Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sex and the poetry section

Between the Lines

Feb 20, 2010 11:12 PM | By Ann Donald


Ann Donald: In January I was part of a large gathering of poetry fans who had the privilege of listening to a live performance of TS Eliot's The Waste Land by John Cartwright, accompanied on the double bass by Leroy Cowley.


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For 45 minutes we were entranced by the words and the music, and were reminded of how rare a pleasure it is to hear classics such as this read aloud (Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats sung loudly on an opera stage may be entertaining, but doesn't count).

For most of us poetry was something we "did" at school or university. We probably wrote our own poems only for homework assignments or during the emotional Zeitgeist that was 16. For me, poetry first touched my heart when a boy sent me a copy of John Donne's The Good-Morrow. But, alas, our love turned out not to have been "mix'd equally", and by 17 it had both slackened and died.

As did, almost, my interest in poetry. It's not that I disliked the poetic form or doubted that it could make me a better person, but life took over and it simply got forgotten for a while. And then I moved to Kalk Bay, where one can't walk down the street without tripping over (or being run over by Gus Ferguson on his bicycle) some of the best poets writing in South Africa today. So the work of Gus, Ingrid de Kok, Stephen Watson, Finuala Dowling, the late Margaret Legum and others, encouraged me to dip into the art form again.

What I found was a thriving "underground" of poets writing, publishing and performing. This is not to say they were selling their work, because those South Africans who actually buy books are generally not buying poetry. And the poorer we are for it. Though not as poor as the publishers and editors who, despite all the signs, insist on keeping poetry alive: Snailpress, New Contrast, Kwela Books, and Modjaji Books, key among them.

If you are at all persuaded to pick up some poetry, to find out who's out there and whether you want to read more of their work, look out for live performances in your area. In Cape Town, we are fortunate to have Hugh Hodge's Off the Wall sessions in Observatory, Kommetjie and Kalk Bay, and the Cape Cultural Collective's performances at the District Six Museum. At these gatherings you can hear anything from the lyrical performance poetry of Lebo Mashile, Malika Ndlovu or Sindiwe Magona, the prize-winning work of Rustum Kozain, the intimate verse of Liesl Jobson, the wisdom and grace of Lewis Watling, and the whimsical, satirical rhymes of Gus Ferguson (a genius in word distillation).

At a recent gathering we had the joy of hearing poetry read in its original language, on this occasion German and Irish Gaelic. When the words are foreign, the rhythm and cadence emerge unencumbered by literal meaning and the effect is sublime music. Ultimately, poetry is a form of meditation, and poets are creatures who see an edge to words and life that they are generous enough to share with the rest of us.

So when next you are in a bookshop, ask for poems - if for no other reason than you never know what you will find there.

As Ferguson muses in Holding Pattern:

A couple called Gladys and Rexwere suddenly keen to have sex(such urgency's slightly perverted),"But where can we do it?" cried she"The poetry section!" said he"I've noticed it's always deserted."

Sunday Times

Comments by Sonny

Would Zuma's grunts be regarded as sex or poetry?

....."Twas a night for romance and chocolate coated with raunchy sex".....