A book of poems, some sensual, some flirtatious, some playful

2010-08-25 00:00

SOUTH African writer Leon de Kock has published two previous collections of poetry and has won a number of awards for his work, notably in the field of translation.

Bodyhood, his third collection of poetry, looks at man as an ephemeral creature of flesh and bone, making his way through life, interacting with others and responding to the world around him.

While man is mortal and given to depression — sometimes of a self-indulgent nature — and late-night anxiety­ attacks, he is essentially a social­ and sensual being, drawn into relationships which require reading “the impossibly difficult texts of each of us” and frequently guilty of misreading those texts.

Many of the poems deal sensitively with flirtation, love and love-making; some, such as Emporium of flesh and The meat hook, employ wit and humour to convey the attractiveness of female flesh to male flesh, the perils of someone thinking he “could eat meat/And not end up on the hook”; others are overtly sexual; a few spew the obscenities of bitterness or anger.

Counter to love is loss. In Only in loss, De Kock examines how the urgency to escape a given relationship may result, unexpectedly, in a keen realisation of what has been lost. And in The wolf he uses a neatly sustained metaphor to describe the “hunger of loss”.

In the concise twin poems, Apollo and Dionysus, he juxtaposes the man who is given to careful thought, at the expense of feeling, with the man who is an essentially feeling creature, “Ignited­ by his heart” and “Impatient with thought”.

Exploring the notion of taste, De Kock playfully describes the sensations­ of eating rocket (which, like its homonym, is capable of “lift-off” and “propulsion”), crayfish and a tomato.

The sense of sight is fuelled by the jacaranda in bloom, “The violaceous pointillism”, but like Keats’s Grecian urn, the bloom tells the poet a simple truth: “All that is held is lost/And all that is lost is held …”

As long as he is alive, the human being is in a state of bodyhood, engaging with others and with the world. De Kock’s reading of Humberto Maturana­ reminds him that we need to emanate love, to become “Homo sapiens amans” or face being “The cages/Of our selves.”

Bodyhood reveals the pleasures and pains of living in what Seamus Heaney, in his translation of Beowulf, has dubbed a “bone-house”. De Kock’s poems, while written in free verse, are firm and lean and should provoke considerable thought.

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