Penetrating, playful perceptions of life, living and writing

2012-01-25 00:00

OTHER Signs, a new collection of work by celebrated South African writer, Ingrid de Kok, features 37 deft poems revealing her penetrating, sometimes playful perceptions of life, living and writing.

The opening poem, Everyday World , reminds us of beauty co-existing with ugliness; of small beauties omnipresent, whether perceived or not; and implores us to ‘believe’ in the world, ‘whether / world without end / or world which will end.’ The final poem, What was the most beautiful thing you left behind? invites the reader to list the beauties he or she has known and will leave “when the pyre fires your memory”. This concern with consciously looking and seeing informs a number of the pieces, as De Kok lyrically evokes given contexts in poems such as Bringing flowers home; Sea Farm walk; Signatures, in which the poet counts her blessings on a summer evening after “an irascible year” and sees “stars now incandescing their signatures / on the duomo’s ceiling ...”; and Out of Season, whose epigraph by Alexander Aetolus urges the reader to “watch over your life ... for at best no man lives long”.

Contemporary issues and local concerns of crime and violence also feature in a number of poems, notable among which are Today I do not love my country (“It staggers in the dark, lurches in a ditch”) and All things considered, reminiscent of De Kok’s earlier and much anthologised Small Passing.

Two particularly moving poems have been stimulated by artworks — the etching of a sleeping puppy among self-portraits and “other fleshy burghers” in the Rembrandt House, Amsterdam, and the enigmatic bronze Etruscan figure, Ombra della sera, whose elongated form is noted also in the stretching shadows on twilit Volterran streets and foreshadows the work of sculptor, Giacometti (Votive Offering).

Other poems feature relationships with friends and family, ageing and the inevitability of death (“the last move”).

Regarding writing itself, De Kok speaks of a vocation and of inspiration but the art is nevertheless a demanding one, as she makes clear in My muse is a man; one who is ”a critic, a judge and grammarian”, insisting on, among other things, precision and attention to sound, and finding abhorrent “emotion on the loose” and “the sentimental rhyme”.

De Kok is an accomplished poet, as this fine collection attests and enthusiasts of her work will welcome this publication.

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