Thursday, October 15, 2015

krotoa

you walk, between
two worlds
we follow those steps
the seashores, robben island, the open plains
the interstices between death & vitality

the narrow path between my song & dance

you, a linguist of note
speak to us!
interpret, read the signs
make a song from the symbols
that dot these walls
for we so often
lost, adrift, bobbing uneasily
between the veils of translation

she works the words
from the stomach
through tongue & breath & spaces of the skull 
word by word
she weighs up
the men who stand before her
    the words work & rework her
she invests them with breath
from worlds within
she rolls them on her tongue
she births them
in cool air
or sunshine

evoker
diplomat, broker, interloper
 
the vine joining ground & air

who will translate for us
the sea's utterances
the wind's murmers
the look of the kori bustard
the small fires that sputter & crackle
from the entrails of wet sticks 
the line of the pass
that bends through my mountain thoughts
& pieces of land
that stand solid
as we migrate from outposts & peripheries
to teaming centres
via farmers’ markets & trading posts

weaver of strands

hold us, your children
in your imagination
send us braided messages
send love & affection & chants
& sighs of longing

those feet walked
the calloused life
doubted here (at the kraal), mistrusted there (at the fort)
inspected, suspected & suspended
in other's dreams
you dreamt of wanderings & walkabouts
as you donned the garb, buttoned up
stood in thin shade
cast by
the houses of colonialism

van riebeeck's orders
van meerhof’s manners
the tight fitting name: 'eva'
the controls & constraints
that flowed
from their pens
as they counted you & logged you
in diaries & registers

in your death
you – & we with you – escape this
we walk among shrubs, grow into trees, embrace wind
we flow with the pain
we walk the shoreline

the single mother
the abandoned partner
the searcher for meaning, in multiples abuses
searching for some truth
of a life in the margins
the lichen that stays
on rock
even as the tide retreats

you stand with us
renditioned, trafficked, exiled
simply ignored
or made to labour for bread & tots
when we are made to trade
cattle for goods
you walk alongside
the uncertain returnee
the desperate ones who come through beit bridge
those stolen from africa
the children plucked & taken thousands of miles

me, extrapolated & replanted in strange settings

in your death
an astuteness, in your silence
a vocality
through your death
mishak can be swathed
in the eye
of the moment
jemma can wander the sky
cole can lope through landscapes 
that existed in the time before time

when we toil away, or measure hours, offer silent service
under the lash of the sun
when we
bear the unbearable
when we are overwhelmed
and fizzle out, succumbing
to nervous conditions
when depression
crawls over skin
like a shadow
may we think of you

may we think of the mopani tree, the boegoe plant
the needles of the rooibos
the aloe & its healing bitterness
the acacia's thorn
used for stitching
& you .... a sturdy bough

Frank Meintjies

Saturday, September 12, 2015

New poetry collection explores redemption through 'shared remembering'

My poetry book, Unfettered Days, was released during National Book Week 2015. In this work, I continue to grapple with private and public concerns and to build meaning through exploring the particular, to examine specific moments and "small details" of life. The book, which builds on previous works My Rainbow and Connexions, is obtainable at the Melville branch Bookdealers (www.bookdealers.co.za).

This 'Afterword' was written by cultural practitioner and outstanding poet Lisa Combrinck:.

Frank Meintjies’s latest poetry collection comes at a time when South Africa is no longer immersed in the euphoria of the immediate post democracy peri''od. The seams of the nation state are fraying at the edges. The narrative of truth and reconciliation no longer carries the weight it did in previous years. The imagined community of a united people no longer holds sway. Instead, even official sources now speak of a “nation in the making.” ....  There is an acknowledgement that much needs to be done to address the current dominant consciousness of South African people and the economic realities facing the poor and downtrodden.

Under current circumstances, the poet ought to pose questions; and the beauty of living in an ostensibly and demonstrably political democracy is that it enables “unfettered” thought, and ‘free’ time to contemplate individual and collective direction.

In “Unfettered Days” Meintjies’s approach is modest, seemingly tentative – as if engaged in free thought - yet skillful and highly successful in interrogating the times, the truths of his own life and others who people the shared landscape as well as intimating to bigger realities. His poetry creates a space in which readers can breathe and be themselves.

Meintjies writes poetry that probes and poses questions. He describes both urban and rural landscapes and their people, zooming in on little details with the eye of a camera. He outlines what appear to be seemingly insignificant observations but these provide the reader with an intimacy that leaves an unease yet also, strange as it may seem, a feeling of deep fulfillment. In foregrounding these close-ups, the poems reveal new meanings beneath the surface. These small revelations are what give the poetry great inner strength and resonance.

