And the rains came down – a review of pushing from the riverbank
I am a fan of Alan Finlay. So the moment his latest instalment of poetry, pushing from the riverbank popped in my mailbox, just six days after publisher Gary Cummiskey shipped it i had that foreplay anticipation that increases your breath and heartbeat. You know those seconds before you are deflowered.
I, still infront of my 15 by 15cm blue mailbox, the grey ugly key still hanging on the tiny lock tore open the fawn manila and felt the cover – gloss. I then flipped it around and was met by a poem; “why do i wake up at four/ in the morning and think; “now is the time to work/ to finish the day before/ it starts”? what day is it/ just night sweeping over/ us: as my little boy climbs/ into bed beside me says/ daddy i can’t sleep i want to/ talk” – pushing from the riverbank
I then slid it back into the manila and took the walk home, salivating like a mongrel after sniffing Dogmor. I got home, buried it with some few festive books and magazines crying out to be read first as if they gained something from my indulgence. They felt a little jealous that here i was with a new ‘chick’ while i hadn’t deflowered them. They didn’t know i was going to kiss and tell – with the new chick that is.
Okay; the following day (which is today 15.12.10) i sat down and took serious bites on Finlay’s serving. The poetry is matured, as should be expected from Alan whose stint in his previous lifetime was editor of New Coin. Some people call New Coin ‘heaven’, saying that only few make it into its pages and it’s through the proverbial narrow road. Actually i had my first poetry published in the Coin when Alan was the editor and i haven’t managed to since then – which should say i have been on a wide road to??????? hahahahaha!
So, sometimes i go into reviewing poetry collections already prejudiced because i have professional relationships with the poets. Me and Alan met in Johannesburg when Shivava Cafe still existed as a venue where we could be creative while getting imbibed with the nectar. We hit it off – just like that. However that has nothing to do with how i interpret his poetry in this post.
Many years later Alan’s poetry still reflects the hunger of that simple man who wrote a poem about the mayor (Amos Masondo) of Joburg and called it a ‘found poem’. In it he was waxing lyrical about how a mayor who claims to understand Soweto lived in Kensington and how a march was planned to his house. Maybe when you have run out of labels you want to give people you like you might call Alan an activist. I probably think he’ll be the first to protest. He has worked with various poets though and his poetry is of such a quality that it does not need him holding its hand to stand out amongst others.
Alan’s poetry is characterised by rich imagery and a descriptive element that gives his work a strong presence. On the child goes out he writes, “the father holds a wall against his throat,/ my son and i walk out into the garden and it’s getting dark./ swing me, he says. But it’s getting late. As the light/ leaves, his life/ the father has already gone into the dark to find the child...”
Well, quite truly i don’t want to quote the whole collection. It is littered with strong poetry which often defies the structuralism approach some poets love. This is very experimental, in style and syntax. Alan is as ease with language and style. One notices that he hardly pushes himself as poetry is not a personality contest. Maybe he just pushes from the riverbank – probably Jukskei.
This thin collection is made up of 19 beautiful poems, both in verse and prose with catchy titles such as the dream of the tiger, after the fire, case study no.1, the child goes out, the child wants his mother, in the back of the bakkie, enough of an interruption, i watch you go etc.
Pushing from the riverbank is published by that hot iron, Dye Hard Press; the pages contain some pre-school drawings that should remind you of that time in your life before you tasted a kiss. I don’t understand the relevance of them in the book though, same as the caricature of a seven storey on the cover.