Friday, 21 November 2008

Rich imagery and a sense of place

Review of All The Days, Robert Berold, Deep South, and Never, Bernat Kruger,Deep South

ALL the Days is Robert Berold’s fourth collection of poetry, and it is written with striking clarity and lucidity of language.

The poems display an awareness of the fleetingness of time, of the transitory nature of life and approaching old age: all embraced by Berold with a calm, Taoist-like wisdom — there is a quote from Lao Tsu at the beginning of one poem and another is titled The Book of Changes.

These themes reveal themselves immediately, as in the first poem, The Water Running, which traces constant movement and change: “the water running in the gullies/the hoopoe bobbing flying off abruptly/the sky full of leftover rain/… the bakkie loaded up for town/the pipes and ditches swollen with water”.

The second poem, Half-light, shows a traditional Chinese influence in its brevity and simple description of a rural landscape: “morning half-light, meeting/two foxes on the farm road, crossing the railway line, turning/to the white moon”.

Most of the poems display a strong sense of place, whether it be the rural landscape of Eastern Cape, Johannesburg or even China, where Berold taught English for a year .

A few poems in the collection are lighthearted, such as Why I am not an Engineer; the sound poem Two Cats; and Proposal, where Berold writes that he is “becoming an extension of my computer/… I’m wired up the world. I can communicate with china, it’s only/a six hour time difference. It’s the cultural time difference/that makes it difficult, and the fact that their rivers are toxic”.

But even in Berold’s lightheartedness there is an intimate warmth that shines through, as in To my Room, the place where he has “spent three thousand nights in your arms./You have absorbed my snoring and my dreams”.

The strongest poems are those that deal with the past and trace the poet’s history, as in Written on my Father’s Birthday, Sweetpeas, My Bakkie, To myself at 20, or Journey, where the poet visits “Hillbrow. Wanderers Street./Taxi-blasted chickens stand in cages./I was born there. Florence Nightingale Hospital./It used to be a dreamy flatland of pensioners/and nurses”.

The powerful narrative, Visit to my Mother, highlights the difficulties in trying to maintain relations with an older, more politically conservative generation.

Never is Bernat Kruger’s debut collection of poetry . Like Berold, Kruger’s work shows a strong awareness of the natural world, as well as geography, as is evident in poems such as Marienthal, Groblersdal, Limpopo and Iowa.

But there is also an awareness of an inner world, and the interplay between the two realities, as well as the vapid, transitory nature of the physical world, as in the title poem, which describes the poet stopping his car “to wade the knee-deep air-light fluff, this/curious relic left by a burst of rain lasting less than a/minute”.

Kruger’s world is characterised by precise, intricate, detailed description, as in the first poem, 20cm, which begins: “A morning mist leaving colours in blue tint/20cm from a window and any of my movements force/my left shoulder against glass”.

Several poems deal with travelling through SA’s rural areas, of farming co-ops and agricultural produce, as in the poem Iowa, which describes being “in the real world, heading for Wesselsbron — heading/for a crop meeting. Maize. Corn …”

There is also a strong awareness of the inherent political conservatism of the landscape — particularly in the poem Limpopo, which describes how the poet and a friend get lost and find themselves in an informal settlement.

Kruger’s intricate, rich imagery is sometimes difficult and few of the poems can be grasped initially; they demand a second reading.

For all the apparent natural description, there is a dreamlike sense of elusiveness and illusion, of another, interior-world reality peeping through.

Having followed Kruger’s work in literary journals over the past few years, I had expected something more substantial than Never’s 50 pages.

Published in The Weekender, November 22, 2008.

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