Reviews and commentary

Ecca Poets: This Moment’s Marrow
A reader’s impression by René Bohnen

What is marrow? This question spontaneously pops up as I hold the 2017 publication of the Ecca Poets – their 20th book in 25 years. This edition, This Moment’s Marrow, offers the reader  an eclectic group of poets in an anthology which makes for an enriching read.

So what is marrow? Dictionaries present definitions we know so well that we probably seldom pause to think about the profound meaning of the word.
Marrow is “a soft fatty substance in the cavities of bones” the internet offers, and also “ the essential part of something”.  Synonyms given are: “essence, core, pith” and “heart”.

In the reading of This Moment’s Marrow,  I discover and experience the whole spectrum of these dictionary entries.

The anthology title is taken from a Norman Morrissey poem on page 26.
Grasp

A dove called,
and I’d a vision
of our lithe boomslang

up in the cherry tree:
the Holy Ghost
and the hero

winding Hippocrates’ staff of healing
in one grasp
of thought:

old myths, symbols
lurking
in this moment’s marrow.

All of the Morrissey poems in this anthology show an accomplished poet at his task. Strong pastoral imagery, bursting with life, alternates with delicate vignettes of tenderness and tranquil silence.

Norman Morrissey passed away in July 2017 and has left a rich literary legacy. Like the butterfly shows us the breeze, this poet shows us wisdom. (Page 24)

            Breeze

You knew there was a breeze
only
because the butterflies

danced
in
it! 

According to the Preface, the poets have had “no real aspirations or manifestos” and their books will hopefully always have “a workshop feel” (Brian Walter on page 1)

If the function of marrow is to generate blood cells, the vital role of Ecca get-togethers is evident. Nurturing and giving oxygen, the group promotes growth in individual poets. All have successfully made their own paths as well – since paths are made by walking, as the Spanish poet Antonio Machado so succinctly put it.

Brian Walter is a poet who is firmly in touch with the soil and he walks in acute awareness of all creatures and the landscape they inhabit. Inseparably entwined, man’s soul breathes through nature and the poet keenly observes.
           
Birds

            It’s birds.
            Always birds.

            When we scattered my father’s ashes
beneath a cycad in the Hogsback –

            the last of him lying in flakes
            of grey ash on the rich dark soil –

            we turned to watch a Knysna lourie
            drop onto a nearby branch,

            then wing off, flashing an old-world red –
            “There he is, it’s okay,” my mother said.

            Now, as my friend lies dying,
            my heart breaking with his breath,

that Cape robin that’s been around
comes right indoors, and boldly hops

across the kitchen floor: “umcelu,”
Fundi whispers, “a bird of good chance.”

And thus I think of you,
your last breaths reaching out

on bird-wings,
tilting bright-eyes,

being around,
saying goodbyes.

This is no lyrical poetry of pastoral romanticism; on page 4 the poet also writes
            let nature play
            at being normal

Adept at the use of sound elements and occasional rhyme, warnings and observations of damage done to the planet and to fellow human beings are written down so as to indeed chill the reader to the marrow. An example of this is when a newspaper-child becomes personal: (page 10)

            Borrowed
                        Who made up a heaven of our misery
                        - Blake

In my study hangs a picture
I cut from a newspaper, cut
out and mounted,

of an Afghan child who wails
on his father’s shoulder
with troubles in their land

– seeming so akin
to my own son weeping
his innocent, unscathed sorrow.

I keep it here, close to hand,
in a silent pledge that echoes
again and again

never – whatever temptation,
or championed occasion –
to feel with righteous males

– of any persuasion –
whose triumph is borrowed
from childhood pain.

Children and babies feed the marrow of a mother’s soul, as they do that of the poet. 

            When I fell
            pregnant
            with you I fell

            into new makings,
            poems would wake me”

writes Silke Heiss in “Kept up” on page 27. She is a poet who understands the exquisite tension that is created by holding two polarities at once. I give you the example on page 29, where a surprising contradiction alerts the reader to a vast truth held within a small poem:

            Mist    

Mist is
a revelation,
a happy Gossip –

tells all
where air has been –
is going to.

