“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.
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.
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.
At the time (the mid 1980s), these were known in South Africa as Standard One (Grade Three) and Standard Two (Grade Four).
The first of which can be viewed on Facebook here, Twitter here and Google+ here.
The South African spring is officially here, but it was already in full effect these past few weeks as the first swallows returned. This was providential because I spent the month revising “Swallows!”, a rhapsody about my favourite bird. After quickly evolving from a one-verse sketch into a four-verse ballad—the development of which I shared on social media1—the poem is now complete, and I shall start revising the next one directly.
I outlined new poems
Struck anew by the loveliness of the rural world around me, I was compelled by three sights to compose new poetic sketches: “Pear Tree” was inspired by a lonely pear tree in early bloom, the last of what was once an orchard2; “A Partly Cloudy Morning” by the mist floating above the wheat whilst I was out in the fields; and “A Blustery Day” by just such a day when the wind blew strong and made the pines sing as if they were a choir!
I embraced a longer artist cycle
Pleased though I was with the new poems, they brought the total number of new sketches to seven, and poems for this collection to thirty-four. It occurred to me that I shall never complete this project were I to continue composing new poetic sketches. I resolved, therefore, to stop writing new poems after “A Partly Cloudy Morning”; but a few days later, confronted by the pine tree choir, could not resist outlining the draft for “A Blustery Day”!
It was clear that my well-intentioned resolution was senseless. I realised that my original goal of publishing the poems by the end of the year was unachievable; and so, rather than subject myself to unnecessary pressure, decided to embrace a longer artist cycle3 instead. Where in the past I had hoped to publish poetry at least once a year in addition to releasing new music, I came to see that it was wishful thinking for work of this kind.
Writing traditional poetry is a time-consuming process, one I find deeply fulfilling, and I see no reason to go precipitously about it. There is value in living with one’s work for as long as one can in a period of reflection and refinement. Poetry—however simple (and mine is very simple indeed)—benefits greatly from this. I shall publish my poems when they are complete, be it this year or the next, and new music will come thereafter.
I shared the evolution of the poem—from the initial sketch to the draft as it was on 11 August 2018—on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (the most legible version).
My village was once known for its pear orchards, earning it the nickname “Little Pears” Town.
By this I mean the time it takes to conceptualise, create and release work.
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!