Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

Poetry that mixes mother tongues – and my poem about my Grandma

My very dearly loved Grandma, Martha Magdalena Schreuder, long passed on.

It is very hard to make two different languages rhyme. This struck me again when I was researching the phonetic symbol for a “J” with two lines through its stem, for the review of Howard Jacobson’s novel J. Some sounds and letters exist only in certain phonetic alphabets. The guttural uvular fricative “g” (for instance /χ/ /χut/ as in “goed”), which is a frequent sound in Afrikaans, does not occur in English. The closest is the “ch” sound like in the Scottish Gaelic word “loch”. But it does occur in a handful of other languages including Spanish, Dutch (of course), Persian and Kurdish. (But having said that, below is one of my poems, in English and Afrikaans, about my Grandma. It features this particular uvular fricative “g”.) I have recently been listening to the band Orange Blossom, particularly the song Ommaty from their 2014 album Under the Shade of Violets. The lyrics are sung in Arabic and I must say I find the repetitive /χ/ very pleasant to listen to even though I only have a vague idea what the words mean.  Continue reading

Why I hate and love poetry

The fatal problem with poetry: poems

Cartoon from The Best of Private Eye 1987 - 1989 - The Satiric Verses, by Salmonella Bordes, Private Eye Productions & André Deutsch, London, 1989

Cartoon from The Best of Private Eye 1987 – 1989 – The Satiric Verses, by Salmonella Bordes, Private Eye Productions & André Deutsch, London, 1989

Poetry is everywhere. Just when you think poetry is dead, there is rap. I personally suspect that there is hardly a human anywhere who has not at one time or another tried to write a poem, read one, or recited one. When you think no-one makes a living from writing poetry, you find out there are poets living and working all over the world. Maya Angelou anybody? Iain Banks? Viggo Mortensen? There are awards for poets, and famous people who either are poets or who like poetry a lot (like actor Bill Murray). So why is it still around and why do I hate it and still feel driven to write it? Continue reading

Happy birthday William Shakespeare – 450 years on

It’s the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, who is traditionally believed to have been born today, 23 April, in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. So long ago, yet all over the world English speakers still use his words as normal expressions, still read his plays and poetry and still produce and enjoy adaptations and updates of his works in different media. And I can add to that: They do it a lot!

If you’re anything like me, a normal, somewhat lazy student, I got to know most of Shakespeare’s plays through the “Classics Illustrated” comic book range published by the Gilberton Company, Inc. The publishing company began as  an imprint of the Elliot Publishing Company, became independent in 1942, and was sold to the Frawley Corporation in 1967. Russian-born publisher Albert Lewis Kanter (1897–1973) created Classic Comics for Elliot in 1941. Its first issues were The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo by  Alexandre Dumas, and Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Recognizing the appeal of early comic books, introduced to the USA in 1933, Kanter believed he could use the new format to introduce young and reluctant readers to “great literature”.  The company ceased publishing in 1971, but many other companies took over the concept and added titles to the line, including publishers Gilberton, Marvel Illustrated, PAICO Classics, Pendulum Press  and Self Made Hero.  Well, Kantor was right, and that’s how I first got to know Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet.

I still have those copies, now read to rags. Knowing now the complexity and depth of Shakespeare’s work, Gilbertson and its successors did a surprisingly good job of condensing the text and maintaining some historical accuracy in the illustrations. I felt myself familiar with these plays by the time I studied them at university.

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