Almost haiku-like, the short poems sigh with insight and meaning; they show Heiss to be a master of cutting right to the essence of her observation. In her longer poems, she displays an instinctive grasp of the objective correlative, by evoking strong emotion in the reader without annoying prescription. On page 29 we find the

            Wood Owl

            I go outside to fetch some kindling,
            my blankets snag on branches dry –
            unwitting I catch them with the twigs I’m breaking:
            they whirr and cough and patter and sigh.

            Panic I subdue with patience,
            pull away gently, sensing why.
            Free at last I fill the box,
but am lost in the dark by the Wood owl’s cry.

Manipulation of words themselves is the great joy of the poet and Lara Kirsten indulges in an often playful, always original, manner. She is a concert pianist and a performance poet. This poem on page 49 shows her body-intelligence as well as love for cavorting in a landscape of sound.

            brachiate

            i learnt a new word today
                brachiate –
                     to progress by swinging from hold to hold by the arms

            i suddenly have the desire
            to brachiate between the poem’s stanzas
            never to touch the ground
            never to reach the end of the poem

            forever swinging till my arms grow wings
            and i fly for evermore in the versified sky

Kirsten also has some Afrikaans poems in the anthology. These are a poignant narrative of loss and grieving in which the heartbroken subject yields to the finality of death. There are longer poems well worth reading; I have space only for a shorter one here. (page 45)

            roep
           
            ek het nooit gewaag om jou te roep
            toe jy gelewe het
            maar nou in jou dood roep ek jou
            – my keelspiere trek in snikkende bulte –
            nou roep ek jou
            dat jy my wenende verlange kan hoor

Loss and sorrow are found wherever relationships exist. The poets explore the vast spaces between people, the coming together, the touching. Alvené Appollis-du Plessis shows that such contact without pain is momentarily possible. The Afrikaans poem on page 65 reads:

            Eenvoud

            In jou eenvoud
            is jy spatsels groen en rooi
            soos graspolle en bloed
            op my skilderdoek.

            Jy smeer jouself met sterk hale oor my
            en ryg jou smarag-skarlaken
            vernuftig
            in my,
            netjies gepatroon

            sonder letsels.

The poet uses delightfully fresh line breaks to emphasize actions and effects of actions. Vividly visual, the poem is deceptively simple. Love will often be lost, Appollis-du Plessis also writes. Be it between friends, lovers, or parents and children, the ties may be temporary. Truly dwelling in a moment can create an eternity, though, she makes us see. (page 69)

            The stars will witness

These warm winter nights
are made for kissing,
softly deep
as the wind gently gushes against my skin,
the same way your fingers filter
through my lily dress,
bringing my womb, my heart to life
under these stars
gazing witness
to the tremors of my soul
engulfed by your body.

Memories too, transcend time and can even bring our almost-lost selves back to us. Jacques Coetzee paints a stirring picture of the comfort and purpose a younger self can offer the adult poet. We see that both need instruction and above all, to be held lovingly.

            The days of 1999                            (page 56)

            He would come home, already half-drunk
in the middle of a winter afternoon;
would sit down in front of his computer screen
and dream of poems, but never write a word.

He would feel the wine course through his body,
remember the ebb and flow of the talk
at the table where he’d sat;
how he’d eased himself into a different state of being
from which, he thought, words must come.

But no words ever came; only the hiss
of his own blood in his ears,
as of the sea far away.

It is because of him that I write;
because of his helplessness, the eagerness
of his young body, which is no longer mine;
because of the words he longed for there,
behind the screen, the words of experience
he was too young to find;
because of nights like these, when I walk out
with a clear head, into these sober streets,
hoping still to find him.

Coetzee employs a strong musicality to convey his ideas and in so doing, he changes a usually ordinary world into an audible experience even while the reader is silently reading the words on paper. Often advancing an attitude of instinctive living, this poet also addresses social issues in a manner that is integrated with a certain lyrical quality. Thus he avoids sentimentality, turns away from the one-dimensional.

