‘The Kleinrivier at Klipdrift’1 began as a short description for a video recording to be included in ‘Wander and Wonder’, a brief account of an afternoon in the Overberg, the rural region in the Western Cape province of South Africa where I lived for a decade and a half. The video was ultimately omitted from the piece, but the description remained, dancing with cadence and alliteration, evoking the river and its sights, resulting inevitably in a new poetic sketch titled ‘Little River’ at the time.
- Kleinrivier [claynrhfeer] is Afrikaans for ‘little-river’, a river; and Klipdrift [klipdrift], Afrikaans for ‘stone-ford’ or ‘Stanford’, a farmland area.
Joyfully, the lines summoned finches, reeds and eucalyptus, and it occurred to me to refer to some of these by their Afrikaans2 names, which are often idiosyncratic, thus, adding novelty to the poem. Finches, for example, are vinkies [fngkiss], reeds, riete [retuh] and eucalyptus, bloekom [blukom]. Also mentioned was vleitinktinkie [flaytnk-tnky], the common name for Levaillant’s cisticola, a songbird native to marshlands—one cannot help but smile at its cheerfulness, a word as lively as the bird!
- A language of South Africa derived from Dutch.
I, therefore, proceeded to weave the Afrikaans into the English lines, which, through rhythm and alliteration, brought to the composition the quirkiness only Afrikaans can supply. This, however, created a problem: since the poem was primarily an English work, rhyming required English nouns at the end of a line, and where two nouns appeared together in a line or stanza, one Afrikaans, the other, English, I found the result arbitrary, indulgent, making the words fumbling and the lines needlessly complex.
A further complication of this bilingual melange was the need for the reader to learn the pronunciation of no less than twelve Afrikaans nouns before reading could be fluent. The stanzas would be easy to digest for those familiar with Afrikaans, but others would find them cumbersome and frustrating. This spelt the end of the concept. Therefore, in the final work, the Afrikaans survives in place names only, namely Kleinrivier, Klipdrift and Oukraal,3 which are easy to learn and unnecessary to translate.
- Oukraal [ohkraahl] is Afrikaans for ‘old-stockade’, a farm.
As a small consolation for the sacrifice, I make reference to Afrikaans by using anglicised versions of its names for dragonflies and the above-mentioned cisticola: the former becomes ‘needleholders’, after naaldekokers [naahldhkwkers] (‘needle-quivers’), and the latter, ‘wetland tinkler’, after vleitinktinkie [flaytnk-tnky] (‘little wetland tinkle-tinkler’). Whilst this too introduces unfamiliarity, I find it bearable not knowing exactly the meaning, which a footnote may succinctly supply.
It had, of course, occurred to me to compose a wholly Afrikaans version, but without the contrast of the English setting, even ‘vleitinktinkie’ became unremarkable. For this reason, I lost interest in the version early on, abandoning it altogether after one draft. The version then that will be considered for the anthology is the English one. Though I was in South Africa at the time of its completion, I regret not taking the opportunity to visit Klipdrift, there to recite it to the river.
Two poetic sketches now remain, ‘Boys’ and ‘The Last Time I Saw Fireflies’. Both were written in mid-2017, placing them among the earliest drafts for what would ultimately become this collection-in-the-making; both were at some point discarded as potential ideas and then reconsidered upon reflection; and both are recollections of childhood. ‘Boys’ remembers bicycles, dirt roads and pears picked from a wayside tree; ‘The Last Time I Saw Fireflies’, my first encounter with fireflies in a shrub on a seaside dune.
‘Boys’ and ‘The Last Time I Saw Fireflies’ are the eight-year-old within me attempting to fix in rhyme those fleeting moments that make forever an impression on the soul. In the light, lyric lines that have come to define my style in the course of composing this anthology, the two poems will describe their themes in vignettes, skipping along, if I am successful, in a happy reminiscence. ‘Boys’ is already in development, to be followed by ‘The Last Time I Saw Fireflies’, finally completing the composition phase.