By using my powers of observation as a child; that is 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 am a workaholic. Everything is a process. Writers and poets by nature are sensitive and intuitive. I do not know if this happens with all writers from other countries but I do know this: African writers write in blood. It is 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 am arrogant, think highly of myself, that I am above other writers and poets? Humility continually cuts a writer's ego down to size. I am constantly thinking aloud about whatever I am working on and I have to make notes. I think if I told you what I was working on, I do not think you would 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 is 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 am 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 is never going to perfect but to me it has to be as close as I can get. In addition, if it is not perfect then I feel that I have 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 have been there. I have 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 does not discriminate. No one is immune to it. Everyone is fair game whether you are 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 are only human. They have families, wives and children. However, that is 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 should not 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 are 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 do not realise is that the world does not owe them anything. We are so consumed by money, cars, employment, visions of glory, 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 did not deliberately set out to leave apartheid out or not write about it. In the end, it just happened that way. It was not 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 are 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 repeatedly 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 that 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 am happy with the book but can any writer or poet really say that they are completely happy or that they feel it is finished-ish? You always want to go back and change something and there is always something you are not happy with in the end, but in a way, it is also liberating to feel that way.
Of the brutality of my illness, 'Iris' is left in the corner. Love me up. Fill the void. Nothing, nothing ever seems to.
Iris the poet.
I am a formidable workwoman, workhorse by nature and an experimenter of sorts. Isn't every poet? I am also deeply moved by art, I have a passion for work, I am attracted to the vital energy of love, death and consciousness, God and movements, observations, spirituality. I hope to speak about life in my poetry, about how it anchors me when I need to be, when my thoughts need to be reined in and anchored and how it frees me in another sense, another world. This world that I reach out to, speak about and come into contact with is the world that finds itself in communities. Here neighborhoods occur of parallel dimensions of the meditative union, of feeling the nature of a supreme being, of the whole of familial love, the drama, greatness of life in poetry and how it is acknowledged, the dream sequence of dream sequences in words. I celebrate the private self of the Outsider in verse, the loneliness the Outsider feels, the blank pressure, the threshold, and the inclinations.
I often feel outside of myself in crowds, sitting in the car in traffic or even when I am by myself with the still, small voice, that internal monologue as if I am having an out of body experience without my permission. However, I firmly believed that it came with the territory. Poets must suffer, must brave the storms of tragedy, must deal with the blows life deals them, and must learn to be, jive and jest. They must learn to amuse themselves on their own. Poets are roses wrapped (trapped) in glass vases. What do you do in an empty space except to expect the complex, paint it in diverse colours and patterns? How do you go about organising it into a meaningful whole? Look, even my scars from childhood, youth, the country, and the personal attack of city-life are pure and the waste of the elegant wasteland inside my head. Even though I have a constant craving to put away the sun in a rain cloud of rage.
Iris's writing flowering after sickness and a funeral.
The tall grass was like moving pictures amongst the glowing ochre. It is written on us, isn't it? I can feel the solitude in a leaf, when trees whisper to each other, in the afterglow of twilight, that warm and balmy haze speaks to me, all the summer in it. I have lost all of them now that she has passed on. There is a disconnection on the telephone with all of them. I have nothing to say to any of them. My aunt is dust now or an angel, stimulus or an impulse, a thought or a living in a dream world and I have been left on my own to flower, to adventure into the greatness of the unknown, its brutal and aggressive nature. I know something of those tokens. I must remain vigilant of the occurrence of mania; the mass of contradictions that arises with euphoric highs that explodes into life behind my eyes. It hustles me swiftly from stillness to the multiplicity of madness. I did not say good-bye properly. I did not cry.
Iris (wishing that her sister would speak to her) and Gracie on the telephone.
'We need the money. I'm just asking because we need it.'
'I don't know what you want me to say.'
'Okay Gracie (but I am just trying to sum it up the best way I know how). Thank you for listening anyway.'
'Okay then. Bye.'
'Goodbye (why do you have to be so cruel).'
The measurement problem.
'Daddy, I told myself I wouldn't telephone her.'
'But you did.'
'I know but it was a mistake. Mummy's side of the family they are all toxic for me. The being of the stigma of all mental illness is toxic. I do not want to have anything to do with them and that is my final say. Say I will not telephone her again. Please, just say it daddy. Help me.'
Welcome to Iraq.
'You can work.'
'So you're saying I'm lazy.'
'Bipolar hasn't stopped other people.'
'Who are these 'other people'? You mean people who come from money, who were raised to be good citizens? What do (the bloody hell dammit I am not a child you are talking over) you mean exactly by those words?'