            “Thinking’s no good; thought
is a tiny insect circling
something for which your language has no word
pulled by a hand, a mind that was never yours.

Outside someone is singing
for joy, someone is lifting
dishevelled praises through city smog;
someone is dancing naked in the sun,
knowing it will set, and so what”
                                          (from “Here”, page 52)

The bright sun is less present in the poems of Cathal Lagan. Often moving back to events and times in Ireland, his work is filled with a meditative water element – rains and rivers, specifically. The impressionistic moment brings the reader to a standstill in Lagan’s poem “Memory”. (page 73) and activates similar flashbacks to a childhood in another time altogether.

            Memory

The memory of three coins,
musical pennies in my pocket,
and I am king of the village,
walking through November leaves
on the way to the shop
of hearts and peppermints
and cloud-spun sugar sweetness
under the greying sky.

Perhaps memory is even pliable, fluid like water and as elusive too. Lagan approaches serious matters with a light touch and a subtly playful manner; making archetypes into familiar characters (or is it the other way round?) as he writes about a grave-digger and we have to vaguely remember those diggers in Hamlet, Act V.

With Lagan, the small is the profound. Imagery is concise and he paints the watercolours with a loaded brush while he smiles into the space of compassion.

            All souls                                    (page 71)

The hot water bottle chuckled
and fell on the floor,
and I fell asleep,
and must have by chance
taken it into my dream
of laughing old men
reminiscing at the wake
on the ways of the dead one
and the laughter was for them,
and for me,
and for all who read this.

And all who read here are gathered together in the shared marrow of the moment. From small sketches and short narratives (p 73)  to an all-encompassing primal wholeness (p 69), right up to the shards and sparks of the creative process that feeds and burns the poet (p 49), this is an anthology of Studium and Punctum, as Roland Barthes described it for photography. (Studium is the element that initially gets your attention. It can be colors, a cool background, a pose, really anything. But the punctum is what Roland describes as the thing that "pricks or bruises." It's that rare detail that makes the viewer feel something and pushes the photo even further. - Wikipedia)

Basking in the wisdom of the imperfect, embracing the beauty of imperfection, This Moment’s Marrow is a rewarding read and often just perfect. May the Ecca Poets keep on going on, may the bones never be sucked dry.

***

Review by Peter Merrington
Sound Piping and Gold in Spring
Ecca, Hogsback, 2015 and 2016
ISBN 978-0-620-66405-9 and  ISBN 978-0-620-72983-3

The Ecca poets of the Eastern Cape have two new collections. Sound Piping (2015), and Gold in Spring (2016) represent the local group of Brian Walter, Norman Morrissey, Silke Heiss, Lara Kirsten, Alvené Appollis-du Plessis and Cathal Lagan. Eduard Burle of Cape Town joins them, in Sound Piping; and John van Wyngaard, in Gold in Spring.

Their name, Ecca, is the name of a mountain pass that links Grahamstown with Fort Beaufort – a name derived from Khoi, meaning brack or bitter water. Ecca – or Marah perhaps, the proverbial bitter water in the desert, made sweet and drinkable – maybe a metaphor for art itself. In the well-spring of these books there is salt or tang or pang, of return or distance and separation, or small but striking confrontations. And the poets aerate and distil the waters, through secondary engagement.

On the shelf in front of me is a pair of creamy chinaware book-ends – two tonsured monks bent over china volumes on their laps. It's similar with Sound Piping and Gold in Spring: their contents are contained, obverse and reverse, by the work of two experienced book-men and poets, Brian Walter and Cathal Lagan.

Brian Walter is a master of the natural and pointed rhythm of the line (variation of pause and emphasis). He speaks to his subjects with a kind of spare and curious interest. It's almost what we might call 'metaphysical wit' (in the late sixteenth-century sense, updated into here-and-now, in Southern Africa). It's crystal-clear reason of thought and feeling, and it wakens like fresh astringent mountain waters. It's effective and masterly poetics. His poems rightly open each volume, and set the tone. Keen and piquant, alert and striking, freshly pointed by strong art.

