‘Little River’ Completed

The Kleinrivier at Klipdrift, 10 April 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A broken branch dips its fingers in the Kleinrivier as it quietly runs through Klipdrift in the Overberg region of South Africa. Taken 10 April 2020.

Riverine Reflections

‘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.

  1. 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!

  1. A language of South Africa derived from Dutch.
‘The Kleinrivier at Klipdrift’ Afrikaans and English Stanza Variation, 10 March 2023. Copyright 2023 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A variation of the second stanza with Afrikaans nouns swarteend [swahrteeynd] (‘black-duck’), swael [swahl] (‘swallow’) and wewer [veeyuhver] (‘weaver’).

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.

  1. Oukraal [ohkraahl] is Afrikaans for ‘old-stockade’, a farm.
‘The Kleinrivier at Klipdrift’ English Stanza Variation, 10 March 2023. Copyright 2023 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The final version of the second stanza in simple, fluid English.

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.

Weaver finches known as Red Bishops (Euplectes orix) in their red display feathers flitter about the reeds below the bridge at Klipdrift in the early evening. Taken 13 September 2019.

Childhood Recollections

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.

Poetry Publication Progress (2023-03-10)

“A Clapper Lark” Completed

Wild Flowers in South Limburg, The Netherlands,12 July 2022. Copyright 2022 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I happened upon this field of wild flowers last year at the height of summer in the south of The Netherlands. To capture its magnificence in a photograph proved impossible, wherefore I naturally resorted to poetry—a composition for a future anthology! Taken 12 July 2022.

On the Hiatus

The past year and nine months have been disruptive but wonderful. I moved from my beloved South African pastures to the hills of South Limburg (The Netherlands) and, as a result, have had little time to write. The reason for the move was love, which against all odds, I found at last in the form of a gentle Dutchman.

Adjusting to love and life in a new country—greatly aided by the similarity between the Dutch and Afrikaans languages (the latter being derived from the former)—this period was marked by distraction of the best kind, exploring parts of The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium with simple but unforgettable trips.

Amongst these was a visit to the picturesque home of Maurice Carême (1899–1978) whose lyric poetry for children made a lasting impression upon me when I first encountered it a decade and a half ago. The foundation in his name has preserved his home as he left it, affording visitors a unique glimpse into his life.

I had the singular and unexpected pleasure and honour to hold one of his original manuscripts in my hands. Were it possible, I would have spent the entire day poring over these fascinating documents, as well as his library, occasionally sitting in the laissez-faire garden, which in summer was pretty as a picture.

Musée Maurice Carême, 6 July 2022. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Impromptu pictures taken at Musée Maurice Carême (the Maurice Carême Museum) in Anderlecht, Belgium on 6 July 2022. From left to right: a bust of the poet in bronze, a sun-kissed settee in the sitting room and the modest exterior of the house. (So enraptured was I in his study—quite apart from the fact that I was asked to recite one of my compositions in that sacred room—that I took no pictures of his desk!)

On the Poem

Thus, after an unexpectedly lengthy hiatus, I resume work on my anthology of lyric poetry. It has been a year since the last poetic sketch, “A Tapping Beetle” (and its Afrikaans companion “Toktokkie”1), was completed. I then began developing “A Clapper Lark”, and I am pleased to report that it too is complete.

  1. Afrikaans; pronounced [tockTOCKy], with a clipped version of the [o] in “or”.

What began as an English sketch of but two short quatrains, after much wrestling and episodic inspiration, transformed into two compositions with eight even shorter couplets. These are centre-aligned so that the symmetry echoes the shape of the bird in flight and the length (or, more aptly, the height), its ascent.

Like “A Tapping Beetle” and “Toktokkie”, “A Clapper Lark” has an Afrikaans companion (I hesitate to use the word “version”, for it implies a mere translation, whereas it is conceived as a poem in its own right, though the theme and style are the same): “Kaapse Klappertjie”.2 Both celebrate the bird’s courtship display.

  1. Afrikaans for “little Cape clapper”, pronounced [KAAHpsuh KLUppuhRky], with [uh] as the [e] in “flutter”, [KLU] as in “clung”, a trilled [R] and [y] as the [i] in “it”.

