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LitNet is ’n onafhanklike joernaal op die Internet, en word as gesamentlike onderneming deur Ligitprops 3042 BK en Media24 bedryf.

Gabeba Baderoon displays profound psychological insight, poise and compassion for humanity

Michelle McGrane

The Dream in the Next Body
by Gabeba Baderoon
Kwela Books/Snailpress
First edition 2005
ISBN 0-7957-0197-7

Each day I learn
the language we must speak to one another.

("Something I Know So Well")

Gabeba Baderoon is the recipient of the DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Poetry 2005. This is a great achievement, particularly when her fellow nominees were poets of the calibre of Vonani Bila, Mac Manaka, Lebo Mashile, Danie Marais, Napo Masheane, Ilse van Staden and Bernat Kruger. The poems for which Baderoon won this award appear in her elegant debut collection, The Dream in the Next Body.

Written over a period of five years, some of the poems have appeared previously, in slightly different form, in local poetry publications such as Carapace and New Contrast, and in publications in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Baderoon won the Philadelphia City Paper Writing Contest in 1999 for her poem "After Revolutions". "The Art of Leaving" was selected for The Best of MA Writing 2002-2003 at Sheffield Hallam University in England. Both poems are included in the collection. The title of the volume, The Dream in the Next Body, is taken from her poem of the same name.

For me, there is aesthetic pleasure in handling a well-produced book, and this slender volume with its smooth sepia cover is one I savour with delight. The immaculate layout and high-quality paper also deserve mention.

Describing herself as having come to poetry relatively late in her life, Gabeba Baderoon displays a mastery of language and an eye for detail which transform the ordinary and everyday into the precise and revelatory. Although some poems treat the themes of love and war, "True", the opening piece, is rooted in the poet's close observation of a master tiler at work:

With a blue grid, he shakes out
the sheets of unordered space, folds
them into squares and lays them end on end.
Under his knees, a room will become whole and clear.

Baderoon possesses a wide-ranging intelligence and her work is formed from a wealth of sources: art, newspaper articles, indigenous plants, feline behaviour, Freud, and Islamic architecture. "The Dance" is an example of the careful craftsmanship, crystalline thought and lightness of touch which make so many of the poems in this collection accessible and a pleasure to read:

Once in a museum I stood
at the entrance to a room looking
at Matisse's Dance.
A man walked in front of me,
stopped.
He tilted his head, as though
listening more than seeing
and, for a moment,
I saw the dance pass
through his whole body.

Most of the poems are of a deeply personal nature, yet they vibrate with a universal resonance full of sharp observations - both of the world and of the poet's interior landscape.

"Track memory. Loss lets you see again," she advises in "How To Find Something Lost". Tracing a journey of arrivals and departures, beginnings and endings, Baderoon is a poet of transitions and borders, examining and reflecting on themes of loss, isolation, memory and the impossibility of forgetting the place, the land of one's origin. She is both insider and outsider; one who is in the uneasy position of viewing home - "the address she has left behind" - from a distance.

In the poem "I Cannot Myself", she reflects upon the issue of identity and reveals the personal impact of the dislocations in her history:

To come to this country,
my body must assemble itself

into photographs and signatures.
Among them they will search for me.

I must leave behind all uncertainties.
I cannot myself be a question.

She deals again with themes of memory, belonging and distance in "Hunger", meditating on the fragility of the exile and the experience of alienation, using evocative and poignant imagery expressed in controlled, accurate and effective language:

All day I watch the cooking shows, perhaps
for the company of the colours. I have slow,
apricot memories. I think I seek in them
a grandmother and a kitchen heavy
with years. I think I watch

for beginnings, perhaps all beginnings.
A girl learning to keep from crying
when she slices an onion, when
she remembers the country she has left.
All day I watch to keep from crying.

Drawing on themes of war, death and the silence surrounding loss, "War Triptych: Silence, Glory, Love" is a deeply moving work in three parts which cannot fail to affect the reader. Part II, "Father Receives News His Son Died in the Intifada", is six lines and yet manages to epitomise the utter futility and devastation of war - for this father there can be no consolation for the loss of his son. Without being intrusive or pretentious, Baderoon successfully captures the isolation one imagines one might feel upon receiving news of this nature. She does this in a way that creates immediate recognition within the reader:

When he heard of the news, Mr Karim became silent.
He did not look at the cameras,
nor at the people who brought their grief.
He felt a hand slip from his hand,
a small unclasping,
and for that he refused the solace of glory.

Whether writing about loss, memory, war, love (and "the subtle map of the bed"), or everyday events, Gabeba Baderoon displays profound psychological insight, poise and compassion for humanity, while avoiding overstatement and melodrama. There is stillness, a quiet spirituality, at the centre of her poems:

Light wells over the rim of the stone basin
and collects itself into the moon.
Everything is finding its place.

("My Tongue Softens on the Other Name")

There is great merit in work which can be understood and enjoyed by people who may not have extensive knowledge of poetry and of poetic form. Although Baderoon's poetry is multi-layered and skilfully constructed, I believe it will appeal to a wide spectrum of readers.

Each time I open this book, it is a fresh experience: I discover a new line, another image, a different meaning. I will return again and again to dip into The Dream.

Gabeba is currently working on a full-length volume of poetry, which will be published as part of the DaimlerChrysler Award in March 2006. I am already looking forward to it.

The Dream in the Next Body can be purchased from all good bookstores and on the Internet at www.kalahari.net, www.exclusivebooks.com or www.clarkesbooks.co.za.

Gabeba Baderoon's website is www.gabeba.com.



LitNet: 29 June 2005

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