Cathal Lagan's warm voice speaks in private confidences, about long experience – here and in other lands. It's engaging, inviting us to listen. There's natural assurance in the rhythmic open intimacy. He's a conversationalist in verse. Like Walter, he's got an accustomed feel for the discursive flow – the unfolding run of speech as it flows and pauses, turns outward, points things out, and turns with assurance inward again. It's worldly-wise with concern and fondness – knowing, understanding, and kind and stern and interested. It's also, at times, deep quiet pain of return or departure, folded into his rhythmic voice. It's Marah, sweetened with generosity and experience and sylleptic wit. One feels safe, against time and darkness, in Lagan's hands.

Silke Heiss is a discursive explorer or pioneer, addressing absent friends, her self, her present circumstances, in dialogic poems, intimate address, interrogation, or open seeking. She speaks with authenticity of her own sudden-turning wheel of life (time, place and person). There's moral and emotional courage in this change-management (life and art as work-in-process) and evolving newness. She's a mother, lover, maker, carer, writer, reaching out for dialogue or answers, to disentangle and process things, and regroup, with both plea and pledge.

Ed Burle is a master of the brisk poetics of the ironic forms of thought and response. He's a strong poet. All these writers bring tentative lips to the cup of Marah (that's the South African way where not one of us can – perhaps even do not wish to – claim assurance of cultural or poetic identity in a hybrid land), but Ed Burle does what strong poets do – he makes his own tenacious thought-forms, and they stand up and assert themselves. There's confidence in the forms of his avowed expression of uncertainties. It's a strong grip on an original and well-wrought cup.

Norman Morrissey offers a contrary cup to Burle – it's imagist, observing the reflection of images in the water. As in Zen, they manifest and go. He holds them, and he releases. With Walter and Lagan he's one of the original and much-published Ecca poets. His mature voice dissolves years. He writes of past and present epiphanic moments, and he bridges the years from when we learnt to let go, in the 1970s, of old forms and sentiments; and he keeps those clear waters fresh. It's dappled and transient, and it flows around the stones that impede – the troubled moments – rough-scaled pike or carp that rise and snap.

Lara Kirsten and Alvené Appollis-du-Plessis write in Afrikaans save for one or two poems, and while this reviewer is functionally bilingual he can't adequately respond. Lara Kirsten's English-language poem 'In the dappled pine forest a lost parachute grips the needy leaves' (Sound Piping) is an astonishing and engaging surrealist piece (though the English idiom where she speaks directly of abstract concepts isn't as grainy as in Afrikaans). The free-wheeling surrealist movement of images appears again in her Afrikaans poems. It's innovative, like diving into a mountain pool and finding, down below, a provocative Karoo-mermaid trove of teasing Protean things.

Alvené Appollis-du-Plessis writes of bitter situations in clear extended metaphors, in strong simple taal. Loss, blood, rue and challenge, in direct address. It's unremitting authenticity in strong stark images, with potent focus. She confirms my idle thoughts on brak water – In her poem 'Bitterlief' (in Sound Piping) she writes, 'jou liefde proe bitter soos Mara'. 'Augustus'  in Gold in Spring and 'Vir Clement' in Sound Piping are very good examples of the tightly-knit play of metonymy and metaphor.

John van Wyngaard is wonderfully refreshing – a natural modern idiomatic free-wheeling voice, that speaks of ordinary and suburban moments – motorcycle lessons, a cancer shavathon, a hospital ward, retirement, cooking, and the like. He's wide-awake, direct, witty, engaged and liberated. His address 'To Philip Larkin' in Gold in Spring is puckish, exact and wicked approbation.

Ecca – Marah – from Bitterfontein to Soetwater – the poets in these two volumes dip the bowl and taste, and mix and blend and offer. Try it, reader, from this well-turned bowl of olive wood – it's quiet, wry, gentle or insistent, meditative, and precise. It's their own pharmacopia. Small personal and biting things – the tang of turksvy or healing aloe on the tongue.

