This September

Through the Downs, 7 September 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I took this photograph whilst out among the hills, late in the afternoon.

I was transported to my childhood

“A Dream of Summertime” began as two stanzas, originally titled “Verses”. They were inspired by recollections from my childhood when (between the ages of eight and nine) I lived with my family in the great valley between the Babilonstoringberge1 and Kleinriviersberge2. There my mother taught at a small primary school for the children of farmworkers. I was one of her students in Grades Three and Four3, which she instructed together in one class.

The school was housed in two buildings. My mother and a second teacher shared a modest two-classroom building on one part of the farm, and the headmaster and a fourth teacher, one on another. Once a week, we would walk from one building to the other for subjects my mother did not present in Grade Four. On our way, we would pass through a forest with brambles and dandelions. These brambles and dandelions appear in the poem.

During that time, surely the happiest of my life, we stayed through the week in a farmworker’s cottage. It had two rooms, one door, a wood stove and four tiny windows overlooking the surrounding hills and valleys. Behind it was a ditch carrying water between a series of dams. It flowed fast in winter and hardly moved in summer. There I would marvel at dragonflies cavorting above the stream. The ditch and its dragonflies also appear in the poem.

I shared how my poetry comes about

Whilst “A Dream of Summertime” recalls images from the past, the majority of my poems are responses to the rural landscape about me now. Early in the month, I shared photographs of sights and the free verse they inspired in a set of five social media posts to demonstrate how my poems begin4. Were these lines to become a poem, they would undergo a significant transformation, since my ultimate goal is the composition of traditional verse.

Free verse is a powerful form of poetry, used to great effect by Richard Adams in the verses he conceived for Silverweed in chapter sixteen of Watership Down. Though his verses are a great inspiration to me, in the poems for this collection, I want to evoke the innocence and charm of simple rhyme on simple subjects—to hearken back to childhood, when poetry is uncomplicated, joyful, memorable and in its own way, profound.

Footnotes

  1. Babilonstoringberge (pronounced “bah-bee-lons-twuh-Ruh-ng-beR-guh” with the “o” in “or”, the “e” in “wet” and trilled “R”s) is Afrikaans for “Tower of Babel Mountains”. The range is named after its most notable feature: a great peak resembling (from some viewpoints) the Biblical tower as depicted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Lucas van Valckenborch in their paintings.
  2. Kleinriviersberge (pronounced “clayn-Ruh-fee-Rs-beR-guh” with the “e” in “wet” and trilled “R”s) is Afrikaans for “Small River’s Mountains”. The range often appears in my photographs, since I live near its eastern extension now. Indeed, it is one of its rugged spines you see in the photograph above.
  3. At the time (the mid 1980s), these were known in South Africa as Standard One (Grade Three) and Standard Two (Grade Four).
  4. The first of which can be viewed on Facebook here, Twitter here and Google+ here.

This June

Paradise Crane in a Field, 8 June 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I photographed​ this paradise crane, the graceful national bird of my country (South Africa), in a field. They are also known as blue cranes, after their elegant pale-blue feathers.​

My label released its first album.

The highlight of June was Origins, the inaugural release of the Lonely Swallow label: a collection of six contemporary classical impromptus for the piano composed, performed and recorded by Affan at his home in London. The pieces ebb and flow with delightful melodies and tempos that gently transport you along—now light and lively, now quiet and reassuring. (Of these, “Origin IV”, the fourth track on the album, is undoubtedly my favourite.) I am honoured to have worked with Affan on releasing his first album. I hope you enjoy the work of this very talented musician.

I drafted an essay.

The subject of Art fascinates me. A graphic designer by profession, my field of study was the Visual Arts; yet, notwithstanding the theory, my conception of Art has always been nebulous, nuanced and pliable. I consider it fortunate that my pursuit of music and poetry has since forced me to think more intelligibly about the nature and purpose of Art. As a result, my understanding has become more clear, and to elucidate this emerging view, I have drafted a simple essay in which I attempt to demystify the matter. When completed, I shall post it here.

I resumed work on my poetry.

In the meantime, I continue revising the poetic sketches for the collection of poems I want to self-publish. Some are completed, some await rewriting, and some have been discarded. At the present time, I am writing “The Pines”: two verses about the sound of the wind as it moves through the trees. Even as I think of this theme, I smile. Writing these poems is a deeply fulfilling occupation. They are little celebrations of Nature—short, simple and sincere outpourings of admiration and awe. I cannot wait to share them in time!

