The great burden of the artistic soul is an unbearable sensitivity. What scarcely disturbs the surface in others is to it a tempest.
To me, Romanticism was the only movement that truly began to answer the question of what Art is. Every movement before it was mere preamble, and after, stubborn rejection.
I see little value in art solely conceived to present an illusion, however ingenious. Illusion is the method by which Art reveals Reality—even Truth. Devoid of this objective, illusion alone makes a wanting work, a mere momentary amusement.
I have, throughout my adult life, found myself in the grip of a darkness: a persistent sense of dread and sadness caused by emotional neglect in childhood1. Its devastating effect has been the conviction that I am, at the core of my being, shameful and inadequate, leaving me yearning and striving for a perfection that would prove me worthy.
Whilst I have been labouring desperately and diligently under this self-imposed condemnation, I am at last recognising its destructive power and have, over the past few weeks, begun in earnest to dissect the beliefs that constrain me.
To distance oneself from familiar lies and become acquainted with daunting truths is an emotionally taxing exercise, one that only Art can make bearable, wherefore amidst this ordeal, I continue to work on poetry. Writing verses for this collection is a balm of joy beyond comprehension, dispelling my sorrows, giving me the courage to endure.
- “General lack of bonding with children, including disregard, dismissiveness, distancing, misattunement, disassociation, heedlessness, carelessness, oversight, inadvertence, inattention, unconcern, inconsideration or indifference. Ignoring or not communicating with children during periods of separation from them.” – “The Impact of Emotionally Neglecting Children”, Recovery Direct
Your art, like everything in your life, is a reflection of your values.
In most disciplines in life, the better you become, the easier the work. It is not so in art.
When sensitive children are born to parents ill-equipped to raise them—burdening them with a sense of shame (for who they are) and unworthiness (for failing to measure up to some unattainable, ill-conceived ideal)—it can be difficult for them to do the work of determining their self-worth. Their way becomes obscured by self-doubt, insecurity and fear, and they devote themselves to earning validation through the exploitation of their gifts. For artists, this often results in a perversion of their work, which they abuse to gain attention—creating to please rather than praise, protest or perfect—devoid of an authentic vision, producing whatever will soothe the desperation within.
Of a sensitive disposition myself, I have come to learn that it was a product of pure chance that I was born to parents incapable of truly understanding my nature; that I grew up with false information about myself—a distorted reflection of my value not only from them, but also those individuals into whose care they placed me. Were I born to parents capable of properly raising a sensitive child, I would not suffer the emotional handicap that thwarts me today. I have learnt that I do have worth, but that it was never affirmed in the way I needed it to be—as a boy, a young man, and now a man. This knowledge is liberating. It gives me a glimpse of life without anxiety, penance and doubt.
I grew up in the Overberg region of the Western Cape province of South Africa. There are farms of every description in every direction. In the part where I was raised (and where I live now), they are chiefly for the cultivation of wheat and barley, and the rearing of sheep. It is a region with endless hills, divided here and there by modest rivers, and presided over by low mountain ranges. I spent the whole of my childhood there—here—and it was—and is—heaven on earth.
It was only when I left for college that I fully experienced city living. It was not palatable to me then (though I did my best to adjust to it), nor is it to me now (so I do my best to avoid it). Whilst for many years, I lived in a large town beyond the Hottentots Holland Mountains—the Overberg region lies beyond or “over” these mountains or berge (Afrikaans)1—I always sought accommodation on the edges of the town, even though the town itself was not densely populated.
Nonetheless, I would visit my family home in the countryside as often as I could, as a means of escape. Nearly every weekend, I would make my way “over the berg” and immerse myself in the loveliness of pastoral life. When I could bear being separated from it no longer, I started thinking about returning permanently. I distinctly remember the moment I made the decision to do so: alone upon a hill, listening to the sound of a distant flock. A few months later, I moved back.
