Spotlighting Pan-African Poetry

Biography

Nanook – a North Atlantic Ballad

Enlarge poem

They packaged him at London Zoo
with full professional care:
his destination was New York
for exhibition there.

His claws were out like iron hooks,
and he was filled with rage.
He cuffed and slashed with frontal blows,
but could not break his cage.

At the quayside they winched him high,
then lowered him below.
The liner was about to sail
if he could only know.

His cage was placed against the hull
below the waterline.
He grunted at the telegraph;
the steam’s hiss made him whine.

To rich New York, to rich New York
the home of Liberty.
To rich New York, to rich New York
and more captivity.

They had not been at sea for long,
not even for a week,
before an iceberg struck their side
which sprang a copious leak.

A glassy spur ripped through the plates
as frail as melon skin:
in passing it collapsed the cage
Nanook was captured in.

When water filled the bulkhead’s space,
he answered with a roar
and squirmed beneath the guillotine
of a steel safety door.

He padded down the passageways,
hopped up an ornate stair:
with every snuffle of his snout
he searched for open air.

On deck, the women did not laugh
nor watch their children play:
they were unlike the folk he’d known
on a Bank Holiday.

For here they cried and clustered round
to look down from the rail.
They saw the water’s icy sheen
and felt their spirits fail.

The gentlemen so loathe to wet
their patent leather shoes,
they feared great forces were at play
to drag them in the ooze.

Nanook observed the stern rise high:
the sinking planks were steep.
On all four paws he slithered down
to set off in the deep.

It was the longest, coldest swim
that he had known for years.
The pallid ice floes passed him by,
some edged with glinting spears.

His muscles stretched, his nostrils spread,
the ocean soaked his hair,
but he advanced with easy stroke,
and energy to spare.

He hauled out on a growler’s shelf
to shelter in its lea:
Titanic sank before his eyes,
the ship that set him free.

A long, continuous wailing chant
came to his hearing there
from humans drowning in the night
with fearful screams, or prayer.

Nanook, he waited on the ice
till the last voice was gone,
then he set his course towards the north
and paddled strongly on.

Huge Ursa major watched from far
among the sky’s white lights,
contented that the polar bear
was safe this night of nights.

Geoffrey Haresnape

Featured Poem:

My mentor is dressing me

Enlarge poem

he is a mature man
working with the skin of a tsessebe
for my loins
fitting me out with arrows and a tight-sewn quiver

in my hands a bow
taut taut bow ready for pulling

I pad with my feet on the floor
I bow forward at the waist
turning in a circle
looking into corners

what is it that I seek?
who am I hunting?
I want an item
a something
oh, I need a specific
and I will gain a specific

in these circumstances
I throw my learned procedures to the winds
to the seventy winds

language flows through me
like a stream
I am blustering with words

the folks in the circle
egg me on
it’s a full room like a place for a party
but I cannot remain
to enjoy the samosas and the designer water

I must be stalking
the moon is turning full
with the arrow’s notch I will straddle the string

is it up that I must point?
do I aim at the floor?
must I swing with the loaded shaft
to the door?
to the window?
to the facelessness of the wall?

the time is coming
to make a departure
but when is that moment?
can it be the top of the morning?
shall it be the mid of the day?
will it be lapped round
with a kaross of small hours?

I load my brain
with all manner of images
this chamber and that

the whole planet is spinning
this is sharper than science
input derives from a gut under tension
my bladder is full

brought up with fixed categories
I have fixated for years upon Europe
I am dancing now with Africa, place of my birth
who claimed me before I knew

is the place not opportune?
can the moment not be prescient?
“go go go,” cries my mentor
“come come come,” yell the folks

there is a twang of release
and ululation
can I put a girdle round the earth in search of my target?
shall I bring down my desired by noonday or by night?

