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Popping Corks and Scintillating Poems at Modjaji's Eighth Birthday Party

Modjaji Books Birthday Celebrations

Pale gold and deep red sparkling wine filled the glasses of those who gathered in the Observatory Methodist church hall last Sunday afternoon. It was not the women’s auxiliary gone to seed that set Charles Wesley spinning in his grave but the presence of the rain queen, expressing her delight at the most exciting poetry event to date this year. Sponsored by Solms Delta, this was a party celebrating the tenacity and resilience of a remarkable institution.

By the end of 2015, Modjaji Books will have published 32 poetry collections by South African women since its inception in 2007. Added to that is a raft of other fiction and non-fiction that has established this small independent publisher on the South African literary landscape – not to mention the several significant literary awards and recognition that has been afforded its titles over the years. The delicious bubbly was the perfect accompaniment to the lush, robust and resilient verse that was read aloud by some of the city’s most talented poets.

The light filtering through the high windows on the late afternoon may have been muted but as each woman took the floor there was nothing mild about the poems read aloud, nor the topics they approached: the raw edges of childbirth and mastectomy, ageing and violence, were juxtaposed in a powerful expression of wit and eros, contemplation and courage.

Flowers decked the tables. Sumptuous chocolate brownies dusted with icing sugar, heart-shaped pecan tartlets, vegetable crudites and a delicious cheesecake decorated with rose petals and birthday candles was fitting fare for the celebration of the eighth year of Modjadji Books’ existence. Another aspect of the celebration was the launch of their most recent venture, the Modjadji Poetry Fund. This new project aims to provide a wider range of services to those who read, write and engage with South African women’s poetry in all its facets. Colleen Higgs, founder of the women’s press, said the intention was to create a new poetry prize (or prizes), mentoring opportunities, workshops, and honoraria for poets.

Malika Ndlovu

Emceed by the multi-talented performance poet and author, Malika Ndlovu, she launched the performance by saying, “This tree, this shower of women’s writing, its fruits and ever expanding web of connections being forged via the work Colleen has made visible, accessible through publication – is literally the rainmaking. This is the daunting yet defiant and resilient vision of a woman for herself and for other women writers, for the Southern African literary landscape and for book lovers at large.”

The poets who treated guests to their work included three Ingrid Jonker Prize recipients – Karin Schimke (2014), Beverly Rycroft (2012) and Megan Hall (2008). They were joined by Margaret Clough, Khadija Heeger, Helen Moffet, Christine Coates, Dawn Garisch, Colleen Higgs, Jenna Mervis and Kerry Hammerton.

These are the Lies I Told YouFourth ChildMissingLava Lamp PoemsHomegrownWoman Unfolding
Invisible EarthquakeBare and BreakingAt Least the Duck SurvivedStrange FruitBeyond the Delivery RoomDifficult Gifts


Each poet touched the audience with her remarkable offering. In particular, the new works, as yet unpublished, struck a deep resonanance: Megan Hall’s reflections on her daughter at three weeks of age; Helen Moffett’s chilling recollection of discovering armed men in her bedroom; and Kerry Hammerton’s reflection on her father.

Margaret Clough’s hilarious account of an elderly woman’s driving skills, performed as a two-part rendition of a hair-raising car trip and Colleen Higgs’ observation of her young daughter’s antipathy to a house guest sharing her bedroom counterbalanced the more anguished verses, bringing a lighter note to the performance.

Ndlovu offered the first poem on the programme because it encompassed the themes of truth telling, seeking, healing and connectedness. She chose a poem that would capture some of the essence of what drives much of what Modjaji Books publishes and represents. She said, “Modjaji publications encourage and represent the way of living your truth, walking your talk, daring to do the things you dream of manifesting in the world – and doing it in your lifetime.”