In the poem “salt in crevices”, (the first of a series of poems about the landscapes of childhood and youth) the poem ends with a description of “a dried blood drop” which spreads out, forms a thin membrane / that I hold / as I doze off, sitting up”. What resembles throwaway lines ends a poem where the memory of the past lingers on and still haunts the present. One wonders if this is what history has bequeathed new generations as it writes itself in blood. Or is history a dried blood drop in the cultural imaginary of the persona and by implication the people as a whole? The endings of poems often have that sense of mystery that remains, which is at the heart of his poetic craft. One is left with the view that it is not the Devil that is in the detail, but goodness, godliness, sacredness, what Paulo Freire would call a humanizing evocation.

A sense of small, revealing truths is embraced in the titles of poems such as “a small detail” and “rough draft”.  Taking a close-up look in one poem, he conveys the humdrum of township life where “we know every pavement slab / as it knows us”; and in another poem about his mother he concludes that there are “so many places to visit / in the heart of the woman / who visited so few places.” In this way he conveys the experiences of those who have been dispossessed through apartheid, and yet he also transmits the richness of life and a defiant possession of a different kind.

Yet the poet also acknowledges that memory itself is partial. In a poem titled “memory” he writes: “i grasp my forgetting” and “i remember what i choose to / or what is chosen / by my misfiring mind…”. In a different poem, he writes about “half-told stories played & splayed / rumours, memories, paranoia, writhing / the shapelessness of old truths & new amnesias”. In these poems a very personal moment of looking at the past also becomes a national preponderance, conversation and quest to understand a reality that is fraught and fractured, hoping that by relooking at the past one can begin to “create anew”.

He also confronts realities head-on when he critiques how the black consciousness of the past and its ideology of liberation have become appropriated; and he parodies the symbols of the new blackness. In a poem titled “night of the xenophobes” he exposes those behind the violence against foreign nationals who “punch, knock, slap” and who “burn all rules” and stamp out the truth.

The persona of the poem punctuates his experiences as the subject of these stories with a small letter “i’ as indeed the entire collection is devoid of capital letters. The use of lowercase suggests that the individual is only a small part of the collective and can get lost in the big scheme of things. This is further strengthened by the tendency to describe solitary figures in the landscape; in the poems one comes across a “thin dog”, “a small child”, “a man in his wheelchair / by a small fire, alone / in the stirring sturdy city” and “an old man trundles along / tugging a laden trolley…”. All these solitary figures add up to uncover a reality that has been painted over and is a painful indictment of the years of freedom. Yet these figures together are also a sign of life, endurance and resilience. Female figures are often strong as in the poem “unfettered woman” and in the poems “resolve” and “redihense” that offer the possibility of togetherness so that “together we are genuine, we laugh, we stalk small truths, stoke small fires”.

The poem titled “birds of africa” is a fitting tribute to the diversity of birds on the African continent but is also a commentary on the kinds of personalities that dominate the African political and cultural landscape. One identifies readily with the narcissistic, self-absorbed and seemingly subservient ostrich as one does with the other birds in this poem. The poet sheds tears but as in other poems, this moment of weeping is released and redeemed through a smile.

His lyrical images are often startling and beautiful as he describes the music of the late Zim Ngqawana as producing “a sea, a flow, a warm wind / over the savannah / in your eyes”; in a poem titled “refiloe” he describes the expression on a woman’s face in a photographic exhibition as one of “finding & naming / your continent of dreams & rainstorms & harmattans” and elsewhere the sunrise “sprays its lines, pulses / forging circles that float like bubbles…”.

The landscape is often one which is inscribed with human presence with “small human drawings surfacing on a land mass” and “sweetmeats” that “print sharp colours” while the blossoming of flowers produce “blotches, backdrops, broad strokes, lines on verges”.  He writes the land as the land writes him. In a poignant tribute to the passing of Nelson Mandela, nature itself is an artist bringing rain to the plains and healing to the heart where “little ribbons of grace sprout / the fingers or rain / write / deep tracks in my sand”.

The poet also becomes a historian immersing himself in the history, that others choose to sideline from the mainstream and naming those whose history has not been named. He asserts: “i am khoi”, “i think of stuurman / i meditate on the lion of gamtoos” and “i am a survivor”. Out of “the shapes, drawings, symbols, silences”, jetty he seeks the stories and the dances that make sense of human lives. Welts The poet becomes witness, provides testimony for or new generations and the poem becomes a thanksgiving. 

Each revelation offers the possibility of redemption as individual and shared remembering brings something vital back, provides for a reclamation of that which has been lost or trampled on, and enables a restoration of direction.

In the words of Ben Okri from a lecture he delivered in April 2015 at UNISA in Pretoria, “There can be no true renaissance till a people have faced the absolute truth of their condition. Till there has been an unflinching stocktaking, a self-truth-telling, a genuine estimation of failures and weakness, of strengths and possibilities too. It is a natural trait for human beings to lie to themselves about their inadequacies, to lie to themselves about their achievements. But we cannot rebuild on a false foundation. This is why we need our awkward truth-tellers…. And our truth should include not only our external conditions, the evidence of our societies, but our inner conditions too, our will, our psychic and cultural strengths.”


