A small poem unexpectedly got the attention of judges in a mini competition I joined in March 2023 soon after I returned to Cape Town. (I know that I still have to share stories about my trip to the USA to attend the 2023 AWP Conference and Bookfair – one of these days I promise to get around to that.)
You Were Never Alone apologies to Sting
This is a way to mend what I did not know was broken. For how could someone missing something like a leg or an arm keep on running? Keep on flapping? Yet you did, and further than anyone ever dreamed of one born beneath an angry star. You did perhaps despite that absence or because. Too late now that all the feathers have been pushed out like titanium needles through bone, through skin, filament by filament drying in the evening sun. Sting of dawn a blessing, a promise of flight of youth and all that would be lost. So long ago. So long to go.
This is what I sent to the AVBOB people when they asked for some background on the writing of the poem:
I always look at calls for submissions to journals and entries for competitions as both a game and a challenge. It just so happens that back in December 2022 I had written a poem that I thought might be a good fit with the AVBOB theme, so I entered that one. (I also wrote a new poem, but that one wasn’t as lucky.) “You were Never Alone” is a bit like a letter to myself, but as if I were someone else at the same time. It interchanges the “I” and the “you” and looks at a personal history as something in the past and still about to happen. In the subtitle I had to say “apologies to Sting,” as I borrowed a few images from him. The title of my very first book which was published in 1992, Beneath an Angry Star, comes from his song “Fragile” which goes “For all those born beneath an angry star, lest we forget how fragile we are.”
I’ll be reading my work online to a live audience next week. On Zoom. I’ve avoided Zoom for more than a year because I honestly don’t like being on video. But it’s there, and I’ve been invited to share my work on this format.
So first of, thank you to OFF THE WALL for inviting me again. I do miss having chance to read before a real live audience, but thanks to COVID-19 we’ve all had to do things differently for a long time now.
If you happen to be up despite the difference in time zones, maybe you can say hi. I’ll try not to be too silly. Hey, if you even know some of my work that you would like me to read, send me a message. Thanks in advance.
October 1994 was the first time I had a glimpse of Langa. From the air, as the domestic plane which brought me from Johannesburg descended toward Cape Town International, Langa looked like a massive quilt with uneven stitching.
Each time I leave and return to Cape Town I would see that imposing landscape. Yet I never set foot there, not until last Thursday, 17 May 2018. I drove to Langa for an event organised by the Jacana Literary Foundation to meet with local aspiring poets. It was a hastily put together affair, and despite the initial awkwardness it turned out into an eye-opening impromptuperformance/sharing/workshop with all participants ending up laughing together as though we’d known each other for years.
Fellow poets Moses Seletisha (First Prize winner of the 2017 Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award) and Rabbie Serumula were also there to share their thoughts and amazing words.
I read two poems by other poets and then one of my own (one of the three that was included in The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology VII).
Today I’ll share the one called “Lament for a Dead Cow” which I discovered by accident in the anthology Sunburst.
Last year I was invited to participate at the 2017 Franschhoek Literary Festival. Acclaimed poet Karin Schimke interviewed highly respected bilingual author Antjie Krog and myself. Antjie was promoting her book, Lady Anne (translated from the original Afrikaans) and I was presenting work from Wings of Smoke.
The engaging discussion was so wonderful and relaxed that we went a bit over the allotted time. Karin gave us more than enough room to read our poetry before an appreciative audience.
I’m fortunate to share the news that I’ll be at the Franschhoek Literary Festival again this year!
The event, WINNING WORKS ALOUD, is sponsored by Jacana Media and will feature the three winners of the most recent Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award.
René Bohnen, Moses Shimo Seletisha and myself will be in conversation with Rabbie Serumula. It promises to be an exciting discussion as we tackle the challenges of writing in South Africa with special note of the various languages employed by the three poets.
A new South African website for poetry went up a few months ago called AVBOB POETRY. I wasn’t quite sold to the idea, but in the end I submitted 26 poems (I think) and a handful got accepted. Not sure if that’s a good rate or not, but a foot in the door is better than being completely shut out, right?
The poems had to deal with themes of love, birth, death and hope.
I’m still finding it tricky navigating the site, but my poems are up and free to read.
Black Friday Sales are being promoted extensively even here in South Africa. If you pause and think, it’s nothing but a way for shops and online retailers to offload old stock before the Christmas rush of new products to entice consumers. But really, they’re just material things you already have, perhaps newer versions with a few new bells and whistles. How soon after the feelgood rush of the purchase will you be made to crave for the next new iteration?
I don’t see the same when it comes to books, good books that aren’t designed to be replaced in a season. Or at least that’s the hope. So forgive my little sales pitch.
If you are outside of the Philippines, please consider ordering my new book, WINGS OF SMOKE, online via the following (or other decent retailers):
I stare at it like the beginning of a flatline,
that dash next to my year of birth.
Two lines down, a paragraph with nothing
but blurry snapshots of a life
unwillingly summarised for imagined readers,
strangers, for posterity.
Then that uncontrollable laughter kicks in.
It is shrill, like the wailing of an ambulance,
and drowns out all dramatic gestures
I have conjured for myself
on that page. Delusions of grandeur
stripped naked on a stretcher.
Sometimes oneself can be the cruelest critic,
the first to hold the blade
against such tender skin.
This poem came to mind when a good friend, SA poet Raphael d’Abdon shared his bionote poem with his friends on Facebook. I hope I haven’t posted this before here. The book where this poem first appeared, Alien to Any Skin, was published around August six years ago (if memory serves me right).
I’m always thankful for every reader who spends some time with my work – whether it’s a haiku attempt, an essay, a story, a poem. Then there’s that completely different kind of high when someone not only reads a whole book, but writes a review to share what s/he feels about it.
Wings of Smoke received very warm reviews from Aerodrome and The FilAm. And now this one from Ecletica Magazine! Lovers of poetry will find Jennifer Finstrom’s review engaging and, I hope, make readers consider getting a copy of the book.
I’ll be participating on a panel discussion at the Franschhoek Literary Festival this Friday, 1430-1530, with highly respected poet Antjie Krog. We will be interviewed by Sue de Groot of the Sunday Times.