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Other Signs PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 06 September 2011 00:00

Written by Ingrid de Kok

Review by Margaret Lenta

The title of Ingrid de Kok’s collection, Other Signs, seems to point away from the necessarily politicised past, though there are echoes of some of her earlier interests, as in two poems which recall her childhood, “Be Good, Sweet Maid”, and “The Cabinet, the Tea Set and the Moth”, at once affectionate and witty – I specially like the onset of a religious vocation in the last stanza of “Be Good …”

The first poem, “Everyday World,” sets a tone of love for what is recurrent or habitual. This is reasserted from time to time, but also questioned; explicitly in “Today I Do Not Love My Country” (commemorating the outbreaks of zenophobia in May 2008) and “Sufficient unto the Day” and “Haraga,” which express horror at the criminalisation of the young and the plight of stateless refugees; the point seems to be that this is our everyday world. Despite critics who assert the ordinariness of this country, it is, as De Kok has to portray it, particular, characterised bycruelties which arise from poverty, desperate anxieties and a tradition of violence.

Love for the poet’s environment, the Cape, and the places she visits, is strong in the collection, and together with this celebration, there is the recognition in several poems that death –one’s relatives’ and one’s own – is closer at hand than in the past. In the delightful song, “Married Late,”the form, with its refrain, implies that the matter is light, but the words acknowledge something else: “The risks were bigger: age and death/ Great losses in each small embrace”. “Last Move” deals with a mother’s closeness to death and the falling away of fairy stories, even gospel stories, when it comes to envisaging it.

Two beautiful poems near the end of the collection bring together the love for the everyday and the knowledge of the closeness of death,“Out of Season” which celebrates a day on which exciting things don’t happen: “No boats at sea this morning, no rush hour/ For sails. No whales,” and the last poem, “What Was the Most Beautiful Thing You Left Behind?” a translation and amplification of a classical fragment.


This is still the poet whom we know: the love for, and questioning of words is apparent in many of the poems, which seem sparer and more pared-down than in earlier collections. Other Signs needed more than one reading, and much thought before I realised how accomplished it is – it was well worth the trouble.