Both books are attractively made. Norman Morrissey is the editor. The artwork on the covers is designed by Silke Heiss. The front cover of Gold in Spring is beautiful and I'm tempted to cut if off and mount it as an image. The books are published under the imprint of Ecca, Hogsback (2015; 2016).œ 

***

Dr Peter Merrington taught literary studies and has published research essays in Theatre Journal (USA), the SA Theatre Journal, Journal of Southern African Studies, and elsewhere, as well as poems and short stories in New Contrast, New Letters, and Imago. He has won a number of research awards, including Oppenheimer fellowships to SOAS, London and to Oxford University, and received the English Academy of South Africa’s Pringle Prize for fiction in 1996 and for a research article in 2000. His novels, Zebra Crossings (2008) and Zombie and the Moon (2011) have won wide critical acclaim. On his LinkedIn profile, he lists his specialities as “English Literature, literary historical research, Latin and Greek classics, heritage, teaching creative writing, motorcycle restoration, ceramics”. Find out more about him on https://www.linkedin.com/in/petermerrington and http://petermerrington.bookslive.co.za/about/

***

Review by Marike Beyers
This questioning terrain 
Ecca, Hogsback, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-620-60529-8

This questioning terrain is the 17th anthology of poetry by the ECCA poets – an Eastern Cape collective who support each other’s writing. Themes of looking at the world we live in and the people we share it with run throughout the book - fragile and damaging, detaching, immersing, wondering – the attempts to find words that become the questioning.
Brian Walter’s poems reflect on our position towards nature but also on being human within a history of humanity. His scope is broad, from an African violet in his garden to “Ngugi’s quests” and “wise women survivors”; from classical heroines finding a journey to life in Shakespeare to the death camp in Auschwitz “to feel/each thin shade’s story”; to a local political rally blaring loudhailers and promises. There is a movement between the past and a “Now thirty years on” – a careful reflection on what it means to be alive with others in a world - being seen by a blind woman, mourning a dead friend, finding new ways of belonging. On the surface the poem ‘Breakdown’ might be about killing a nest of “seven looking-up-at-me baby rats” in the home, but its compelling pace forwards presents a conundrum between thought and act, a slippery field of ideas and being in the world where poetry ventures.
The title of the anthology takes its name from his poem ‘Primal’ – the speaker observes a group of baboons while with friends. He draws a likeness between the baboons instinctual way of being in their environment and people’s instinctual way of searching for meaning, an exploration central to being and surviving
…                                             my mind
snatches at each grub our words turn up
as we cross this questioning terrain   (from ‘Primal’)
Two of Norman Morrissey’s poems are formally addressed as nods of respect, a farewell to people honoured – Colin Gardner and Seamus Heaney. Other poems have a lighter touch, smiling gently on children absorbed in their cell phones along the road and the cares of close friends and family, reflecting on the seasons and aging. Formally, most of these poems are presented as triplets. There is the small noticing of details - comfort in the body, the “strawberry shirt your mother wore”, the importance of making a gift, marvelling in another’s friendship. In a new context he returns web as a verb: “you talk of your day/- the friends you webbed”. This also reflects the interest in wording, in searching for expression for the web of the world around us, the wish to catch the right words, even if they slip away.
Catch
I sit,
rod-tip
undipping
— no glint
of
words 
In this anthology Silke Heiss seems to find a sense of home in Hogsback. Though interwoven with relationships – care for the beloved in illness, pride in a son, joyful inclusion of strangers, guidance to children, there is a particular focus on Hogsback landscape and places. Except for the formal butterfly poem titled ‘Pedestrian’ using a mirroring rhyme scheme, most of her poems are either couplets or triplets with a flexible line expanding into long lines with alliterative bite and short lines tidying into an emotional focus. Though one wonders how a series of poems starts with one declaring the poet no longer interested in writing  
The pen no longer comforts me, 
I seem to be over, somehow.
The whole concept of ‘I’
has come to be redundant      (from ‘Somehow I don’t care’)
 - there is something serious and gentle in the sense of reconsidering selfhood within a new way of being with another.
