Thursday, 25 June 2009

Cape Town Book Fair 2009: Poets compete with soccer fans

Cape Town small publisher Modjaji Books launched four collections at the Cape Town Book Fair.

Burnt Offering is Joan Metelerkamp’s seventh poetry collection, and she read the poem Penelope at the launch, weaving rich images and motifs from classical Greek mythology into a contemporary, domestic setting.

It reflects her concerns and preoccupation with the depth and complexity of life, rather than being interested in writing “book club ladies’ books”. Metelerkamp’s confident, steady reading was thankfully not too disrupted by cheers from a 2010 Soccer World Cup stand just a few aisles away.

This was followed by a reading from Helen Moffett’s debut collection, Strange Fruit. Moffett started off by reading some short and relatively light poems from her collection, saying she hoped nobody scored a goal while she was reading — but then someone did.

Nevertheless, Moffett continued, reading the lighthearted We will fight them at La Playa, which opens with the lines: “You and I are at the Waterfront/on a secret mission:/it may look as if we are drinking coffee/and eating Florentines;/but in truth we have bazookas,/and are shooting every twosome/we see holding hands”.

But not all Moffett’s poems are lighthearted fantasy: several trace her painful journey to acceptance of the fact that she cannot have a child, and poems such as Baby shower, The ultrasound, My daughter, and Envy are the evidence. Moffett read from The ovary in the arm, which contains the lines: “All I wanted was natural, normal/the everyday stuff;/conceiving in passion/…an ordinary breeding and birthing./ So little to ask for;/beyond impossible to get.”

Please, Take Photographs is the first poetry collection of award-winning author Sindiwe Magona.

Magona’s gift as a storyteller shone through as she read the delightfully warm narrative poem For Maria, tracing the life of a woman from her first to ninth decade, as she marries and has children and then watches her children in turn become adults.

It is a life in which she sees “all those brilliant/Moments of loving,/Of giving to others”.

The poem ends hilariously, with the 90-year-old narrator demanding: “Pass me that damn bottle of wine, will you?” — which drew much laughter and applause from the audience.

The fourth book launched was Oleander, which is the fourth collection of Fiona Zerbst who, while present, declined to read, and so poet Malika Ndlovu read a selection from the volume.

The poems ranged from the tense Remembering S-21, Cambodia, which opens with the lines “This was a school/before it was wire and silence”, opening out to the wider world of Possibilities , where “The possible is/a room like the cell/of a monk. No dust./A bed. A chair./Anything happens”.

There was also the powerful, closing poem of the collection, Beside the Nile, which contains the haunting lines: “I hold out my hand/and here you are,/Nile that watches the watcher/look at the water;/Nile that knows/a hundred crimes, excuses”.

Ndlovu’s poetic book, Invisible Earthquake — A Mothers’ Journey Through Stillbirth, was published by Modjaji earlier this year and on Monday at the book fair she gave a moving reading.

Ndlovu explains that for some time after she lost her child she was haunted by a sense of a void, and so created the book to fill that void. Her performance was attended by about 120 people, some of whom were visibly moved by the experience of loss and pain that she recounts in her brief but powerful work.

(Published in The Weekender, June 20, 2009)

No comments: