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Memory Work and the Gut Symmetry of Writing
Words can be sensual, the theory and text seductive, luminous, healing, filled with tired misapprehension. It might even manifest great ideas or small. For the poet in transit the work that lies ahead of him is filled with trials, turmoil, writer’s block, creative expression and artistic license. He must face up to that which he fears the most.
It is here that mysticism and the brimming jubilance of love can be found; all at once familiar, coursing like metallic blood through veins. A poet’s words can cauterise the page, bestow blessings upon a mind seeking an unholy demise, thinking of suicide, or a child longing for a maternal embrace; a normal life.
A poet’s words leave spaces, gaps in between the black and white, the neutral for interpretation, poignant messaging, invisible ink texts through the blank page, clamours with a drumming and a rhythm all of its own beating.
Words must be won in the cornerstone of the lingering subconscious of the mind.
They are entwined continuously, hinged with subtle, racing edges of sadness, give rise to a sudden outpouring of manic panic, pitch lucidly, offer temporary respite from a cruel, unforgiving world, a planet that is shared by millions side-tracked consciously by the human condition.
Poets are reclusive by nature, give in intentionally to the volcano of ideas that storm ahead inside their brains, retreat, surrender, let go of the perfect bubble that is formed when nadir, nirvana is found. When there is too much going on it feeds the poet; it is his fuel in the beyond and the oblivion that rests here on the computer screen or the white page.
As children, poets delve into the cocoon of libraries. Here books tolerate them like no adult or authority figure ever will. There sometimes grubby fingertips can graze pages and can find echoes of family holidays, flourishing loveliness, can find gifts. Here, it’s better than Christmas. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor.
Words in poetry are often like that of any family in the human condition. Their day to day livelihood has a glowing impermanence where doll parts shine through, they struggle to survive like the width of threads, breadcrumbs offered up on a silver platter, a camp made by children in the living room from bed sheets, pillows and sleeping bags.
Rivers can also run through words.
A wife and mother seeks escapism (doesn’t a poet’s heart and head sometimes long for that), a novel design for her life, think her life dull, unsophisticated, her husband a boorish boor who drinks too much on the weekends, her children spoilt brats. During the day she keeps house, scrubs floors, prepares meals for her family (she thinks that she is taken for granted and unappreciated) and what does the poet do?
Exactly that; he peels every layer of his consciousness away in excitement and with enthusiasm, finds the purity of the mysticism that he holds within himself; whatever language he writes in, in this glorified ritual the poet realises this is no thankless task.
Some call it God. Some call it a Supreme Being. Some call it supernatural. There are others that call it a journey of mysticism and love.
This is the lonely path the poet must travel. The destination is always the unknown but it is always the beginning. A beginning filled with purpose and honesty that is there for the taking. It is up to the poet to never stop believing in the prowess of writing whether he is a prolific writer or a dilettante.
The effect that language can have can be both permanent and magical. As numbing and ingratiating to the mind’s eye and the powerful screen and enigma of the intellect, psyche and brain when hitting your head against brick or a stone wall there is left inspiration when reason is in doubt of the capabilities of the poet. When the poet protests sufficiently that the work in front of him is not good enough, the soft, prodigious voice that comes to him in the stillness will cease. There is too much pressure now and pressure does not induce language, words, text or inspiration. The poet in transit is somewhat also a lone figure of the imagination. Take the example of Noah’s ark and his quest for example and the animals of both genders that had to be brought upon his boat.
The poet can be a titan if he chooses to be. We as the imbued reader do not have to struggle to understand what the poet is trying to say. It is enough for us to play around with our own ideas and decide for ourselves what artful message the poet is trying to convey with the skill of his words.
What is modern poetry really about besides mysticism and love? We, human beings, all yearn for love and have not yet come to accept the rules of the wild that tell us to be aggressive, arrogant, move from sphere to sphere, realm to realm, workplace to workplace with our inborn fears and abhorrent ego. As we engage, interact, come into contact with other individuals who have the same goals as we have in mind so we realise and begin to live with that entity called love in our lives.
All poets are mystics without even realising it. They might argue that it is not so but there is always something greater at the wheel, something greater at work behind the course of the words on the page, behind the ink of the pen, behind the thoughts of a writer of poetry just killing time in a diary or a journal. It is something holy, elemental and angelic – you see the world through the eyes of an angel – here in your mind’s eye the world has not yet withered away, is not lacking, distressing, denigrated or defiled; it does not come with a reusable filter.
The poet’s commitment to his task at hand, the vivid portions of it is always questioned and its limits, borders and boundaries tested. It is not the wet lips, gaping mouth or the words, the intimate letters that abound in sweet, adventurous leaps that is spiteful, corrupt rather it is the mind behind it; the subconscious that lays the foundations with the basics of figures of speech and language. Sometimes the poem starts in the beginning, sometimes in the middle or sometimes even at the end. The reader must realise, sometimes with a chill down his spine that a poem is not pulled out of the air.
Poets need patience like we need air to breathe, to fill our lungs and space like a constant gardener ceremoniously at work. They need to be nurtured in their career. The war inside their heads is often a war of nerves. The human condition promises one thing, mortality.
Poetry promises immortality.
To succeed, a poet must commit wholeheartedly to the task given to him and be consumed absolutely by it. Perfection cannot wait forever. He must do it unashamedly, with a great humility, an awareness of a peace of mind, emotional maturation and then complete it.
If he is a Christian he must follow the creative pattern given to him by having a Christian heart, if he is a practicing Buddhist by having a Buddhist heart then he must willingly follow his stream of thought, a mystic by having a mystic’s heart, a Brahmin by having a Brahmin’s heart, an Essene by having an Essene’s heart. Every poet believes in something even if it is only the endearing goodness of the human heart.
A poet must release his demons before he meets his glory; his audience, a reader.
This he can do through prayer, meditation or journaling. We will see the dominating courageousness of the poet as we read the poem aloud. If we remain absent from the poet’s perspective, disconnected from the poet, the harmony and the flap, the skin of the poem diminishes, becomes vacant to us and is mind numbing.
It is easier said than done for a poet to fulfil all the gifts and talents that is bestowed upon him. He might not believe his luck, the coercion of the roots of the essence of his soul, or take it for granted under the circumstances that manifest themselves. When he does the latter he loses that impulse and is no longer engaged with that subtle balance, that fine omniscient equilibrium.
Reading poetry from a young age can build self-esteem. It is here where our first intense relationship grows from strength to strength, from pillar to post, caught between a rock and hard place. It is where our sometimes crippling adolescent moodiness that we use as a crutch and an internal dialogue plays such an important role in our spiritual, mystic and psychological development. It is also here where our psychic touch gathers instruction.
Libraries, books, poets save poets from the decay, abuse and the abnormal around them. In return poets save children and adults from prejudice and oppression. It has permanently always been like this.
A strange, bereft cosmic force, its imprint laid bare comes to life on the page uniting all forms in solidarity like karma police.
The very act of writing anything is emotional. It is a key to our borderline spirit. It grounds us when our ego swells. It is a hard, from the get go, career to be successful in. Realising this from the onset only makes us see the world as it is and not through rose-coloured glasses.
The very act of writing has a link and a learned leaning towards soul consciousness or God consciousness. It has a separate identity and will from man’s ego. Its seed is precious and only lasts as long as the poet is conscious of the hymeneal stream of thought in his mind is not a daydream or wishful thinking. Poetry reveals the deepest secrets that come from the core of our heart. Many poets are self-taught, educated in the tough and mean ways of the University of Life, drawing their inspiration from the scope of the universe around them, touching the tendrils of life and fashioning them in a unique platform and forum. It is this that gives way to the culmination of love and mysticism in the poet’s voice.
What motivates me to write? It’s harder to explain to non-writers and easier in some ways to explain to writers who write for the sheer thrill of it, the madness clicking away inside your brain and the hell of it; to sweep away all the cobwebs out from underneath your psychic mind. In some cases writers sometimes miss the interior spaces that come in the neutral, empty nothingness between the words. Writing has created miracles in my life; it has created within me a deep sensitivity for the human condition, mushroomed insightfulness in the blackness of my depressions that is and will be forever linked to my imaginative, artistic and creative expressions. Without my depression I cannot write. I am left blinded; exiled from the distortions and the truthful meanings of words, a weakened, grasping, and gasping fool, a terrifying puppet with a weathered resolved.
Mysticism, love in poetry and piled up features with nowhere else to go except the slush pile.
Writing ages me as I arrange the words on the page, mellows me like a fine wine as I slowly take cognisance of the fact of what I am committing to the page, it smells of the scent of freshly washed, limp hair, something novel and benign, linen airing in a cupboard lined with peeling old-fashioned wallpaper left over from an odd job of doing a wall years or months before. Writing reminds me of my mother’s rose garden in full crimson bloom (the one that she meditates on early in the morning), her perfumed wrists, her perfumed lobes behind her ears, it pulls and pushes words gently and then forcefully against my mind like oars in water, makes me crawl like a vulnerable baby, makes my words walk stooped like an elderly man leaning on a cane who has frail and delicate bones. It spooks me sometimes; jerks me into tidal daydreaming, when pain or hurt moves within me leaving me to lick my wounds so does inspiration in small doses or a heavy weight. Inspiration for me has always been the definition of a miracle.
And so we come to the education of the mind.
Writing is my calling. It has taken me over twenty years to discover that. For years I considered it a secret. Words would rush out like blisters out of my pen. I won prizes for it at school. I had imagination. I was imaginative and sensitive. I was going to be an investigative journalist or a documentary filmmaker. But God infinitely takes those decisions out of your hands, chooses your pathways; your final destination. It carried me through tumultuous times; bullying, changing schools, built character, boxed my creativity within me until such a time came when I could put it to good use and colour invisible boundaries around me to protect my mad heroines and protagonists, my adolescent moodiness. I alternated unnervingly emotional maturity, alchemy, humanity and purity. For this I have to seek inspiration everywhere. For all the parts, egos, identity crisis’s, cogs and wheels of the machine to work I have to rely not only on pen and paper but also on hope, education, beauty and then setting everything to self-destruct so that only a blot of that remains that I can knit at, peep at, peek at, address, disguise and dismantle. I knit all these blots together and make them into features that heal, features that magnify the audacity, the intensity of the circle of life that has to be, most of all, endured. Something changes when we grow older as writers. We overcome storms. We learn breathing lessons.
What of the fate of the writer, the female writer, the persuasion of the feminist?
The denial of suffering for your craft comes easily to some writers; not to all. There are times when I feel like every word I write is the last one that will come to mind. It scares the hell out of me. First, where do all of them, these words, come from (this always amazes me), some kind of wish factory from heaven? Will they eventually die out, become extinct; aside from behaving like gorillas in the mist at first to capture your attention even in a dark, hellish mood? Or will they vanish without a trace into a shimmering haze from where I first beckoned them from like a heat wave. Sometimes the world is a blur. There is no filter from your head to your mouth and the messages that your brain is sending to your memory box is so frequent and excessive that you forget jewels of thought and pearls, gems of wisdom. Words when they’re estranged from you (this is called writer’s block) always set up a challenge for the writer. Have I lost it now completely? You grow older in years but the words that spring from you are always in their infancy stages. You always have great expectations for them.
There are pieces of writing that pierce hearts, pieces that charge the air with electricity, pieces that leave readers in tears, wanting more, having their cake and eating it too. Pieces of writing that pierce the heart, leaving the writer breathless, leave the reader breathless too. If you’re moody, that usually rubs off on the characters as well and the reader can sense that. Never hesitate to write when you’re depressed. Some of your best work although it can be suggestive of what you were feeling at the time should well just be left alone to stand on its own ground and speak for itself. Don’t explain too much or you’ll give it all away and then where is the sense in that. Writers’ birth words, give words life, give them air to breathe, mouthfuls of it and give them a splash of colour to rejuvenate them in a sense of a wonderland. They’re not written on the body in tattoos for nothing. We are all hungry for words and for knowledge and for the gifts that come from them.
And so we come to the eyes of the gods.
