Review by Moira Richards
edited by Allan Kolski Horwitz
Botsotso Publishing, P.O. Box 30952 , Braamfontein 2017 , Johannesburg ; ISBN: 0-620-34878-X, 228 pp.
isis x comprises selections of poems and photographs from fourteen women, and in this collection one can read an exciting cross-section of South Africa's diversity. The short contributors' biographies at the back of the book eschew the usual listing of publication credits and share instead, snapshots of each artist's life-path and her current interests. So for me, the most appealing way to work a way through the book, was to begin at the biographies, pick a woman about whom I was moved to learn more, and then to turn to her poetry or photographic essays. Where to start now?
With elsbeth e who works at the Surplus Peoples Project. Surplus people!? I cannot imagine who they might be (I must ask google later) but elsbeth's prose/poems give me a clue. Perhaps they are the people whose lives are narrated here with stark matter-of-factness in a relentless rhythm,
... [they] know what time it was when the world stopped and stared and moved on leaving it's name behind in the starving bark of a dog chasing leaves.
(A little town at a time ... )
Twenty-something Sumeera Dawood writes her biographical notes in a tone of charming insouciance that belies the stark realities in her poetry, of many of our country's young women,
So many things have been inside me.
Old Mr Wilschird's fingers, Sol's tongue
Riana Wiechers introduces herself as a language practitioner and her poetry demonstrates her artistry with words in two languages. She bounces English and Afrikaans sounds off each other, incorporates the spaces between her lines, her words, the letters even, to create poems that piqued my sense of fun and drew me along with them. Sometimes into not-such-fun places.
One section of isis x is devoted to a number of poems in Zulu, accompanied by the English translations on the facing pages. They gave me some tantalising sense of a rich poetic genre far removed from the western ones with which I am more familiar, and Bongekile Mbanjwa's work has renewed my resolve to learn another of this country's languages--and reminds me of the cultural treasure trove that awaits me once I have.
The rollicking rhythms of Lisemelo Tlalo's slightly surrealistic prose poetry call out for her words to be performed aloud by the reader, and so I did, to my great private enjoyment. But I would much prefer to catch the poet herself in performance one day.
Anna Anuradha Varney is a practitioner of many arts, one of which is yoga. And maybe it is that art that imbues her poetry with a deep sense of peace. The narrator's calm strength in one poem about the death of her twenty-five year old daughter, is perhaps best described by these lines from another of her poems,
Slowly slowly I find the eye
of the storm
& lay myself down
(End of a cycle)
The cover of isis x comprises cropped bits, teasers, from just a few of the approximately three dozen photographs inside its pages. They convey a visual portrayal of South Africa's women in the same way that the poets do with their words. I paged through these images many times, seeing more in the pictures each time that I did. Freelance photographer, Neo Ntsoma's, powerful photographs stayed with me long after I closed the pages of this book, but I don't have the vocabulary to be able to translate my responses to pictures into words.
I have merely touched, randomly, on the work of half the women who are contributors to isis x--no space alas!--to talk about them all here.
Moira Richards: "Google 'Moira Richards' to find links to my essays on Women Abuse, my reviews of woman-authored books as well as to other writing and editing work I do for various print and e-publications. I can often be found lounging about the staff rooms of womenwriters.net, absolutewrite.com and moondance.org - usually sipping tea, sometimes Jack Daniels."