As the saying goes, “There is an art to everything” and while I excitedly flipped through the initial pages of this well-crafted collection, I was met with the undeniable truth about writing. Poetry finds you therefore one must exercise the art of waiting.
When I was curiously searching for poetry books by women who looked like me in my early teens, I found Mam Makhosazana Xaba’s books for children. This was around the same time I fell in love with Mam Gcina Mhlophe’s Have You Seen Zandile? Later the iconic Myesha Jenkins, to whom this collection is dedicated, lured me in with her jazz poetry voice echoing through my radio and most recently, Khadija Heeger stole my heart with her captivating poetry performances. I mention these powerful women foremost because it is impossible for me to write about “Found Poetry” without shining the light on the black women writers that have contributed to African Literature and helped me find my voice in poetry. It is a relationship I think cannot be divorced from The Art of Waiting for Tales.
The dictionary defines a found poem as:
“a form of poetry that comprises borrowed text from different sources and reframing them by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning”.
The Art of Waiting for Tales is a collection of found poetry from the novel Grace by Barbara Boswell. Xaba takes us on a poignant journey of self-discovery where the main character, Grace, moves through physical, interpersonal, political and metaphysical landscapes. We witness, through 71 poems, the community of relationships that Grace forms. We also witness time as a concept become subjective and formless while simultaneously quite literal. It is in this space that we learn the art of waiting as life happens to you. We see this in various ways in the collection:
“Home. At 21 Saturn Street.”
‘Grace’s Cross’ (pp. 2)
“Mary and Patrick move to the Cape Flats, a new housing scheme for coloureds.”
‘What was the Use of Vows and Promises?’ (pp. 8)
“Grace thinks about her life and the lives of women like her.”
‘An Invisible Sisterhood’ (pp. 72)
“Grace is staring at Table Mountain through her flat window. She thinks about her future.”
‘Things to Build’ (pp. 78)
These time stamps at the top of the page frame and assist the sequencing of the poems in the way that the novel does. If this collection were to be adapted into a stage play, one would perhaps use these as stage directions or the subtext that motivates the characters. What I enjoyed about this structure is that it also uncovered a new way of reading poetry, where the scene is set for the reader prior to the poem. The poem becomes what cannot be seen, the poem is found in the spaces in between.
Another example of time teaching us a lesson about waiting is Grace’s relationship with her inner child. It is only through the birth of her daughter, Sindi, that her greatest fear and deepest love is revealed:
Grace’s worst fear dissipated
With the first breath her daughter drew.
Grace fell in love, the instant
She laid eyes on Sindi:
The puffy pink face
The chubby curled hand
Sindi was perfect.
‘Sindi was Perfect’ (pp. 39)
Grace’s thoughts turned to Sindi.
She had not seen her daughter for two months.
Was this excruciating pain she felt at Sindi’s absence
Something akin to what Patrick was feeling?
‘Questions & a Single Folded Page’ (pp 64 – 65)
Michele Obama says, “I am, after all, a product of my parents and grandparents, which is to say I am not a leaper or a flier.”The Light We Carry, 2022. This quote reminded me of this predetermined intergenerational story. Mary’s traumas become Grace’s fears and thus Sindi’s destiny.
Perhaps only when Grace reconciles with her abusive father, Patrick, years after herself becoming a parent; or when she gets her perfect nuclear family with David until her older lover, Johnny, finds his way back into her life, is the core message of found poetry to be found. That through the searching, slight tweaking, adding and taking away, and repositioning of a story, a new meaning can be imagined and created. Making healing and reconciliation possible for all the characters, even for the reader.
Patrick broke under the burden of her rage.
A wounded human being: DAMAGED.
‘Swallowed’ (pp. 76)
And then David’s knock on the door; it was time for her to go. She hadn’t even changed Sindi. And that was that. Grace knew it in her bones. Grace couldn’t walk away from Jonny for herself, but she had to do it for her daughter. That day, when he had touched her daughter, Jonny became dead to her.
‘Let the Dead Bury their Dead’ (pp. 77)
I appreciated Xaba’s ability to stay true to the story of these characters’ lives even in her poetic pilgrimage. A poem that was particularly striking for me was ‘Bleeding from the Same Wound’ (pp. 26)
“No Patrick, no”
“Come over here, Mary.”
“Patrick, please, we can work this out.
Put that away, let’s just talk. Please”
“Now you want to talk.
Close the door. Now lock it.”
Although this scene is extremely traumatic, it resembles the surge of violence in many South African domestic homes today, making this moment the epitome of the current state of feminine bodies in our country. The heated two-way conversation between Patrick and Mary in the poem is synonymous with Kendrick Lamar’s song, We Cry Together, however, one hopes for a rather different ending in the poem.
It is worth mentioning that The Art of Waiting for Tales is the first of its kind in South African literature. In all the searching I have done inside libraries and bookshelves, it is empowering to know that poetry truly is everywhere, even woven intricately inside the pages of a novel. One whose story is reminiscent of the play Boesman and Lena by Athol Fugard.
Just like Lena, Grace in the end can perceive a life of freedom where she is no longer tied to the toxic cycle of tragedies her mother experienced until her untimely death. She closes the door on that misery and looks forward to a future where her daughter will not have to fight the same dreams she did.
Grace took in the mountain.
She had no ground to stand on,
But there were still things to build, universes to make.
Grace breathed in that mountain. She knew she was free.
‘Things to Build’ (pp. 78)
|1.||The Light We Carry, 2022.|