Truth Is Both Spirit And Flesh

Truth is both spirit and flesh
It is the hotel bill or photograph discovered in a pocket
The open mouth saying nothing in defence
It is the fact splattered across the courtroom
Exposed to cameras, microphones and strangers ears
It is the addict at the brink of suicide
Frozen between picking up a fix or the telephone
It is the vibration in your chest and stomach pit
That hits when you hear or read a real guru’s words
It is the breath absent from the body of a beloved
Who will not wake up or ever laugh into your eyes

Truth is the child speaking without thinking
Unaware of the adults they have suddenly stripped naked
It is the cut, the scar, the wrinkle, the rash, the swelling
The illness revealed in the face, in the shaking
The toxin reflected in the skin
It is the uninhibited hug projected from the heart
The electricity of a long time lover’s touch

Truth is the smoke or the stench
That cannot be dismissed or disguised
The bone that waits decades to be found
The memory in our cells
The irrepressible rising of tears
It is the current in our veins
The universal rhythm of our hearts
It can be understood in any language
It lives within the word and the sound

Truth is liberation and source of great pain
It is both water and fire
The visible and the invisible
It is the written and the unwritten
The space and the line
It is different
It is the same
It is buried
Yet it will not die
It is the silence before
Beneath and beyond
The lie
It waits for you and I
It will not die

Truth is both spirit and flesh

- Malika Ndlovu

Here are some of the other remarkable poems shared on the evening:

everything in our house

Kate thinks the lava lamp I bought her father for Christmas two years ago is
hers. She thinks everything in our house is hers.

Last night her great aunt, Tessa, from London, slept in her room. Kate doesn’t
want Tessa in her room.
“She’s not my friend,” she says.
“Not yet,” I say.
“She must go. When is she going Mama?”
“In a week or so.”
“But it’s my room.”
“Yes it is. But please let her use it.”
“Why can’t she sleep in your room with you and Daddy?”
“That’s a thought.”
And so on, until she concedes, “She can sleep in my room but she mustn’t
look at my toys. She must look at the wall.”
“OK, I will tell her,” I say.

Kate loves the lava lamp. It takes a while for the yellow wax to heat up and
fl oat languidly to the top where it falls again in bubbles and loops.
Sometimes we sit on the couch and watch the lava lamp in the dark.
It’s not like watching TV.
We’re not watching it exactly, we talk in that slowed down, profound,
goofball way.
Our eyes on the lava lamp.

- Colleen Higgs

What Life is Really Like

You need to toughen up
my father would complain
when I was small
I ought to take you to see
chickens having their heads
chopped off.
That’d teach you
what life is really like.

He’d seek me out
when one of his pigeons
-crazed for home or
mad with terror from a
roaming hawk-
would tumble into
the loft
mutilated by
wire or beak.

I was the one made to
clench my palms round
its pumping chest,
to keep it still while
my father’s hairy fingers stitched
its garotted throat
angrily to rights again.

You see life is a fight for survival
he’d shout, forgetting
he was not lecturing his students
or giving his inaugural address
You gotta roll with the punches.

I waited and waited for that bitter
roughness to spy me and circle
in to land
years and years
of flinching anticipation until
the day I came home from hospital

and my father dressed my wound.

Easing with practiced hands
the drip from my bulldozed chest
he renewed the plaster in breathing silence
never speaking never
once saying

Life’s a bastard
Toughen up.

- Beverly Rycroft

Sterkfontein Bones

The cave holds the bones
the cave and also the hospital
Sterkfontein, dust as old as stone.
She wondered if it had changed,
if there was concrete or
wooden walkways, a shop
that sold resin skulls for lamps.

The narrow opening still
concealed by kiepersol and wild olive,
she saw the bright bones –
a toe and a tooth.
It’s called The Cradle now
but it’s really a trapdoor –
animals fell in to die
on a heap of bones.

The other Sterkfontein
they called Groendakkies;
she sat with him on a bench there
under yellow apples of a syringa tree.
What men don’t understand, they
call madness,
she’d read it somewhere.
He wanted her to pick up the apples
that had fallen;
the silver apples of the moon
the golden apples of the sun,
but she would not.
Even if she did
she’d only have bones –
a tooth and a toe.

- Christine Coates

On Realising I am in Love with You

I wanted a man with a tall stride and
berry brown legs.
An adventurer.

