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Review of A Book of Rooms by Kobus Moolman PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 05 August 2015 13:44

Review By Alan Muller

Even if I have the help only of yellowing snapshots, a handful of eyewitness accounts and a few paltry documents to prop up my implausible memories, I have no alternative but to conjure up what for too many years I called the irrevocable: the things that were, the things that stopped, the things that were closed off – things that surely were and today are no longer, but things that also were so I may still be.

It is with this epigraph, taken from Georges Perec’s W, or the Memory of Childhood (1975), that Kobus Moolman opens his newest collection of poetry titled A Book of Rooms.  Divided into four sections – Who, What, Why, and When – the collection traces the life of a South African man born with a “hole in his heart” and a physical condition that destines him to wear an orthopaedic boot.  Throughout this assemblage of narrative prose poems, the man grapples with his bodily afflictions, love, sex, an ineffectual father, and his obsessive desire to become a writer.  Although the collection does have a chronological narrative arc, these themes become pervasive obsessions that mostly boil just beneath the surface and yet sometimes erupt ferociously into the consciousness of the speaker.

Each entry, named after a Room of sorts, recounts a specific moment in the life of the man as he explores his past.  While these ‘rooms’ are more psychological that physical, the physicality of the rooms is nevertheless always palpably present.  This, I believe is one of the greatest strengths of the collection as Moolman, in A Book of Rooms as in his preceding collections, relentlessly explores the physicality of the human condition. The physicality of the collection itself explores a room that is not expressly included in the titles of the pieces: the Room of the Body.  The entries all conform to a rigid form of alternating long and short lines, mimicking the unbalanced gait of the man with one heavy orthopaedic boot.  While the narrative flows smoothly from one line to the next, the visual impact of the lines leaves the reader with a constant feeling of being slightly off balance; a constant reminder of the Room of the Body into which all people are locked.

Playing with the nature of memory and recollection, Moolman makes sparing use of punctuation, creating a flowing torrent of episodes and scenarios that bleed into each other and often digress and converge in the way human thought is wont to do.  The general mood of the collection is dark with glimpses of light and happiness that seem within the man’s reach but are then often brutally taken from or squandered by him.  The cover, a painting by South African artist Andries Gouws, is a visual reminder of this.  His oil painting, ‘Grahamstown residence room with red curtains’, depicts a dark confining room in a residence with thing red curtains drawn across a small window. The room is one that denies a view of a bright outside world while still allowing a glimpse of the light just beyond the curtains.

Moolman’s newest offering continues the work evident in his previous collection, Left Over, by exploring the themes of memory and the body, allowing the two collections to be read as companion pieces that would allow the reader deeper insight into the workings of this remarkable poet.

A Book of Rooms is published by Deep South.