TWO: The Love poetry. The continuing sense of macrocosm/ microcosm as two lovers lie in bed “even as a continent went under, without a whisper, off Cape Point.”(28). The attraction to night, as in Novalis, for there, in the extremity of the possible, the barriers and boundaries of the objects of day are absent. In the second part of “The Normal Chaos of Love” section, the shifting from he to she to they, depersonalizing the affair to some extent to allow the macrocosm its entrance — even as the lovers lie together waiting for dawn “sensing......the mechanism, miles offshore,/ that soundless, tidal, huge, gives us back the day.”
In the first short-lined part of the section, there is disenchantment with romantic love “the longing that can move through men” (148) but which ends in “the vast diaspora they call desire” when “‘all things possess a sell-by date.’” (46). But by the second part, one is back in elegy with the tale of two loves which, tragically, cannot meet and blend: the male figure unable to move, paralyzed perhaps by the length of his residence; the female figure who has to move, has to get out of this landscape and this polity. Much of such a story is heartbreaking to a male reader: I can conceive of the possibility that a female reader will experience it differently.
THREE: The last part of the book goes deeper into nature, mostly beyond the city, where one senses that you have spent much time.
Section 4 “A Kromrivier Sequence” provides the books’ deepest, most uninterrupted, sinking into a particular beloved landscape, in the Cedarberg Mountains some 200 kilometers north of Cape Town. It is again a meditation and, like so many meditations among city-folk, it is a battle against impatience. Your poetry which requires deep reflection and quiet sober reconsideration, again a Wordsworthian theme, can arise in stillness only. “Why do I hurry?” (108); “And not before it’s clear once more / why he should be standing here, this far / down the valley floor, this late,” / (106); “still waiting on some other world, inscribed or not, in this one, / here.” (113).
The search and the discovery “that beauty was this loneliness / of knowing all one is, is not, / “ (114) while waiting for “......the night, and the oblivion, that nothing will assuage.”(119), becoming more precise, more acute in the only knowledge available: “and it returns to you as you / return, as once your own: the presence of the earth.” (130), an earth which, once and ever again, is home: i.e. “the unattainable peninsula that is this small corner of the world.” (155).
There is consolation in “presence” but none in religion (spelled out in the Patrick White quote (127), consolation in “immanence”: “And now into this immanence you see / is all that’s left to us, finally / of long centuries of transcendence;” (123) However, all ecologists and most poets know the earth is menaced: in the poem “After reading ‘The End of Nature’” (referencing a book by Bill McKibben), you see the earth, after rain, drinking its last, ever more polluted, waters, drinking them into its deepest and most secret core. Another example of the profoundest “politics” available to a poet wise and invincible.
FOUR:I have everything to learn about South African poetry and do not know your position therein. From the outside looking in, the poetry sometimes seems to suffer from isolation but mainly I am impressed by the strengths which a quality you yourself sometimes condemn as provincialism affords this work. You do claim that Cape Town (perhaps rather than the country as a whole?) is very isolated and often accused of being backward — though you do appreciate the absence of “pobiz” and even a “poetry scene.”
In any event, more than ever, it is not only important that, wherever we are, we should devote some of our time to translating poetry from foreign languages but also to bringing into our consciousness, by means of another kind of translation, the poetry of the other versions of English that exist outside the U.K. and the U.S.