In words, in language, in meaning and their purpose we can see the eyes of gods. Some are Buddha-like, sturdy, built like brick walls. There are others like me out there who see words as meat, living out their dreams writing haiku and poetry until it completely sates their thirst like moths attracted to light bulbs, getting into the spirit of it all of being a little known writer, while having a normal day job that pays the bills. The empty shell of a writer is one that attracts eternal insomnia, fighting off sleep, madness, depression, mental illness, psychologists, chaos, disorder across a desk and leaves room for little else some might say but the shell also retains the order of families, progeny, small children growing up with vocabularies of children much older than they are; writing and words come with a love even of just hearing the wonderful words of herbal teas like chamomile that your psychiatrist drinks during her breaks from seeing her patients, chai tea from India that your sister brought home from her vacation there or an infusion of green tea or a flask of coffee. It leaves you with a hunger, no, a craving for seeing your name out there as if it was a completely different entity than you and what you created out of nothing; simply words.
By using my powers of observation as a child; that’s how the English language, verse, the rhythm and internal rhyme of words came to me, came at me from the symmetry of my gut. Growing up the eldest of three children, my father drilled ‘responsibility is key when it comes to your younger siblings’ into the fabric of my mind. I always wrote. I had diaries in which I would bare the darkest secrets of my soul when I was a girl. I keep journals even now. I love the stream of consciousness writing that comes from journaling. I love putting staccato-like pencil to paper, watching the vast wilderness of your consciousness unfold within the demonstrative blossoming sight of your imagination. I do write full time and I’m a workaholic. Everything is a process. Writers and poets by nature are sensitive and intuitive. I don’t know if this happens with all writers from other countries but I do know this. African writers write in blood. It’s in the ladders of their genes. If I said, ‘I don’t like to talk about my new work. It means I’m getting ahead of myself.’ What would that mean; that I’m arrogant, think highly of myself, that I’m above other writers and poets? Humility continually cuts a writer’s ego down to size. I’m constantly thinking aloud about whatever I’m working on and I have to make notes. I think if I told you what I was working on, I don’t think you’d completely believe me. My memoirs, another prose poetry book is in the works, I am constantly writing or working on ideas for short fiction. The medium of being published online has certainly afforded me a lot of opportunities (that I wouldn’t have had otherwise) and for that I will eternally be grateful for generous, hardworking editors who work behind-the-scenes who have given me ‘lucky’ breakthroughs and for those who have published my work in print.
That is a very difficult question for me to answer. I am most comfortable with the genre of memoir when I am in that frame of mind. It’s when I feel I have the most freedom to speak my mind, to write as I please with no one telling me what to do, wanting to change this or that. When it comes to writing poetry, haiku, prose poetry I am like a caged bird when I’m in that frame of mind. When I am most inspired, I am also most lost. There am I, changing the structure of a sentence, taking a phrase out, self-editing, editing, editing. It’s never going to perfect but to me it has to be as close as I can get. And if it isn’t perfect then I feel that I’ve failed somehow in a way.
I would like to try my hand at writing science fiction. ‘Mr. Goop’ inspired me. Ivor W. Hartmann’s story that won the Baobab Prize a few years ago.
Above all read African writers, read everything you can lay your hands on but most of all be you. In the end, the only thing that matters is between you and your God, truth and beauty, love and mourning, nothing and everything, faith and light. The continent that has inspired so many generations before you; will inspire other poets and writers and will continue to inspire you and I’ve been there. I’ve had pieces of work that have been rejected, ripped apart by a ‘glassy-eyed’ editor, so will you. It will not be, is not the end of the world.
Corruption doesn’t discriminate. No one is immune to it. Everyone is fair game whether you’re connected to high ranking politician or a powerful family or working in local government. Miners’ working under deplorable conditions is nothing new. Alan Paton wrote about that in, ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ and this engrossing book has now been around for decades. It is now part of school curriculums.
The mines in South Africa have been part of the fabric of the consciousness, the landscape of this country since the inner workings of apartheid were put into motion. Nothing has changed and yet it seems on the surface that everything has. You hear about these stories every day and you become so desensitised to it and at the end of the day you realise that there is nothing really that you can do constructively, except keep the faith that things will gradually move off by itself in the direction from the worst of conditions to the better.
