The Everyday Wife
To read just the first line of the first poem is to be skeined into a tantalizing world where nothing is predictable. Like the best of poets, she makes language do her bidding, wresting new sense from familiar images and situations, surprising us and ambushing our expectation. In the title poem can be seen the range and subtlety that characterises her work – the clear-eyed honesty, the perceptiveness, the playfulness, the attention to nuance. The Everyday Wife sums up the boundaries and expanses of a relationship, the possibility of menace, even, in the midst of love.
In one way or another, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers illuminates relationships of many kinds and many intensities – between lovers, children and parents, the politics of emotion shared and remembered and confronted, sustained across the distance of place or memory. Sometimes, as in ‘The Organ of Love’ – which manages that crucial combination of passion and humour – she makes meaning hold on to the last word of the poem like the last drop of a delicious drink.
In poem after poem are revealed different facets of her shapeshifting talent. The raw and numbing truths told in ‘Hell in a Handbag’ contrast starkly with the theatricality of a supermarket encounter in ‘The Middle Promise’, which transforms into a reminder that ‘the cost of things is not the same as the value of things’.
The historical and everyday realities of South Africa permeate even her observations about the weather as in ‘Home drenched’ and in ‘Sixty-nine bullets’ (for the Sharpeville 69) the tragedy is given poignant new impact.
Her blending of the literal and the metaphysical makes it possible to take so much from a single image:
sits tidily beside a giant cactus, the giant sun
just another father: distant and a little too warm.
The alarming familiar that she summons up so matter-of-factly, and so well, in ‘The guest’ epitomizes that edginess of imagination, and the sanity of the conclusion that one can never improve on freedom.
Phillippa Yaa de Villiers has claimed a freedom to speak the unspoken, however it emerges. ‘A safe house is a place of fear’ – a title thought-provoking in itself – captures the potency of silence, the dangerous power of wordlessless, where ‘silence is the skin of fear’.‘Words become me,’ she begins by saying, in ‘Lasso’… ‘withoutthem I am shorn’. Phillippa Yaa de Villiers is a poet for whom there is no danger of separation from expression. She definitely has a way with words, and words have their way with her.
- Margaret Busby