A long haired surfer with an earing
and a six-pack.
A self-made man.

A millionaire. A bespectacled genius.
I am sure my ad said:
‘must love dogs’.

And I got you.

- Kerry Hammerton

Winter Interlude

Through wind, rain and hail
two daughters fly in to visit,
bringing laughter, wine and
an alpaca knee rug.
I’m told this is the worst weather
in Cape Town for decades.
But for me,
wrapped up in joy,
drenched in love,
it’s sparkling

- Margaret Clough

Two Gifts

I’ve lived in my body in this city all my life
yet have not known this simple pleasure:
you took me to a lake on a fynbos berg.
I entered like a dream, plunging.

We sat on white sand playing
with shoals of meaning that shift
when you lift the lid off words.
You chose to sit alone while I went in.

The mountain offers up this cup
for gulls and clouds to drink; I, mere fly,
baptised my life within its living liquid,
emerging blessed. I heard you say

women want more than you can give; a man
was drowning in your eye. We walked back,
caressed by sensuous air. Your mouth
was tense. I shook your hand goodbye.

- Dawn Garisch

Homo erectus

Erections are the most extraordinary things;
especially to those of us who lack the mechanism.
One minute you pull me into an easy, affectionate hug –
the next, a third party has announced its presence:
taking muscular shape against my belly,
a rude and raucous conjuring trick
(which I am tempted to call “sleight of prick”).
You are impressing me – literally.
By now I have the measure of you
all the way to my navel.
I note you are a most appealing size –
promising, but not threatening.
I have questions: Is this proximity or desire?
How can something so implacable be so warm?
What does it feel like to have your own flesh
do exactly as it pleases? And most of all,
what does one say at such moments?
“Excuse me, but your penis has taken a shine to me?”
What I’d really like to do
is unzip and lucky-dip you,
dabble my fingertips in your dew.
But I am too polite, too shy, too proud.
The kettle boils. I step back,
make tea, keep close custody of my eyes.

- Helen Moffett


I, the earth and hot,
swell my fruiting bodies
for the hog’s horny snuffling.
In root arms that wade
beneath bush and compost
I hide salty treats ,
and resist, but only just,
his snouting.
He noses folds,
balls clods aside with his face -
a trotter ready, but unequal.
He plays the mild hunter,
nudging and ruffling
underbrush and mud,
and I, oh,
loose-limbed and louche and lucky,
until sods are so loosed
I thrum the lumps and pillows
of my ground bed. He finds the
summer truffle, tosses it up
and mouths it from the sky,
where a slow melting
morning toffees over.

- Karin Schimke


Here’s to many multiples of eight more years for Modjaji, the goddess of
southern African women writers!

* * * * * * * *

Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event:


Facebook gallery:

On 29 March Modjaji Books celebrated her 8th birthday with a poetry reading and party at the Methodist Church Hall in…

Posted by Books LIVE on Tuesday, 31 March 2015


Book details

"Which Way to What": Experience Poems by Croc E Moses in Text and Audio

DriftwordCroc E Moses has shared a selection of poems, in text and audio, to be published in the upcoming multimedia anthology Driftword.

Croc E Moses comes from many places and from nowhere; he is of here, only here, yet not. The dislocations of today and their sudden openings are Croc E’s field of dreams and protest, proclamations and heresy. Many of the song/poems partly stem from this Canadian-born poet’s living within South Africa – yet somewhat outside of institutions and corporations, unbound by securities and ever uncertain, as many artists are.

Experience his unique and moving work by listening to and reading “Which Way to What”, “Shrink Bigger”, “Song Lines”, “Memory’s Black Fires”, “Praise Poem for Amahle”, “Pink Churches”, “Free Range Moths” and more on Croc E Moses’ website:


Hands up all escapists and freedom fools
We seem to be stuck on the sourface of our souls
We seem to be held up by an army of question marks

So what you gonna do about that schizo schism in your dream mecca mechanism?
We are split into one, We are split into one bipolar, tripolar, poly polar disorder

Related links:

Book details

Candess Kostopoulos resenseer Matriks deur Joan Hambidge

MatriksUitspraak: houtwortel

Die lykdigte in afdeling IV, veral “Maria”, verbeeld weer die onsterflikheid van die kuns, terwyl die ­tema van vertaling as ’n tipe kreatiewe verdraaiing in afdeling X ondersoek word. Die drie “verdraaiings” in hierdie afdeling – “Anna Akhmatova I”, “Anna Akhmatova II”, en “Dorothy Parker onthou:” – is besonder effektief, en laat die leser met ’n begeerte na nóg van hierdie tipe gedigte.

