A life under review

2011-07-06 00:00

“THERE’S more to a hat than meets the brow,” observes Clive Lawrance in one short poem. And there’s more to My Barbados Hat than I can encompass in a short review. But first I need to declare an interest: Lawrance is a friend. However, friendship does not preclude facts and these are they: Lawrance has published in literary magazines such as Carapace, New Contrast, New Coin and Fidelities. He has also produced three previous collections: Small Surprises from the Great Karoo, Stars Like Bees and Butterflies and Blackjacks (illustrated by The Witness cartoonist Stidy). Though each book demonstrated Lawrance’s hallmark humour and charm, his oblique view of the world and his facility with language, none of them prepared me for the calibre of My Barbados Hat.

Local publisher Jive Media has produced a handsomely designed volume, and the photograph of the author on the cover is entirely appropriate to the content, the first section of which (there are three) is prefaced by a question posed by W. B. Yeats: “Why should not old men be mad?”. In answer, Lawrance lays out a sequence of poems hatched from the vantage of his own old age, first looking back at the boy who “should’ve turned left/to the certainties of the village school,/but something pulled me/ along the winding path to the river” where more life-enhancing pleasures were to be found.

These are the poems of a man past three-score-and-ten. There is a sense of a baton being passed, a life under review: “Now that I’m older than my father/ ever was” — the skrik-inducing line that launches “My Father’s Finest Moment”. Lawrance’s evocations of his parents, the loves of a lifetime, are poignant and true, and as wry as the glimpses of the boy grown old, no longer able to “charge at the waves ... and arrow through”, chasing instead, a seemingly intelligent, Barbados hat down the street.

Part Two is devoted to Lawrance’s years spent in Nieu Bethesda, after his retirement from The Witness, his most frequent berth in a career spent in journalism. Poems such as About a Bakkie, Gabriel, Soccer, and Karoo Style conjure up vivid portraits of Karoo life and lessons learned (or not). Part Three is a miscellany reprising themes of the preceding two.

My Barbados Hat is a well-honed collection. These are words considered, worked over, kneaded into satisfying poetic form; poems that embrace both the civilised and the wild; human encounters offset by others with owls, baboons and cobras in ­poems that evolve from the observational into existential confrontation. Humour is by no means absent, but it forms part of a consistent poetic vision; self-referential certainly, but unflinchingly clear-eyed. I raise my hat.

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