“Shepherd Girl” and its Afrikaans counterpart, “Skaapwagtertjie”, are complete. Having set myself the task, two weeks ago, of creating greater alignment between the final English and Afrikaans compositions (especially where they were overly dissimilar), I have achieved success.
Now, when the poems are placed side by side, they reflect one another as closely in phrasing and feature as grammar and style allow. Though it took more than sixty additional versions and variations to bring about this symmetry, I consider it time, turmoil and trial well spent.
“Mountains”, a two-stanza ode to the mountain ranges that line the Overberg region of the Western Cape of South Africa, is complete. What has to be one of the roughest poetic sketches I have ever jotted down—the first line, much to my embarrassment, began with “The something something mountain…”—is now a vivid lyric poem.
At first, I had little hope for the sketch, but its subject called out to me and I had to make an attempt. I am pleased I did! I shall reflect upon the composition in the days to come. Once I am satisfied I have exhausted all possibilities, I shall move to the next sketch—in all likelihood, “Shepherd Girl”, a vignette of my mother’s childhood.
The second stanza for “The Sun Through the Clouds” (previously, “Rains and Roads”) has been a success. Not only does it mirror the structure of the first stanza, it complements its concept in a manner I had not anticipated when I first conceived of it. The poem then is complete; its final title, “A Sunburst!”.
In the coming days, I shall reflect upon its lines to see if they may be further refined, but I am confident that it is now in its final form. In the meantime, I have officially abandoned the “Cranes” and “Autumn Day” sketches, as my criticisms remain, but I would like to make an attempt at developing “Mountains”.
Composed in 2012, “Autumn” was my first traditional poem, an ode to the season. Since then, I have learnt a great deal about poesy, and consequently, when I decided to include it in my anthology in the making, wanted to look at the composition anew.
Needless to say, I found it woefully inadequate, and over the past few months have transformed it into something that reflects my current level of skill. This reworked version is now complete.
The theme of the poem remains, but the stanzas are more focussed—rather than overflow with autumnal references (the exuberance of an inexperienced poet), they each dwell on one characteristic of the season instead. I am thrilled with the outcome!
To the next poem
I must now decide which sketch to develop next. I have been itching to work on “Little River” (started late last year, the final addition to the collection), but I prefer to proceed in the order sketches were first conceived (with a few inexorable exceptions).
Following this method, I have before me “Rains and Roads” (16 March 2017), “Cranes” and “Mountains” (both 18 March 2018), “Shepherd Girl” (12 May 2018) and “Autumn Day” (30 May 2018).
“Cranes” rehashes “Cranes and Sheep”, “Autumn Day” is hackneyed and “Mountains” has insufficient substance to be a poem in its own right. I intend to discard all three but will look for opportunities to weave their redeemable parts into other works.
“Rains and Roads” (on the joy of a wet winter’s day) and “Shepherd Girl” (a vignette of my mother’s childhood) both have potential. I grant myself the week to see which I am drawn to most.
I continue my work on the “Autumn” poem, extracting from its many stanza variations those that best express the theme.
The composition consists of eight couplets. Presently, I have whittled the variations for each down to two for the first couplet, one for the second, third and fourth couplets, two for the fifth couplet, one for the sixth couplet, and five for the seventh and eighth couplets—most of these have internal refinements yet to be made.
Now and then, a new idea for a variation interrupts me, but it is a welcome delay. I hope to have a final draft in January.
In the current “Cranes and Sheep” draft, the first three stanzas are all but complete. There is here and there a word or line I am yet to decide upon, but having gone through numerous variations of each of the three, they seem to me the most evocative expressions of the theme.
As is often the case, the last stanza (here the fourth) proves the most challenging. I am left with seventeen variations after the last edit. These are the possible versions I am testing for the conclusion of the poem (the while my recent compositional dilemma remains unresolved).
They all describe the same subject—a lamb afrolic—but the exact lines with which to convey it is the great question that diligence (and a poet’s inclination) must answer. This then is my work in the days to come. It always seems an impossible task, but I find the right verse in the end!
Incidentally, the title was taken from a redundant sketch in the current litany of poems for the collection; I am pleased to see it revived in this way but conflicted about including it. I resolved not to add new sketches to the list, and this reimagined version is technically so—I may have to move it to the “future collection” set.
Thus far, the initial “Cranes and Sheep” sketch has produced a number of variations which have led to five versions of the draft. (I explain here how I end up with so colourful a body of text.)
Whilst the first stanza has a few word variations in its third line—as I consider internal rhyme with its corresponding second stanza—it is an established part of the poem and the three stanzas that follow echo its structure, tone and style.
I must now work through the variations of each of these versions towards a final draft. I shall inevitably discover new ideas and directions as I do so, adding more variations along the way.
The origination of a traditional poem may seem a tedious task to the unfettered free verse poet, but to the lyric poet, the meticulous assembly of a composition—word by word, line by line, stanza by stanza—is a source of great fulfilment.