Meintjies’s poetry without fanfare and bells and whistles quietly defies the South African temptation to tell lies about themselves, about ourselves. Instead, his mission is that of the excavator, an awkward truth-teller, a path-finder, the poet at work whose grappling with words reveals real truths and the will to move forward based on that which has been brought to light.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Mother city

(ode to cape town)

Place of slaves, storms, minstrels, frenzied wind
winter is a leprous sky, breaking up and breaking up
into craters swept by rain and slush

White-maned waves of luxury apartments
give way to grains of shacks
the mountain tumbles from its cloudy pelmet
sends wet and cold to villages & towns that fuel the city

Those from umlazi eldos soshanguve wentworth phoenix newbrighton
those who pilgrim seasonally
swear by sacred braai spots
but, these tough days, seasons and people are driven further apart

Off the fish hoek boats, red or blue-veined
the piles of fish arrive
to be slain and trimmed
a wind lurches and guts the tourist dream

In the morning, she lugs the roomservice of empties
the sheets are crumpled, branded
amid smudges and tracks of fitful lusts

A political activist, fresh from exile
clambers up the mountain, a flushed pilgrimage
and from a mountain telescope
he discerns a waterfront, its newness
cleared of local dialects, bergies & salomies

And: the jobless on the sidewalk, multiplying
with the bmws and glitzy stores
will there be enough cars to park storefronts to sleep in
enough small change

for chunks of bread and toasts of cheap wine?

Frank Meintjies

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tending to shoes

The old man wears a leather brown apron.
His eyebrows are long and whitened. The wooden bench
is frayed, its surface nibbled away
by mallet blows. He rolls the bent and
ailing shoes on the counter, cradles them away
to a place among the sagging, laden shelves. The
hordes of obsolete footwear, a familiar

wallpaper. He chalks large numbers
on the soles or inside. His customers
have come to learn patience
as he struggles to locate their goods.
Eventually, he does. To tell the truth,
his work is less and less precise
these days. As you examine your shoe

the nails seem big, the soles too thick.
But, as he points out (using a thick hairy finger),
only brute force will separate the new sole
from the upper. The paint-on-wood sign
(Boot and Shoe Repairs) withers and curls like old bark.
He doesn’t talk much, and soon
he is back leaning over the last,
bearing the side of his face to you.

Old man, bicycle and rod

An old man pushing his bicycle
wedges time and space
in the page margin between
rail tracks and fence.
The thin wire lines holding back
the marching of the trees,
property of the forestry department.
He transects the chevron shadows                                                                                    
Feet squish in puddles of stillness.
The fishing rod is silent and strapped up,
comfortable with its length
and the horizontal ride.

He sees no-one. The lined face whistles
as it catches the breeze,
revelling in the tingle.
The wet stain on the trouser bottom,
an imprint of the river and its dark quiet water.
A sparrow flutters and a red robin hops about. He stops,
slowly turning his head to look around. What are
his thoughts? He is in no hurry.                                                                       
The moment, alive in the thoughts, ripples out …

Friday, April 10, 2015

statuesque

y do sum ppl
luv these statues
so much?

wat have statues evr done 4 mankind?

y do dudes like hofmeyr
chain themselves 2 an apart-hate relic
or, better still …
y wud an old white-superiority dude
if he were alive
want 2 be chained
2 a relic
like hofmeyr

shud we send chester missing
2 scare them both?

if ppl did not
take chances in
post-nazi germany,
y do they take chances
in post-horror south africa?

crazy. insane. lol. (4 u over 4ties,
dat duz not mean lots of luv)

i'm sure zuma’s stasi
is watching dis chain gang
so let’s 4get about them
…. BTW
d eyeballs of the state
may be on us 2o
if they r not infighting, dat is

we r celebrating
we r like swag, sick, chilled
all rolled into 1

we r so amped
so chuffed
dat rhodes bit d dust,
so 2 speak

------------------

if he was sent 2 germany
he cud be a rock star or a BFF
for fervent far-right youth
i mean hofmeyr, not kruger

kruger was just
sitting on church square
it’s u, d older gnr8n, dat caused d problem
dat left him alone
wen we shud have put him
& his boer-republic story
in d museum

what u, d older gnr8n, gave d youth
as a gift 4 our future
is a combination of
onion, lemon & rotten apple, with worms,
thx 4 nothing

one day, ppl of mzansi, we won’t have 2
fling poo, pee, student hurl
or even, my fave, luminous green paint

like, nevr, nevr & nevr again

but 4 now, 1ce d after-party is ovr
we have sum statues 2 paint