Poetry Project

Poetry and second-favourite artforms

when seeds float in / from another discipline . . .

Where do you go for inspiration? Some poets dance, others go hiking or gardening, still others might immerse themselves in music. Does getting your fingers into clay spark a rhythm of words, or doodling with a pencil?

Have a look at this Guardian article about six writers’ favourite second artform. Then write a poem inspired by the parallel artistic space. Or write a poem about the second art form that feeds the poet in you. Send your finished poems to pieter@slipnet.co.za before the 1st of July. I will respond to the poems and select the best for publication here.

Submitted Poems

My mother the sea major
Jolyn Phillips

She has only her voice
Singing out of her hands
stitching nets
singing out of her hands
my mother the sea major
whistles for the fish to bite
whistling without flats or sharps
her skin calloused scales because of the sun
because of her son somewhere whistling in the waves too

words are too do re mi fah with her

Urbane Fathering
Ross Fleming

My first memories centre on you,
hypnotised by the way you lent gently
into an ancient bit and brace,
your sharpened awl shown
with respect and
a cautious, knowing look.

The legitimate intoxication of wood glue in the vice -
The roughness of a rasp introduced with a rolling
characteristic rrr and a dramatic, dangerous flourish;
The secret home-made panel in my bedside cupboard
that only we two amateur carpenters knew about.

Your practical guide to absolutely everything,
shaping a world view, one small puzzle piece at a time.

Patiently present, your amused tolerance
of my endless why dads.

So is it not strange that
I find my way with words
free, relaxed and funny,
eccentric excellence my eventual aim,
head space for experimentation,
room to imagine -
My write-hand man.

The Art of Skin
Ross Fleming

When all else has been taken from you,
your sanity has been decimated,
your family gone to foreign parts,
your mode of employment is a general, public joke,
and you think of yourself as possibly
a reincarnation of the friggin' antichrist,
(No, Really?)
Do not be surprised
When the most accommodating
phenomenon on the planet,
takes on a receptiveness,
meaning, and lazy charm
never before realized.

today I found peace from a muddled, mad mind,
Just sitting on a warm verandah,
the anonymous caress of sunshine
gently moving over my body,
the lazy lick of a slight zephyr
to help me breathe,
(In out in out hmmn?)
and listened to the wordless words
flowing into me from the far-off ocean
that waits for us all.

Kyle Louw

Write a poem about the second art form that feeds the poet in me
It is she
She does not refer to a single entity
But rather
The entire human race
Be it a loving mother
A disciplining father
A friend’s smile
Or stranger’s face

It is the interactions with people that fuel my inspirations
It is the smiles shared with people that drive my creations
I need not music, film, or art
As it is the human factor that sets these disciplines apart
Music is not music without Jimi Hendrix, Bach, and Mozart
Film cannot inspire without Alfred Hitchcock and Quentin Tarantino
Art has no desire without Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso

Write a poem about the second art form that feeds the poet in me
It is she
It is he
It is you

Cellphone Snapshots
Jeannie Wallace McKeown

fumble the phone
press to capture
an instant
after my finger flexes

cannot freeze a subject
hold the sun out of clouds
may miss the colour

may catch another
missing is not failing
jewels are caught
irrespective of my plans

snapshots of a future
before it happens

River Beach Snapshot
Jeannie Wallace McKeown

Taken quickly
two evenings ago
filter dropped over raw image

a boy
a dog
left deep in sand
walking towards water

It could be 1979
it could be me
perhaps once it was

Enough to know
it is caught forever

While reading page 15 of her biography
John Eppel

I entered Frida Kahlo’s door
by way of the ‘o’ in her name;
she’d blurred it but I found the frame
and subsided to the earth’s core.

Always, always, she waits for me,
dancing with eyelids, hips and hands;
dance of moonlight on desert sands,
smiling enigmatically.

Her legs are long, a long black dress,
sashaying of oasis palms;
older than David’s oldest psalms,
younger than yesterday’s distress.

Exited Fri[e]da Kahlo’s door -
Diminishing unearthly moan;
not surprised at being alone
on the edge of a teeming shore.

After Karl Hofer
John Eppel

Will you be my shadow against the moon
emerging naked from the distant hills
where light like liquid alabaster spills,
and crosses tilt, turn spiky … will you, soon?

Will you shelter me from the sun at noon
as it drives its fist through my floppy hat,
as it renders me down to marrow-fat
in a pot of primal soup … will you, soon?

Shall I be your dusk on a couch too small,
the dryish white wine you forget to sip
though something liquid lingers on your lip -
like moonlight, clouds drifting, the ghostly call
of memories recalled - on your cheek, brow,
spectacles, extending hair … shall I, now?

