Formal Verse

My book, The Craft – Selected Poems, 1989 – 2016, has finally materialised. It’s my first volume of poetry since 2005. Published by Left Field Poetry. I’m excited. It’s been a long process.

It will be launched on Monday evening, the first of three launches. Please join us at one, if you can make it.

Book Lounge, Monday, 14 August, 17:30 for 18:00
Kalk Bay Books, Wednesday, 23 August, 1800 for 18:30
Mc Gregor Poetry Festival, Saturday, 26 August, 13:30


The front cover of the book was my idea, using Christina Bryer’s image, with design and typography of front and back by Douglas Skinner.

Here’s the back cover, with nice shout-outs from Rethabile Masilo and Fiona Zerbst, and a pic of me by my wife Julia Martin.

Back Cover 'The Craft'

And here’s a small poem from the book that is (also) about writing poetry:

The Star-Gatherer
For Sophie Rose

All day I gather the stars that have fallen
out of the sky. They are hard to find,
they have become mica and crystal and pollen
or concealed themselves in water or behind
the light in eyes. Some have been lost, stolen
or forgotten, but I collect them all in my mind
and as evening falls I put them back,
one by one, in their places in the black.

If you’re in Cape Town you can get copies from The Book Lounge, Kalk Bay Books or Clarke’s Bookshop. In the Platteland, Protea Boekwinkel should have it. We’re working to get it into bookshops elsewhere in SA. If you’re overseas, I’d suggest you order it from Clarke’s.

There are several people I’d like to thank –

  • Diane Awerbuck, for suggesting the project and for helping me with the selection from among my very many poems;
  • Douglas Skinner for being a good friend, and Left Field Poetry (his other hat) for taking the volume on, and for all the many hours of meticulous editorial and design work that went into it;
  • Helen Moffett, for proofreading the galleys;
  • Rethabile Masilo and Fiona Zerbst, for reading and responding to the manuscript
  • Christina Bryer, for permission to use her image of one of her porcelain ceramics on the cover;
  • Jo Anne Friedlander for doing her usual impeccable job of layout;
  • Everyone, especially my family, who has supported and encouraged my writing.

I have final proofs of my book The Craft – selected poems 1989 – 2016!! And a mockup of the cover! It will be published some time in the next three months, by Douglas Skinner’s Left Field Press. I am excited. I haven’t published a book of poems since Ghaap – Sonnets from the Northern Cape in 2005.

Here’s a mock-up of the cover. The image is a detail of a porcelain tile by my friend Christina Bryer, from her series entitled ‘Swatches’.

the craft cover mockup

And here is an excerpt. The head is, of course, that of Orpheus.

The head sings

The Head: ‘On the left of the House of Hell,
Next to a white cypress, is a well
Fed by a spring. Don’t go near.
There’s another spring in the dell
By Lake Memory, cold water wells
From it. This water is defended
By the unsleeping guards of death.
When you see them, you must call
To them, saying,’
Chorus:  ‘I am a star that fell.’
The Head: ‘Tell them,’
Chorus:  ‘I am a child of Earth
And Starry Heaven,’
The Head: ‘as in the spell,’
Chorus:  ‘But Heaven is the realm of my birth–
You yourselves know this is the truth.
My throat is dusty and my tongue swells
With thirst. Quick, give me the clear
Cold water of memory, let me bathe
In it and drink it, let it heal me whole
And mend me where I am wounded.’

I’m not much given to illustrating poems, but this acrylic painting on paper  does  somewhat illustrate a poem of mine – the first in my forthcoming book with Left Field Poetry, The Craft: Selected Poems 1989 – 2016. The image won’t be in or on the book, but here it is.



Relaxed in the flow of things, we float
Down the wide river in a small boat.
There is nothing to do but to pluck
With leisured fingers on the lute,
Let the song rise in the throat
And spill over the water, or not.

The boat drifts slowly. On either side
The landscape passes like a long scroll
Full of intricate detail. Each tributary’s slide
Into the main stream makes the wide
River wider. How gradually we glide
Seawards, how vivid the afternoon sky.

The different water-birds around us
Vanish and return to the surface,
Drops sparkling. They are full of business
But we are caught up with luxurious
Late day warmth, the lute idly plucked,
The possibility of a kiss

Far over the river sounds can be heard:
A bull bellowing from his pen,
The high chaa chaa of a gliding water-bird
And the hint of the water’s gurgle
Against distant banks. The returning herd
Answers the bull. The boat drifts on.

Six plums tied in a cloth, some bread,
Are all our simple provisions,
Along with half a bottle of cheap red.
All day we have followed the delicate thread
Of the lute. We glide and sing. Ahead
The huge moon rising, almost red.