To attract a mate, the Cape Clapper Lark male flies up into the air from the grasses, rapidly clapping its wings. As it reaches the highest point, it utters either a long, ascending “pooooeeee” in the case of the species that inspired the poem,3 or two descending “tseeoo tseeuuuu”s in that of the species I filmed.4

  1. Mirafra apiata apiata
  2. Mirafra apiata marjoriae

“A Clapper Lark” and “Kaapse Klappertjie” describe this lively flying-up-diving-down, clapping-then-whistling display in eight stanzas each.5 Of the two, “Kaapse Klappertjie” seems to me the most successful phonetically, rhythmically and emotionally, the result of the inherent crispness of the Afrikaans language.

  1. Whilst writing these paragraphs, I suddenly conceived of a simple way at once to infuse the English composition with more vivacity and joviality, and align its structure with that of the Afrikaans. Originally, the final version of the English poem had four stanzas and the Afrikaans, eight. Both now have eight. This text was adjusted accordingly.

The common name of the bird in each language is an excellent example of how Afrikaans suits the concept of the poems better: “Cape Clapper Lark” flows; “Kaapse Klappertjie”2 skips. Taking this difference into account, the boisterous display of this otherwise unobtrusive bird is best expressed in that tongue.

The above-mentioned “A Tapping Beetle” and “Toktokkie” and “A Clapper Lark” and “Kaapse Klappertjie” form a set describing the amusing manners in which the creatures in question attract a mate. All four poems are centre-aligned and make liberal use of onomatopoeia: a visual and lyrical delight to compose!

The Kleinrivier River at Klipdrift, September 2010. Copyright 2022 Google.
The bridge at Klipdrift in the Overberg region of the Western Cape province of South Africa that inspired the “Little River” poetic sketch. Upon my last visit there, it was being made flood-proof, altering the charming and unassuming structure forever. Not only do I deeply regret this modernisation, but also the consequential loss of the many meticulously-built swallow nests in its arches. (Image from Google Street View, September 2010.)

On a Bridge

Next, I shall develop “Little River”, first drafted in mid-September 2019. Whilst living in the Overberg region of the Western Cape province of South Africa, it was my custom to drive once a week to the seaside town of Hermanus. These drives resulted in many a sight, which, in turn, resulted in many a poetic sketch.

On the way, in summer, I would encounter flights of swallows at Klipdrift6 where a small, simple bridge crossed the Kleinrivier7 river. Beneath this bridge, they nested; upon it, they sometimes alighted in the roadway; and above it, they frolicked and flitted—always an exquisite performance for anyone willing to watch.

  1. Afrikaans for “stone ford” or “Stanford”, pronounced [clipdRift], with a trilled [R].
  2. Afrikaans for “small river”, pronounced [cleyn-RhfeeR], with a trilled [R].

How fondly I remember those moments, for I was such a one! I would stop upon the narrow bridge—to the bafflement and annoyance of the occasional fellow road user who would invariably appear just then and end my adoration—and lose myself in the spectacle of Greater Striped Swallows (Cecropis cucullata) in flight.

I would also see many other birds; among them, the African Black Duck (Anas sparsa) and Vleitinktinkie8 (Levaillant’s Cisticola, Cisticola tinniens), both of which appear in the original “Little River” draft: a sketch about the river, its bridge and its birds. In the coming weeks, I shall develop the draft into a complete lyric poem.

  1. Afrikaans for “little marsh tink-tinkler” (literally “marsh little tink-tinkler”); pronounced [FLEY-tihng-tihngky], with the [ih] as the [e] in “flutter” and [y] as the [i] in “it”; named after its tinkling call, whence its other English common name, Tinkling Cisticola.

Poetry Publication Progress (2023-01-06)

I continue to work on the “Little Evening Lily” poems as summer comes to South Africa. The lily in question has disappeared from the hillsides, but other wild flowers have taken its place. Among them is Cyanella hyacinthoides, its purple petal cuffs and golden stamen gloves earning it the common name Lady’s Hands. They add specks of colour to the waysides which grow ever paler with dry wild grass.

Cyanella hyacinthoides, Blouraaptol, 13 December 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.