Die bundel is egter in sy geheel oneweredig wat kwaliteit en diepte betref, hoofsaaklik vanweë die feit dat sommige afdelings beduidend swakker is as ander. Die ekfrastiese of “beeldgedigte” (afdeling III), asook talle terugskouende gedigte oor die digter se jeug kon, byvoorbeeld, gesnoei word.


Tom Gouws resenseer Matriks deur Joan Hambidge

MatriksUitspraak: wortel met kritiek

In die lang verskrywing van Opperman se ‘Ballade van die grysland’ (op sy beurt weer ’n vindingryke verskrywing van Totius se Trekkerswee), bely die digterspreker haar:

vrees vir kritiek wat verniel

Ek wil dit ook duidelik stel – ek wil nie net ook een van “die kritiese skerpioene wat my afmaak” (p. 146) wees nie. Daarvoor het ek te veel respek vir Hambidge se totale bydrae tot die Afrikaanse letterkunde.

In die gedig ‘My hart’ is dié versreëls:

en my gedig

sal bly saadskiet,

betekenis uitwaaier,

lank na my en jou vertrek

Na my beskeie mening gaan dít helaas nie die stand van sake wees ten opsigte van Joan Hambidge se poësie nie. Sy hét bepaald die kiemsel van grootsheid, mits sy haar begeerte om haarself krities en poëties dwingend ten alle koste té dikwels te laat géld, sal temper.


Join Haroldene Tshienda, with Marcellus Welman and Shamie, for the Launch on Never Give Up in Port Elizabeth

Never Give Up Invite

Never Give Up: Healing words from a poetJoin Haroldene Tshienda for the launch of Never Give Up: Healing words from a poet.

Tshienda will be performing a few of her poems at the launch, and music by Marcellus Welman and Shamie will contribute to the performance.

The launch will be at the Medical Centre on Springbok Street in Gelvandale, Port Elizabeth. Entrance costs R30 per person.

Don’t miss out!

Event Details

  • Date: Saturday, 28 March 2015
  • Time: 6 PM to 9 PM
  • Venue: Medical Centre
    Springbok Street
    Gelvandale | Map
  • Musical accompaniment: Marcellus Welman and Shamie
  • RSVP: Haroldene, 074 749 1700

About the book

Haroldene Tshienda presents an honest account of her experiences and life-lessons through original poetry and prose. This book is as authentic as she is in her love for God and the passion she has for encouraging others. Each piece is as unedited as possible so that the reader is able to relate on a more personal and conversational level.

The stories and poems in this book have helped me take my setbacks and turn them into comebacks. All of us have issues that make us feel trapped or limited in some way or another: maybe anger, depression, grief anxiety or fear. It may be as debilitating as addiction or life-threatening illnesses, but no matter how deep the issue is, no matter how much you have struggled with it, the possibility exists for you to become absolutely free, whole and healed. This book is a journey towards freedom and revolution. I believe that everyone is capable of finding the root of their issues, resolving them completely letting them go and setting themselves free to live a life at their full potential, as a full expression of their true self. Natural healing is a humbling and profoundly transformative process, as I have experienced through heartaches, rejection, suicide attempts, fear and humiliation in just three years of my life. Since then, I have uncovered a boundless joy and freedom that has been my constant daily experience. This has become the most priceless gift in my life.