Adam's Wish for his daughter Iris.
'If you say you won't Iris then you won't. It is as simple as that. What more do you want me to say?'
'It's as if Gracie is saying bipolar is my self-inflicting wound. As if I asked for it, that it is my fault. Of course, I am not expecting her to take responsibility to live my life for me. People do not change. Materialism is important to her. Lip-gloss is her god. How can I have a conversation with someone that I have nothing in common with?'
Catching ghosts by putting bags over their heads.
In those days, nobody spoke of mental illness. It is not as if people are talking about it now. They are writing about it, the wreck of its torment, its oppressive gestures and perhaps the physicality of it but it is still spoken in a hush. It is driven with hands and clenched fists behind closed doors into a private realm. There are no shortcuts when it comes to dealing with ghosts. You have to face them high, head on and with your chin up.
The invisible interpretation of inventing Sylvia.
For all her life, Gracie treated her sister is as if she was a walking-taking-productive-functioning-disease. She was a cold and disenchanted pale figure of heat and red dust, scaling the walls of the netherworld of photography under world and sky. She walked with her Nikon around her neck a fraudulent poser. If she was pretty or lovely, fair or beautiful she knew it. She would never be my silver lining. She would always let pensive little me burn in her shadow. I have so much more to live for. My mother's mood is patient. She waits for the perfect moment to despise you, to kill you with a look or to catch you off guard. I believe she is never truly unkind without a purpose in mind. Ah, there is Sylvia, at her most feverish, most high and elevated to her pure height of mother when all her children are present, therein lies her mysterious destruction that is immortalized by its authentic twists, narrow paths.
Aspects of Iris's Mind and Poetry.
I will forever hold images of men, the strange memories that I have of them, the things of men as close to my heart as I hold my breath. They have been the ones who have shaped me culturally and otherwise. If it had not been for them, their airs, dalliances into a cold and cruel world, their sometimes-unforgiving domination, their force of control, their hierarchy I would not have the peace of mind I have today and that I am committed to keeping at all costs. The weather report, the heat and the rain. That is all we ever seem to talk about. We have nothing to say to each other. Cat-eyed, blood-dripping women that I no longer stalk surround me; no longer wish to have anything to say to. Women who are aunts, daughters, cousins and that most obscene word to me, they are mothers with children who are learning to talk, act, and respond to the world around them like their mothers. God help us all.
Dialogue between two women who are getting older.
'Is it hot out there?'
'Is it raining?'
'Are the lights out?'
'How are you?'
'What did you cook today? Is there a fire burning in the kitchen?'
'What's the weather like/the traffic like on the roads?'
'Did you deliver flowers today?'
'Can I talk to my mother, please?'
'Just hold on one second. She is in front. What are you guys doing?'
'We're doing nothing. Nothing as usual.'
'I know you like to sleep late (it's afternoon). Did I wake you?'
Iris and Neil.
Shall I write a poem and compare your face to the sun. First on the list of terrifying suspense -- Neil held my hand tightly in his. Nostalgia is searching through an album where my funny face is completely unrecognizable. I saw the moon this evening and I was grounded and composed by the stars in the sky. In one afternoon, I was swallowed up whole by a hike. We climbed over rocks, our spirits renewed by the sense of adventure. We washed our hands after our picnic lunch in a cooling stream. Memories are made of this. I wish that you were here with me now. I want to show you this book I found at a second-hand bookstore that I have already reread four times. I wonder if you will feel grieved at the same places, I did at the decisions the hard and successful characters made.
Iris on Art.
Art mirrors life. Hellish art mirrors hellish life. The gifted (the most gifted at this time in history) youth and young at heart are fighting through the medium of art. Writing is art. Poetry is art. Art is art. To protect our legacy we must make history and end poverty. The higher powers, the authorities, government, authority figures must push through the segregation issue. We, Africa (our country), the world, we are all crying to be born again. Art can generate a sense and a sensibility of self-worth. With climate change and the wreck of the recession that has hit all of us like a freight train there is a sense of an ending but this also means that there is the familiarity and explicit recognition of a novel beginning. Exposing the self to the magic and the psychological-bent to art constantly, driving its core and the very force that is has as it plays a pivotal, empirical role in society just means that now it is necessary for us to move from consciousness to consciousness like a riverbed drowning in the ocean-sea.
Notes on loneliness. And when I go to sleep, it is there and when I wake up it is still there. A half-dream that slips away and all at once it is in reach. I can feel it, I cannot see it but I can sense it intuitively. I cannot explain why. I cannot explain this quantum leap.
Article © Abigail George. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-07-17
Image(s) are public domain.