Eight of Lara Kirsten’s poems in the anthology are in Afrikaans and have the tone of being mainly performance poetry. Hers is a poetry of larger statements, greater wordiness, a sense of exuberance - non-containment with a note of defiance and informality – this is what’s important to me! Celebrating life in its senses of seclusion, togetherness and turmoil, connecting with natural processes, being in love, accepting and making claims on people from the past and present. Her interest in words is also clear in her playful English poem full of portmanteau words ‘our worryphernalia knows only dutbinfinity’. There’s a lovely humour poking tongue-in-the-cheek at over-seriousness in this poem:
“ah, come on, what has happened to your blisschivousness?
our tongues need to return to their original tasticality”
Alvené Du Plessis’ poetry is of a quieter kind. There is a slightly nostalgic look towards childhood, growing up in the countryside, learning to read. There is also a sense of belonging and responsibility towards this land in the South where she finds herself – difficult memories of someone murdered, unacknowledged love, being far away from home and a surprising poem in the form of a letter to her nanny. Surprising in the chaos it allows, how what could sound like a list of complaints is transformed into an exchange of gratitude for love for a child. Du Plessis too has a poem on writing, but here too a reversal in my reading – the impression is that it is not so much poems scrunched up in a drawer, but life that ends up discarded & forgotten
in die onderste laai van my lessenaar
met halfgeëte brood
en koekies
wat ek vergeet het
om vir die hond te gooi          (from: ‘Oorskiet’)
Cathal Lagan too brings tribute to Seamus Heaney with an image of the great Irish poet’s heritage – his connection with rural villages, the humility of leaving as physical memento, his jacket over a chair (‘The chair’). His poems in the anthology speak of a childhood in Ireland and finding himself elsewhere. A life change is described in the poem ‘Baptism’, which is concerned with the “the edge of mystery” recognisable in anyone’s life - a spiritual, geographic and linguistic transformation. His is a light touch with gentleness and humour.
Lagan’s lines hold moments, thoughts, consolations and disturbances in harmony. There is the question of the consolation of words and also the inability of words to reach. He uses the rituals of Christianity to explore this complex relationship with words in ‘Found in translation’ and in ‘Cemetery’, wondering if words in a foreign language “tough/and magical” might ironically do what rationality cannot - “bring [the heart] near to mystery/passing/all understanding”.
Mystical is the moment held in words where he describes a dolphin – “sculpture out of water” – for a moment:
nothing extraneous,
for water knows
its shapes; countless
fingers of water
hold the instant           (from: ‘Dolphin’)
Nothing extraneous - holding the instant. Yet he is perhaps the most aware of the limitations of words. ‘Persona’ (with the poet as dog) presents a darker note on the role of the poet - “Let him  be the poet proper…” as social critic, harbinger of the new, the beautiful commitments…
ringing in the new,
stretching
stretching the leash
Indeed a questioning terrain – this searching for where and who we are. We all have to find our own way to do this - the ECCA poets choose writing as one way of looking, of holding what is past, and what is becoming within a present homecoming.


Praise for the Ecca Poets' 2013 publication and readings 


"A finely balanced blend of distinctive voices from the Eastern Cape" – Andrew Stevens, Senior lecturer, Education Department, Rhodes University

"This is a multi-faceted collection that takes the reader on a journey through the harsh realities of nature (and ourselves), the intimacy of relationships and the dilemma of the poet." – Ruth Woudstra in Grocott's Mail 26th March 2013

"Thank you for a truly wonderful evening. [...] I shared some of the Afrikaans poems with Mrs Snyman and she would love a copy of the anthology." – Andrew Renard, English teacher. St. Andrew's College, on the launch of Unplanned Hour on 9.3.2013 in Grahamstown

"Yes, I would like a copy of Unplanned Hour. I have always enjoyed the Ecca Poets very much." – Lynette Paterson, Chair of the Shakespearean Society, Grahamstown

*** 


The Ecca poets launched their newest book Unplanned Hour in Grahamstown on the 9th of March 2013. This year sees the most members the Ecca group has had up to date - 8 poets - Brian Walter, Norman Morrissey, Silke Heiss, Lara Kirsten, Alvene du Plessis, Mzi Mahola, Quentin Hogge and Cathal Lagan. Below follows a review of the book.