About the author

Haroldene Tshienda was born in Gelvandale, Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape and has lived in the Western Cape for the past sixteen years. She graduated from the Business of Arts Master Classes in Literature at African Arts Institution in Cape Town. She has a diploma in marketing, completed a variety of training and creative writing courses to improve her personality, communicational skills and relationship-building skills. She describes herself as passionate, friendly, artistic and a people’s person.

Tshienda started to write from a very young age, but in 2008 writing became a method of working towards healing and closure on the past failures. She is the founder and director of Lounge of Poetry, where she trains writers to perform their own pieces. She is a business partner of Afri-Kalcha Entertainment and is currently performing poetry with Marcellus’s Jazzy Band from Port Elizabeth, Afri-Kalcha Entertainment and AfricentiQ Band from Zimbabwe. In November 2014 Haroldene was nominated to serve on the committee to organize the Pop-Up Festival for the graduates of the Business of Arts Master Classes.

Haroldene is the author of Never Give Up – Healing words from a poet, she is a professional Performance Poet, Skills Developer, Motivational Speaker, Writer and a MC for churches, corporate functions, government departments, schools, non-profit organizations, various special events and a human rights peer educator for an organization called Africa Unite in Cape Town. She also works and spends most of her time in previously disadvantaged communities, women forums and shelters facilitating skills development programs in order to enhance her great zeal.

Haroldene says: Life is full of glory, yet full of struggles and disappointments, but the ingredients to a healthy, happy and successful life are to never give up and never undermine your own abilities. Never mind what people thinks of you, say about you or what your current situation looks like, we are all born winners as God promises us our purposes in Jeremiah 29:11.

Book Details

Outisme, radelose pogings en afsydige swart oë in Riël Franzsen se debuutdigbundel, Narokkong

NarokkongRiël Franzsen se debuutdigbundel, Narokkong, is nou by Protea Boekhuis beskikbaar:

In hierdie debuutbundel word die verhouding tussen vader en seun vanaf geboorte tot by volwassenheid verken. Dit is egter ’n besonder komplekse verhouding omdat die seun outisties is. Die tema van outisme, wat nog nie voorheen in die Afrikaanse poësie neerslag gevind het nie, word deurgaans vanuit die subjektiewe ervaring van die vader verwoord, wat voortdurend op soek is na maniere om deur te dring tot die bykans geslote wêreld van die kind.

Die narokkong van die bundeltitel verwys na ’n geheimsinnige voël van die nag wat ook in DJ Opperman se gedig “Koggelbos” figureer, maar eintlik verder terugverwys na ’n kortverhaal, “Koors”, deur Sangiro. Vir die siek kind in die verhaal is die narokkong ’n bringer van onheil, maar in die kind se koorsdrome word hy self ook ’n narokkong wat deur die giftige nabome gelok word. In Franzsen se bundel is daar ook ’n vreemde band tussen die outistiese kind en die voël wat alles met sy afsydige swart oë dophou en is dit nie altyd duidelik of die voël bedreiging of beskerming inhou nie.

Die gedigte bring die leser te staan voor die wêreld van die ouers en hul radelose pogings om deur te dring tot die kind, om iets te verstaan van die manier waarop hy die werklikheid ervaar, en hul bekommrnis omdat hul besef dat hy nooit selfstandig sal kan leef nie (“Paasfees”). Voor hierdie verskynsel is die mediese wetenskap magteloos (“Hippokrates het sy hande vol”). Die leser sien ook iets van die kind se ontuisheid in ’n wêreld wat vir hom onbegryplik is – “Hoe dans mens in sirkels/in hierdie vierkantige plek?” word in “Outisme I” gevra, en sy afgeslotenheid en opgeslotenheid (“Kerker”). Daar is egter ook momente van troos (“Engel in die bos”), van humor (“Beseringstyd”) en deernis (“Denmar”). Die bundel eindig met ’n aangrypende gebed (“Slotgesang”).

Oor die outeur

Riël Franzsen is hoogleraar in Belastingbeleid en –bestuur aan die Universiteit van Pretoria en is ’n internasionale kenner op die gebied van belastingreg. Voëlkyk en natuurlewefotografie is van sy stokperdjies. Hy woon in Pretoria.