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

Best wishes for the Season – in the words of Breyten Breytenbach

Best wishes for the festive season and the new year

I cannot express my wishes for my family, friends and colleagues all over the world any better, than by quoting Breyten Breytenbach, the acclaimed South African-born poet and anti-Apartheid activist. His words bring back memories of the essence of the South African hinterland, the platteland – something almost impossible to put into words, much less translate. As he puts it: “…the fragrance of something from far away, coming to life.” The warm evening, the sunset, the stars, the mountain peaks, the songs of the cicadas and the frogs – those are intangible and unforgettable moments. This time of year, with the snow falling heavily outside, makes one more susceptible to memories of times and places past.

This poem is from his poetry/prose work, “A Season in Paradise”, written after his return to South Africa in 1973 after twelve years in exile. In a work that contains criticism and brutality, he also conveys moments of an exile’s deep-rooted love for his land of birth. From 1975 to 1982, he was a political prisoner in South Africa, serving two terms of solitary confinement. Released in 1982, as a result of massive international intervention, he returned to Paris and obtained French citizenship. He currently divides his time between Europe, Africa, and the United States. Breytenbach  wields the Afrikaans language like a master artist his brush – he has no equal, and no-one writes about the South African landscape quite like he does. This is why these lines will always be loved and shared.

Op pad na die Kouga / On the way to the Kouga (pp.61-63)
For Oom Martin
By Breyten Breytenbach / B.B. Lasarus (pseudonym)
From: ’n Seisoen in die Paradys / A Season in Paradise (1976) – Translated by Marthe Bijman

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William Shakespeare’s Star Wars –  Verily, A New Hope,  by Ian Doescher

Skip the poetry, go to the Full review

A Review of This Fine Tale, in Blank Verse and A Heroic Couplet

An entertaining thing the drama is
that Doescher has devised in this small play.
He writes English so fine, the Bard to please
and compliment in every word and way.

You might think Shakespeare’s boring to the hilt
but nothing could be further from the truth.
Suspenseful as what’s under Macbeth’s kilt
is the wooing of Leia, so aloof.

Doescher even writes ‘asides’ for robots:
R2-D2 and C-3PO speak
in character, amusingly and lots
(though also going beep, whirr, meep and squeak)

Characters ‘exeunt’, heroic couplets
end each scene, with nicely rhyming phrases,
while rhyming choruses relate the parts
complex, like the Death Star war in stages.

With language so spontaneous and smart
Doescher revives the work of Shakespeare, so,
and with characters, true to life and art,
honours the Star Wars that we love and know.

To buy this book methinks would be quite wise,
to give your brain a bit of exercise.

Full review – Shakespeare, as you’d like it, Star Wars style

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