Review by Ruth Woudstra
Unplanned Hour, 
Ecca, Hogsback 2012

From roadkill to fishing for daffodils

Roadkill is not something you want to be looking at while you are eating. Even less so a crow settling in on the mess of muscle, bones and fur. And yet, when the narrator in Quentin Hogge’s poem ‘Highway picnic – roadkill’ finds himself under a peppercorn tree doing just that, he is forced to contemplate the origin of his lunch. With typical off-beat humour, Hogge concludes the poem with the punch line: “I stared at my ham sandwich.”
It is this reflection of everyday experiences, both in the animal and human world, that characterises Unplanned Hour. The latest of 17 collections published by the Eastern Cape Ecca poets, Unplanned Hour demonstrates the variety characteristic of previous collections.
From Hogge’s roadkill, we page back to a hunting gecko in Brian Walter’s ‘Reading things’. Walter describes a gecko near where he writes, which crawls up the spine of a book and along the closed leaves on top, “till in her mouth, the insect / with uncontrollable legs.”
For Silke Heiss, natural elements become metaphors for the human condition. In ‘Mussels’, the narrator eats fresh mussels with her son and describes how they slurp the “salty seapink brainbody-all-in-one-beings”. Their visceral enjoyment of the mussels is related to wild animals: “we loved them / like the jackal loves lamb / and the elephant / lush grass.”
But it is not only the effects of nature on the human psyche that are explored in the collection. Conversations between the poets themselves are found throughout. ‘Note’ is a poem Brian Walter pins to the door of Toor Ballylee, Yeats’ castle in Ireland, which he visits. It is addressed to Morrissey, “who – any day – / would have made this place / his journey’s end.” Similarly, Morrissey addresses the poem ‘For Lewis’ to and old Cape Town friend while conversing with Silke Heiss, his partner.
But the conversations are not limited to the Ecca poets, who converse easily with earlier writers. In Cathal Lagan’s subtle poem ‘I go a-fishing’, the speaker ‘catches’ one of the major principles of the Romantic Poets as expressed in Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’. He ‘fishes’ from the tradition in which being humbled by the enlightenment offered by the natural world is the greatest saving grace. This humbleness contrasts with the industrial, technology-dependent activities which are used to lord over nature today. “I send this verse to work, / not for its own sake but for / survival – the host of golden / daffodils, how are they holding up? / Will they be here next year? / Will spring?”
Similarly, Hogge reads ‘Poem – a reminder’ by Robert Graves, followed by his own response to the poem called ‘Kindling – the death of poetry’ which satirises the role of technology in a poetry sensitized consciousness.
This is a multi-faceted collection that takes the reader on a journey through the harsh realities of nature (and ourselves), the intimacy of relationships and the dilemma of the poet.
The essence of Unplanned Hour could not be better described than in these lines from Cathal Lagan’s ‘Exposures’, the final poem of the collection: “I knew that this unplanned hour / which held me here would remain / (nothing else I had done that day would endure).”




The cover of Unplanned Hour is inspired directly by Lagan's lines in his poem "Exposures" - ... the leaves / were letting go their weight of water / I knew that this unplanned hour / which held me here would remain / (nothing else I had done that day would endure).

The cover art is a scissor cut collage using paper, a leaf skeleton and brass wire. It was conceived and created specifically for this volume, and is thus naturally entitled "Unplanned Hour." The artist, Silke Heiss, admits that the sixteen sections of the clock superimposed upon the normal twelve was at first an accident which she decided not to fix. It seems to say something about the shiftings of time which that poem also expresses. The cattle are hand-copied from a rare San drawing found in a book called "Images of Power. Understanding Bushman Rock Art" by David Lewis-Williams and Thomas Dowson, Southern Book Publishers, Johannesburg (1989).

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