Linda Zinzi Sealy

You've probably seen me
my hair in braids
wearing the beads
looking like a housewife
standing in the queue at Woolworths
walking my dog in the park
or in the shopping centre
paying my bills.
Maybe you've seen me at the river's edge
clapping and calling
anointing myself
or beneath the forest trees
talking to the nature spirits.
But you haven't seen me
dancing in the dust
in a place where few whites go.
Neither have you seen me
in the herb smoked indhumba
watching me throw the bones.

I can heal you
guide you
medicine you
clean you.

So next time you see me
look closer

Sheep in art...and life
Keith Edwards

Henry Moore, best of all, rendered them plumply,
in the smoke-signal scribbles of the elementary
drawing class, harbinger perhaps, of all his
'Mother and child' statues in metal or stone.
For the rest, in art, not much.

I sometimes wonder, though, where,
for the all-life-is-sacred crowd, sheep
lie along the line between the sacrificeable
and the at-all-costs-to-be-saved.

So might all-life-is-sacred ponder this while on some outdoor ramble,
striding along in designer boots and shoes, and
massacring underfoot as they go, small lives
and smaller millions.


The first half of the first stanza of Art of Skin by Ross Fleming is written in the second person as an angry lament. Here the use of the passive tense implies an anonymous (malevolent?) agency, perhaps setting up the tension between that and the ocean of creativity and perhaps death referred to at the end. Changing this section to the first person and cutting the second half of the first stanza – from Do not be surprised – would be more effective to my mind. It would make the rage of the muddled, mad mind personal and less of a lecture. Some of the content of the second half of the second stanza could then be moved and incorporated into the last stanza. Take out words and phrases like never before realized and Just and gently – they are all implied already.

Ross Fleming’s poem Urbane Fathering is an interesting take on the exercise. The art form that has informed his poetry – carpentry - he learnt from his father and has as much to do with the father himself as the art form. There is some lovely alliteration and assonance that reveals aspects of the craft. I would scrap the line that only we two amateur carpenters knew about, and change The in the previous line to Our for clarity. Writing on into the overlap between carpentry and poetry might well reveal some other analogies.

Kyle Louw’s poem Human also looks through the work of art to the person who created them, and here he finds his inspiration. The poem would benefit from the further exploration of what exactly it is about people that inspires the poet. “Loving Mother’ and ‘stranger’s face’ are too generic for the reader to understand what specific quality or action the poem refers to. The adage ‘It is better to tell the soldier’s story than the story about the war’ applies. Get specific, get up close and personal, pen the detail, and the poem will jump to a whole new level.

Jeannie Wallace McKeown’s two poems both play with time passing and time frozen through her other art form: photography. The form and content enhance each other – snappy snapshot images, short lines and compact stanzas. I am interested that in both poems Jeannie has largely excluded the photographer. This works in parts, as a device to make the reader focus on the image rather than the one who shoots it, but the use of the passive tense can be alienating, as in the lines jewels are caught and it is caught forever. Perhaps revisit these and see if there is good enough motivation to use the passive.

In My mother the sea major Jolyn Phillips has penned a powerful and mysterious image. The poet reports on the relationship between her mother, music and her mother’s son. Both C major and sea major imply dominance, yet this mother has only her voice / Singing out of her hands, and her efforts have not yet caught the fish, nor found the son who we are told is somewhere whistling in the waves too. I like the interplay between music and the sea, with the repetition of waves and scales, the neverending nature of both, and the inference of drowning.

I would cut the last line, and perhaps also cut because of the sun. I don’t think they add to the poem.

I like the title While reading page 15 of her biography by John Eppel, and the images in the first stanza. The rhythm and rhyme employed by the poet enhances the dance of sex and creativity. But for me the poem is not there yet. Many of the images feel generic and forced into the rhyming scheme, which distances me from the feeling of the poem.

In Shadowing - After Karl Hofer, John Eppel explores inspiration and a kind of mentoring by a deceased artist of a contemporary poet. I love the way the poem shifts from an appeal to the artist to assist the poet, to the poet offering himself up as images in Hofer’s art works. Here the images, rhythm, rhyme and feelings of desire and fear work well together. The repeated refrain of the question heightens the mood

Sangoma by Linda Zinzi Sealy sets up appearances versus what lies beneath. I suggest changing the title, so that the reader goes with the first appearance of the narrator as a housewife in Woolworths, and only later realises that this person is not what she appears to be. I would also cut the second stanza. One of the arts of writing is to know how much to put down so that you are clear, and when to refrain from writing down too much and failing to trust that your reader will get it.

Keith Edwards’ poem Sheep in art...and life starts with a description of Henry Moore’s work, then wanders off to thoughts about whether and when life is sacred. The link between these two aspects of the poem is too tenuous. I suggest writing on and deeper into the theme. Also I know that much poetry reads like prose nowadays, but it if the subject of the poem concerns art and the sacred, I would argue for spending time finding the words, phrases, rhythms and images that are less pedestrian – the poet achieves this in the first stanza.

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