All day we drifted downriver in our flimsy boat,
The dark cargo ships slid by like dreams.
Now we are beyond the delta. We float
On calm water, deep blue and remote.
There is no land beyond the wet
Horizon. The stars are coming out.






Arrived whiskers first
chewing this and that
among blown leaves
on a winter day
at a time of our need.
Someone we couldn’t find
had abandoned him.
We took him in.

small damp pink rubbery
tongue, accompanied by
light touch of whiskers
lick lick lick lick

We gave him names:
Ngubunny, Bunyata,
Walter Benjamin Bunny
Mr Boon, Doctor Rabbit,
and so on and more.
He knew our scent names
(which we don’t.)

Exchanging body heat,
held in my arms
where my heart beat,
until the warmth
got through the clothes
and fur. He’d nuzzle in,
relax, lick any skin.
His greatest LEAP
from the wardrobe,
four paces, six times his height
jack-in-a-box out of stillness
up onto the bed.

Loved Parrot Puffs
(fruit crackers for birds),
chocolate, raisins, dried fruit,
celery stalks, lettuce,
shoots from the avo tree.
Tolerated rabbit pellets.

Thumping, sometimes. Why?
Clicking claws on wooden boards.
A tiny cough or bark
his only word.

Half-size (Netherlands dwarf),
he nipped the cats to make them preen,
pissed in my eye as he thundered by
in a firework circle on the bed,
scratch-scratch-scratched for a scrape on the rug,
ate the books, the clothes, the bag,
the shoes, the belt, the basket, the frame
of the door, gnawed at electric wires
and was generally a rascally rabbit
who taught us tidiness and vigilance.

A hundred and twenty moons he saw loop by,
serene in the black or through the windy clouds.
Nine times the avo tree took off its leaves
and budded flowers, and the bees were loud.
Three thousand three hundred nights he loped
inside to sniff about
and when the sun came out,
he came in, curious, as though he hoped
for novelty. Was I or the rabbit
the repetitive creature of habit?

Presents himself long and flat
to have the muscles beside his spine
massaged. Settles in for this.

Old, he no longer jumps
up to his chair for the sun.
Instead, he lolls out flat
a grey rag in a sunspot
on the floor.
At night I often see him
staring at the moon
or so it seems.
Perhaps he just craves light.

Guileless, un-envying
empty of hate, grudgeless,
without schemes or wiles.

coat softer than granny’s
fox-fur powder puff

Good night my old friend, I hope you sleep well,
My affection for you rings bright as a bell.
So often I have held your warm body to me,
Good night little friend, sleep deep, dream free.

In the night by the rutted track
Crouching, a big hare
thinks he’s a grey stone, a stone…
Four or five great leaps
into darkness. Gone
back to the eternal
pasturing of hares
on earth, among grasses.

With pictures by Niki Daly


Regardless of what you believe,
Tonight’s the night – All-Hallows Eve,
And now the midnight hour is struck –
Thoughts of dim and bitter luck
Fly like bats before the moon
Squeaking high and out of tune,
And the players take their place
On a stage as dark as space.



Several creatures of the dark
Swagger through the misty park:
The melancholy dame who tried
Her fingers at infanticide,
The dreaded lurker-in-the-gloom
That hovers near a crumbling tomb,
The little girl with rabbit ears
Designed to seek and focus fears.



Ghost and goblin, nasty elf
The Great Lord of Misrule Himself,
Pale as linen, Mr Death
Who seeks to confiscate your breath,
The Wicked Witches of the quarters
And their Naughty Wiccan daughters,
All make you gasp, with jellied spine,
“I hope they haven’t come to dine.”



Observe how, in the distant glooms
A grim and eyeless fortress looms.
Its features give you quite a scare!
You quickly turn your gaze to where
The fellow in the Iron Mask
Goes about his gruesome task:
His bat-winged shirt he now unfurls
To terrify two little girls.



On the stage is now deployed
The couch of Doctor Sigmund Freud:
The ego, smaller than a pug
Left abandoned on the rug,
The Lurking Id, Oedipus Rex,
The Libido, whose muscles flex,
The sweaty terrors of the dream
That comes from eating clotted cream.


Niki sent me the wonderful pen and ink/watercolour drawings, and I illustrated them with words, so we have reversed the usual way that this kind of thing goes. I hope you all have a scary Halloween.


Drowning in the Pool

The blue barracuda
makes crossing
waves in the water
which echo
but don’t follow
the grid of
the blue nylon net
whose shadow
makes a deeper
lattice that shudders
within the gridded
foci of sunlight
shining through
the clear waves
onto the blue
floor of the pool
intercepted by the
shadows of leaves
from the green
bamboo plant and on
the intersecting ripples
the leaves themselves
drift on the surface
tension that sucks
towards the mouth
of the leaf-skimmer
stretching out the
reflection of the
pool-blue sky.