Mentioned in this post:

Origins (Bandcamp)

This March

Sheep on the Hill, 16 March 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I took this photograph of a flock of sheep peacefully grazing on a hill.

I was tricked by a bird!

I have been working on the last of a set of three poems titled “The Batis” for the greater part of March. The Cape batis is a small bird with one of my favourite calls—three simple notes which it measures out in the sweetest whistles: foo-foo-foo, foo-foo-foo. I have been enamoured with the creature ever since I first heard its call and was compelled to adore it in verse! The subject of the third “The Batis” poem was not, however, this particular three-whistle call, but another: cherooo-weet-weet-weeeet. I had attributed this call to the batis because I had seen the bird sing this song last year, and in the “The Batis III” verses, describe both bird and call (and the joy it brings on autumn mornings) based on that incident.

A few mornings ago, hearing again the cherooo-weet-weet-weeeet, I ventured out to see if I could spot the bird. To my surprise, I discovered it was not a batis singing but a robin-chat! Puzzled, I set out to learn how I came to misidentify the songster and learned that robin-chats sometimes imitate the calls of other birds. I realised how I may have been tricked. When I identified the batis, last year, two things must have happened: the robin-chat sang the batis foo-foo-foo at one point and its own cherooo-weet-weet-weeeet at another, and I mistakenly attributed the latter to the batis, thinking it another of its calls; and since the birds look somewhat similar at first glance, subsequent sightings evidently compounded my error.

A Batis in the Tree, 5 May 2017. Copyright 2017 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A Cape batis (Batis capensis) in the garden.

Robin-Chat in the Tree, 5 May 2017. Copyright 2017 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A Cape robin-chat (Cossypha caffra) in the garden.

This meant I had written an ode to the wrong bird and it had to be changed! Upon evaluating the poem, I found that only the title and two lines needed replacing. “The Batis III” became “The Robin-Chat” and I exchanged two descriptive lines in the second verse—“A little bird of black and white / Brushed with reddish-brown”—for new ones more suitable, given what had transpired. Thus far, “The Robin-Chat” (heretofore “The Batis III”) has taken the longest to write and is still being revised in light of the new edits. Its four verses, though short, have, thanks to the subject matter, proven a fount of poetic possibility. Whether it becomes part of the final publication or not, it has been an adventure to compose!

I discovered an early poem.

This month, a year ago, I wrote “Rains and Roads”, the first poem drafted specifically for my poetry publication when it was still a distant idea. I came across the poem whilst organising my notes. It was dated 16 March 2017, a rough sketch borrowing somewhat from an earlier 2012 poem, “Autumn”. “Autumn” was the first poem I had ever written on a pastoral theme; in retrospect, my first essay at the format I would ultimately embrace: the Romantic lyrical ballad. “Rains and Roads” continues the theme of “Autumn” but applies it to winter. It consists of two verses and describes a wet day in the countryside: the sun breaks through the clouds after a shower of rain and rivulets trickle beside the gravel roads.

I spoke to David Armes about the poetry publication.

David Armes of Red Plate Press created and produced the handmade letterpress sleeves for the eponymous Forgotten Fields album. I spoke to him earlier this month about publishing the poetry as a handmade booklet—a paperback edition that draws on the minimalist theme of the aforementioned album. In my experience, looking into production early on has a positive effect on a project, and it has certainly been the case here. It has helped me define the concept of the work and thereby the nature and form of the publication. I function best when I have a clear framework for my creative pursuits—it liberates me from the tyranny of carte blanche—and so, articulating my thoughts to David was a boon.

I received the Origins masters and commissioned its artwork.

Taylor Deupree of 12k Mastering has done wonderful work with the recordings for Origins, the first release of contemporary classical pianist Affan and the inaugural release of the Lonely Swallow label. Origins is a collection of six impromptus recorded in low-fidelity. It has all the makings of an intimate, melodic and atmospheric listening experience which Taylor has expertly brought to life in the masters. During the aforementioned conversation with David Armes, we also touched on the visuals for Origins. He will start producing ideas on the press in April, bringing us another step closer to announcing a release date.

Mentioned in this post:

Batis capensis, Cape batis (Wikipedia)
Cossypha caffra, Cape robin-chat (Wikipedia)
“Autumn” (Forgotten Fields Blog Post)
Red Plate Press (Official Website)
Affan (Soundcloud)
Lonely Swallow (Official Website)
12k Mastering (Official Website)