such beauty in
such small integuments)

are married, a mother.
(A problem at home, they say,
a depressed husband, housebound.)

[2nd verse]
At the after-movie
coffee-for-four more
outings are mooted.
You, brightly:
‘Shall we go?’
Like a blow
one word
tips me into the Prufrock role:
Fear, ideas of morality
Myself as “the other man”?

[3rd verse ]
Motor neurone disease
took you at sixty.
Your shy self gave - so much.
Did I give
Too little.

Keith Edwards


Hier op die Vlaktes dryf 'n reën, elke dag,
Maak nie saak wattie môre se weather report sê nie,
hier is dit altyd onweer.
Hier is die druppels dodelik.
Om elke hoek, oppie ope grond,
jy sien hulle nie kom nie:
hoor net die klap en skram en kreun.
En dan die skreë.
En die stilte van die lywe - grondlêend.

Ja, hier op die Valktes
is al wat kak is
wanneer dit kom by die weer.

Wat staan dit dan
vir 'n digter te doen
in hierdie verweerde gebied?
Wel, miskien kan hy, sy
die pen optel,
die Ipad nader skuif
en skryf oor -
beskryf -
die reënweer.

Keith Edwards


I’m reading poetry from a forgotten schoolbook;
Sepamla, Gwala, Serote, van Wyk,
doing the dompas dance, taking kwela-kwela rides,
falling from the ninth floor,
deep in the poetry of the country in which
I grew up (but never knew).

The doorbell of my parents’ house
rings and rings again, over and over, a finger pressed to it without pause,
jangling me back to now.

Out the upstairs window I see a group of youths
ringing bells, asking for ‘Christmas’.
They are black, they are poor,
but they have shoes and shirts,
carefully crafted hairstyles, battered skateboards.
These kids go to school.
They don’t carry passes.
The bell peals on and on.

“Go away!” I shout,
suddenly irritated beyond reason.
“I have no money to give you!”
No rand notes with Mandela’s face in my wallet.

Later I think about how this is not the country
of Serote or Gwala or van Wyk’s poems,
but it is still I who am the guest
behind electric gates,
with my white skin and a Mastercard
on which I keep my money.

Jeannie McKeown

Was it really you?

Today after years since your passing
I saw you.
A man like you
disabled postured aged and moving
just like you.
He passed me in his wheelchair
down the middle of the road.
I caught my breath
wanting to follow him.

Then it came to me.
An overwhelming sorrow
tears racked within me.

You were a man so needy.
The tyranny of the sick
demanded each day
our allegiance and care
for little return.

Giving and receiving
then taking not giving.
Grasping and taking
is how you became.

What does this visitation mean?
How can it serve me
now you are gone?
Visiting your grave
there was no answer.
Asking again-
what purpose does this serve
when all is past
and a new life waits for me?

Linda Zinzi Sealy

please do not exclaim

or attempt to
raise your voice
or wave your arms
to attract attention
all is above board
and legally sewn up
and being carefully
managed we understand
your foibles and fancies and
strengths and whims
and impulses we have
studied your profile
and preferences and
comfort zones we
are listening to you
please understand that
our demands are
simple and tailor made
to suit your pocket
do not panic please
remain calm do not
use the lifts we repeat
do not use the lifts
you are about to be
served the mask is
slipping may I just
fiddle with your wallet
I am just loosening the
there that feels better
doesn't it fly now pay
later you have all the credit
in the world can I just
fondle your ten
rand note there you can
have it back again
straight afterwards
we are going to abstract
small amounts from
your bank account bit
by bit until you are so
confused you will be
only too glad to go
into debt counselling
you have something we require
it will be simpler
just to hand it over
trust me I know what
I'm doing can you sign
here and initial there
oh and here too
silly me sorry thank you
god bless you sir
it was a real pleasure
doing business with
you have a nice day

'The tax man is a bloody thief!' - Dot Botha (25.12.1978)

Ross Fleming

The shawl across the neck

and so it is
to give a token
of my love to you,
I have not
nor silver
but a pink shawl and a blue one
that goes across the neck
the thin lady
across my street
the only she has
was the thin linen on her thin body
not a single shawl she has
even in the dark,cold night

the more you give,
the more you have,
so I remember grandma says
I had only my blue shawl
to keep my soul and body
in dark, cold nights.

Odebode Karimot


Onweer, Keith Edwards’ poem written in Afrikaans, has lovely rhymes and off-rhymes, and I enjoyed the humour of the ending, which offset the tone of darkness and tinge of despair in the earlier stanzas. His other poem, Giving, also has some interesting alliteration and assonance, but it needs more development, both in content and in form. The reader needs to feel more for the situation the two people find themselves in and the use of language needs to be more engaging.

Jeannie McKeown’s poem Christmas takes a look at the differences and similarities between apartheid and democratic South Africa from a white middle class perspective. It read too much like prose, and the subject matter was not explored in a satisfying enough way for this reader. Perhaps a shorter poem that focusses more on the interesting juxtaposition of monetary note with Mandela’s face on a it and a Mastercard could work.

In Linda Zinzi Sealy’s poem Was it really you? the narratoris reminded of someone she was close to and looked after when she sees someone who is similarly disabled in a wheelchair. For this poem to work we need more detail about what the constant giving and taking was like, and a more developed link with the theme – did the ‘visitation’ feel as though the departed person was again taking – this time the narrator’s sense that a new life was possible?

In please do not exclaim Ross Fleming develops the voice of a thief / advertiser / technocrat who is wheedling money from an unwitting person. I like it that you don’t understand fully who is doing what to whom until the end, and there are some lovely run-on lines that play with cliché and double meaning. Smooth operator came to mind. Form and content work well here.

The voice in The shawl across the neckbyOdebode Karimot has a lilting, lyrical tone, and language one might find in the Bible with the religious text’s emphasis on sharing and taking care of the poor. The understated way the gift is given is effective, as is the assonance of ‘thin linen’. Repetition of lines implies endurance, and a mantra to keep out the cold. The image of the shawl across the neck and those in need who live ‘across the road’ evoke vulnerability and the proximity of death. The short lines create a long thin poem, suggesting a scarf, emaciation, and the line that divides life from death. I suggest emphasizing the thinness of the shape of the poem to enhance this effect.

The ‘you’ in the poem seems to be aimed at the reader, and not at the lady. The poem itself is a gift of love, a reminder that there are people who are prepared to give when they themselves have so little. What is given is a token; it stands in for love, yet it might be the very thing that makes a difference.

Dawn Garisch January 2015

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