Geoffrey Haresnape

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Biography

Credentials
* Emeritus Professor of English and Creative Writing, University of Cape Town
* Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University, UK

Occupations
* Poet and Writer of Fiction
* Vice-President of the SA PEN Centre
* Literary Patron of New Contrast magazine – together with Andre Brink, Nadine Gordimer, JM Coetzee, Dan Jacobson, Zakes Mda & Zoe Wicomb

Publications
* Collections of Poetry
o Drive of the Tide (1976)
o New-Born Images (1991)
o Mulberries in Autumn (1996)
o The Living and the Dead: Selected and New Poems 1976-2005 (2005)
o Where the Wind Wills (2011)

* Works of Fiction
o Testimony – a novel(1992)
o African Tales from Shakespeare – short stories (1999)

Literary Prizes
* SANLAM National Literary Competition (1989)
* The Heinemann/Weekly Mail Literary Award (1990)
* The Arthur Nortje Memorial Award (1991)

Geoffrey Haresnape

Geoffrey Haresnape
Geoffrey Haresnape

Biography

Credentials
* Emeritus Professor of English and Creative Writing, University of Cape Town
* Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University, UK

Occupations
* Poet and Writer of Fiction
* Vice-President of the SA PEN Centre
* Literary Patron of New Contrast magazine – together with Andre Brink, Nadine Gordimer, JM Coetzee, Dan Jacobson, Zakes Mda & Zoe Wicomb

Publications
* Collections of Poetry
o Drive of the Tide (1976)
o New-Born Images (1991)
o Mulberries in Autumn (1996)
o The Living and the Dead: Selected and New Poems 1976-2005 (2005)
o Where the Wind Wills (2011)

* Works of Fiction
o Testimony – a novel(1992)
o African Tales from Shakespeare – short stories (1999)

Literary Prizes
* SANLAM National Literary Competition (1989)
* The Heinemann/Weekly Mail Literary Award (1990)
* The Arthur Nortje Memorial Award (1991)

Nanook – a North Atlantic Ballad

Enlarge poem

They packaged him at London Zoo
with full professional care:
his destination was New York
for exhibition there.

His claws were out like iron hooks,
and he was filled with rage.
He cuffed and slashed with frontal blows,
but could not break his cage.

At the quayside they winched him high,
then lowered him below.
The liner was about to sail
if he could only know.

His cage was placed against the hull
below the waterline.
He grunted at the telegraph;
the steam’s hiss made him whine.

To rich New York, to rich New York
the home of Liberty.
To rich New York, to rich New York
and more captivity.

They had not been at sea for long,
not even for a week,
before an iceberg struck their side
which sprang a copious leak.

A glassy spur ripped through the plates
as frail as melon skin:
in passing it collapsed the cage
Nanook was captured in.

When water filled the bulkhead’s space,
he answered with a roar
and squirmed beneath the guillotine
of a steel safety door.

He padded down the passageways,
hopped up an ornate stair:
with every snuffle of his snout
he searched for open air.

On deck, the women did not laugh
nor watch their children play:
they were unlike the folk he’d known
on a Bank Holiday.

For here they cried and clustered round
to look down from the rail.
They saw the water’s icy sheen
and felt their spirits fail.

The gentlemen so loathe to wet
their patent leather shoes,
they feared great forces were at play
to drag them in the ooze.

Nanook observed the stern rise high:
the sinking planks were steep.
On all four paws he slithered down
to set off in the deep.

It was the longest, coldest swim
that he had known for years.
The pallid ice floes passed him by,
some edged with glinting spears.

His muscles stretched, his nostrils spread,
the ocean soaked his hair,
but he advanced with easy stroke,
and energy to spare.

He hauled out on a growler’s shelf
to shelter in its lea:
Titanic sank before his eyes,
the ship that set him free.

A long, continuous wailing chant
came to his hearing there
from humans drowning in the night
with fearful screams, or prayer.

Nanook, he waited on the ice
till the last voice was gone,
then he set his course towards the north
and paddled strongly on.

Huge Ursa major watched from far
among the sky’s white lights,
contented that the polar bear
was safe this night of nights.