Of course, my heart bleeds for them, those miners. They’re only human. They have families, wives and children. But that’s not the first things people see when they open up a newspaper in the morning with their coffee. To them, the miners, employment is employment is employment (they see it as nothing else) and that is why education is so important. It shouldn’t be addressed or implemented as a ‘just cause’.
The sensitive and emotionally mature amongst us will not shy away from issues of the day that has to be addressed, not just for the sake of addressing them. To change anything today is a revolutionary mission but it is one that begins with clarity of vision, equality, respect and recognition of communities at the grass roots level slipping into being. (I hope I have answered your question to the best of my ability. Please feel free to continue with this line of discussion. You’re opening up the void of a black hole.)
No and I must say this with huge emphasis. Service delivery in the rural areas, the townships where unemployment is high, skills development is low is non-existent and so far nothing is forthcoming from the government of the day except it seems empty promises when local government elections roll around. There is crime, criminal syndicates operating in the major cities. Clean, running tap water, sanitation, waste removal and electricity should be high on the priority list because it concerns the poorest of the poor; the majority of the population is living in squalor, slums, raising their children, families literally on bread and water. What kind of society treats its most vulnerable citizens in such an unjust way? Children are raising children. Sisters and brothers are playing the role of the absent parent in their younger siblings’ lives and that is the travesty, the legacy of HIV/AIDS has left behind in its wake.
Xenophobia is a large scale diabolical injustice in South Africa. It is pure evil what the human race is capable of doing physically, emotionally and mentally to one another. It is unnatural and disturbing to see this level of poverty, crime and death in the aftermath of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ and ‘African Renaissance’. People are selfish, self-absorbed and self-indulgent but what they don’t realise is that the world doesn’t owe them anything. We are so consumed by money, cars, employment, visions of glory and wealth and personal success. You have to make your own way in this world even though mountains like punishment and stage fright are staring you down, at every turn, every corner with snake eyes.
The world we are living in today is a world filled with madness, wide-open despair and it is like a fire tugging at your heartstrings, the pathways of nerves that connect to your consciousness; the effects, the black head of depression and mental illness are everywhere to see. Its existence can no longer be furiously hidden away from view and denied. On the outside everything glitters but inside there is still urgency for bittersweet freedom and a living, breathing self-awareness, I feel, for this nation.
I didn’t deliberately set out to leave apartheid out or not write about it. In the end, it just happened that way. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Only when I began this conversation with you, did I realise just how much of a role I played as a ‘witness’ to this/these heinous crime/s committed, in the name of the law of the land of this country, at the time when apartheid was what people were thinking was triumphing over the weak, the infirm, the destitute at its peak.
Apartheid deserves a book all on its own. One subject under the sun that I feel I will take on as I mature more and more as a writer. It will be challenging. There is so much rage, sorrow, a visceral disconnect between people who were the ‘privileged minority’ during apartheid and then there were the ‘shamed minority’ living stuck in the trenches of poverty and death. There are a lot of things, themes of the South Africa that I knew as a child that I left out of it (the poetry book), when I look back on the book in retrospect. Yes, you’re right. So much more could have been said, perhaps I should have spoken about it, the life experience of a majority living in a case of perpetual state of feeling anxious, humiliated to the core, self-conscious and apartheid closed in on me, every facet, aspect and abstract of my childhood, adolescence and youth. Not just me but an entire country. On the one hand it was flourishing and on the other it was a complete paradigm shift; in other words, infinite good on the one side versus resident evil. I did not want to state the negative, the negative, the negative over and over again because it was omnipresent in every sphere, realm, empire, castle wall, ivory tower that apartheid was built on. If I had a book of hellish negatives (as a writer you can’t work in that oppressive and claustrophobic realm, I mean, I can’t deliver what I feel to be my very best work) how would people be drawn to it, was what I asked myself over and over again?
Thinking about it I am glad I did not pay any sort of ‘homage’ to apartheid in my first book. The market here (South Africa) is saturated with books on that subject. No one talks about Africa, the continent, the people, the inhabitants in a way that I feel I do in my first book. I’m happy with the book but can any writer or poet really say that they’re completely happy or that they feel it’s finished-ish? You always want to go back and change something and there is always something you’re not happy with in the end, but in a way it is also liberating to feel that way.
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