But eventually, familiarity did its work, and with time, I grew accustomed to the landscape and its creatures. They were still a comfort, but I was unable to recognise their true wonder. Much of this I now ascribe to a sense of alienation that has plagued me all my life, born of a deep sense of abandonment and disconnection that I felt in childhood. This perception came to a head at age six when I was sent to what for brevity’s sake, I shall call boarding school.
I would not have felt the periodic separation from my family quite so keenly had I earlier in life known that natural bond (and its security) with my parents. Sadly, the failings of my father and the pressures upon my mother meant that I was raised as an infant by my grandmother and nursemaids. Consequently, being sent away for most of my school life was overall a negative experience which produced in me a tendency to detach from people—and, I now realise, places.
That I would drift away from the very countryside I so loved was perhaps inevitable. It was a concerted effort on my part to overcome my inner struggles that led me to reconnect with it once again. This project was born at the beginning of that process. I soon found the more progress I made psychologically, the more I reconnected with the rural wonder about me. The Zephyr and the Swallow was my first, lucid response to it. “Forgotten Fields” then describes this journey.
- Berge is Afrikaans for “mountains”; the singular is berg. The former is pronounced “beh-R-guh” with the “eh” (and “g”) in “get” and a trilled “R”; the latter, “beh-R-CH” with a trilled “R” and “CH” the guttural “kccch” sound in “loch”, that is, not the “ck” in “lock”.
My love for traditional poetry began early in life. I ascribe it wholly to the influence of my mother whose love for Afrikaans poetry inspired in me the same. Her frequent recitation of lines from the great Afrikaans poets demonstrated to me the value of the art form. Even so, I came late to composing poetry myself, writing my first verses only in my early twenties. They were all lyrical ballads inspired by songwriters I admired at the time—especially Bob Dylan and Jim Steinman whose respective themes and styles captured my imagination.
When I later took up songwriting, my interest in poetry found expression in lyrics, and for the next decade, this was the sum of my poetic pursuits. Then in my mid-thirties, I started taking an interest in poetry proper once more, and in 2012 composed “Autumn” (an ode to the season) and another poem (since lost) the title of which I vaguely recall as “A Day by the Sea” (a recollection of love). These were the only poems I wrote during that period, but “Autumn” was significant because it was the earliest incarnation of what I am doing now.
Becoming a poet
In 2016, I had the idea to compose a verse as “lyrics” for the track “Silently You Sail” on Airship. Soon thereafter, I wrote a couplet for The Zephyr and the Swallow, followed by a ballad for the eponymous album Forgotten Fields. At the same time, I slowly began to rediscover my rural surroundings: the sights and sounds, landscapes and creatures. Though I had been in the midst of them (the “fields”), familiarity had rendered them all but invisible to me (“forgotten”), and I longed to reconnect with the pastoral world about me.
Not one to do anything halfheartedly, I immersed myself in the agrarian and unspoilt beauty of the Overberg region where I live in the Western Cape of South Africa; and as it revealed itself to me anew, poetry became my inevitable response. I began drafting rough poetic sketches—at first sporadically, then ever more frequently, until at last, it was all I wished to do—and it soon became clear a collection was in the making. By early 2018, after much deliberation and reservation, I was ready to assume the self-ascribed title of Poet.
I embraced the art form, eager to explore the themes of Forgotten Fields, thitherto undertaken primarily through experimental music, in its literary antithesis: traditional poetry. The experience has been engrossing. From an artistic perspective, traditional poetry is the inverse of experimental music, introducing a complementary aspect to my process; for where in experimental music I may bend, break and invent rules, in traditional poetry I must obey, uphold and defend them, drawing from me creative ingenuity of a different kind.
Conventions introduce challenges and opportunities of their own, resulting in work with a character impossible to create at the avant-garde extreme of the gamut. Traditional poetry may now be out of fashion (hence my self-publishing the collection upon completion), but it lends itself perfectly to what I wish to express. My poetry celebrates a forgotten world where Simplicity, Innocence and Joy awaits; where Reverence and Wonder have meaning; where swallows in the heavens inspire awe and ripples in the grass contemplation.