Featured Poem:

My mentor is dressing me

Enlarge poem

he is a mature man
working with the skin of a tsessebe
for my loins
fitting me out with arrows and a tight-sewn quiver

in my hands a bow
taut taut bow ready for pulling

I pad with my feet on the floor
I bow forward at the waist
turning in a circle
looking into corners

what is it that I seek?
who am I hunting?
I want an item
a something
oh, I need a specific
and I will gain a specific

in these circumstances
I throw my learned procedures to the winds
to the seventy winds

language flows through me
like a stream
I am blustering with words

the folks in the circle
egg me on
it’s a full room like a place for a party
but I cannot remain
to enjoy the samosas and the designer water

I must be stalking
the moon is turning full
with the arrow’s notch I will straddle the string

is it up that I must point?
do I aim at the floor?
must I swing with the loaded shaft
to the door?
to the window?
to the facelessness of the wall?

the time is coming
to make a departure
but when is that moment?
can it be the top of the morning?
shall it be the mid of the day?
will it be lapped round
with a kaross of small hours?

I load my brain
with all manner of images
this chamber and that

the whole planet is spinning
this is sharper than science
input derives from a gut under tension
my bladder is full

brought up with fixed categories
I have fixated for years upon Europe
I am dancing now with Africa, place of my birth
who claimed me before I knew

is the place not opportune?
can the moment not be prescient?
“go go go,” cries my mentor
“come come come,” yell the folks

there is a twang of release
and ululation
can I put a girdle round the earth in search of my target?
shall I bring down my desired by noonday or by night?

How does this featured poem make you feel?

  • Amazement (0)
  • Pride (0)
  • Optimism (0)
  • Anger (0)
  • Delight (0)
  • Inspiration (0)
  • Reflection (0)
  • Captivation (0)
  • Peace (0)
  • Amusement (0)
  • Sorrow (0)
  • Vigour (0)
  • Hope (0)
  • Sadness (0)
  • Fear (0)
  • Jubilation (0)

Nanook – a North Atlantic Ballad

Enlarge poem

They packaged him at London Zoo
with full professional care:
his destination was New York
for exhibition there.

His claws were out like iron hooks,
and he was filled with rage.
He cuffed and slashed with frontal blows,
but could not break his cage.

At the quayside they winched him high,
then lowered him below.
The liner was about to sail
if he could only know.

His cage was placed against the hull
below the waterline.
He grunted at the telegraph;
the steam’s hiss made him whine.

To rich New York, to rich New York
the home of Liberty.
To rich New York, to rich New York
and more captivity.

They had not been at sea for long,
not even for a week,
before an iceberg struck their side
which sprang a copious leak.

A glassy spur ripped through the plates
as frail as melon skin:
in passing it collapsed the cage
Nanook was captured in.

When water filled the bulkhead’s space,
he answered with a roar
and squirmed beneath the guillotine
of a steel safety door.

He padded down the passageways,
hopped up an ornate stair:
with every snuffle of his snout
he searched for open air.

On deck, the women did not laugh
nor watch their children play:
they were unlike the folk he’d known
on a Bank Holiday.

For here they cried and clustered round
to look down from the rail.
They saw the water’s icy sheen
and felt their spirits fail.

The gentlemen so loathe to wet
their patent leather shoes,
they feared great forces were at play
to drag them in the ooze.

Nanook observed the stern rise high:
the sinking planks were steep.
On all four paws he slithered down
to set off in the deep.

It was the longest, coldest swim
that he had known for years.
The pallid ice floes passed him by,
some edged with glinting spears.

His muscles stretched, his nostrils spread,
the ocean soaked his hair,
but he advanced with easy stroke,
and energy to spare.

He hauled out on a growler’s shelf
to shelter in its lea:
Titanic sank before his eyes,
the ship that set him free.

A long, continuous wailing chant
came to his hearing there
from humans drowning in the night
with fearful screams, or prayer.

Nanook, he waited on the ice
till the last voice was gone,
then he set his course towards the north
and paddled strongly on.

Huge Ursa major watched from far
among the sky’s white lights,
contented that the polar bear
was safe this night of nights.

Comments

Your email address will not be published.