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Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Wishing you a gutsy 2009

A canopic jar contains the vital organs of an embalmed person. If you click on the jar, you will find words of some of your favourite poets. (Gabeba Baderoon, Isobel Dixon, Myesha Jenkins…) Read the entrails and discover your destiny. Dream.

Canopic Jar

Here is a sample:

African Queen

I am not an African queen, I am
the soil around the roots, eating the leftovers
from the palace kitchen, and excreting
my darkness into the earth, endlessly.

» read article


Brown Spice Boutique

Come to the Women’s Jail, Constitution Hill, on Thursday 6 Nov to hear me read poetry at the opening of Bongi Bengu’s new exhibition, ‘Emancipation’.

Rose Francis will be there, too – and Mzansi Productions. RSVP to / 083 611 3508, and visit

Click the image to see a larger version of the invitation.

» read article

An old poem finds a new place: Refugee

I wrote this poem in 2005 – it feels very appropriate for now.


People ask me:
where is home?

Last time I saw my village
it was burning
in the night.

My house, a screaming
of firehot fear
in the mask of darkness.

My only thought was flight.

Nobody here understands my language, so
I speak the tongue of compromise.
The grateful grammar
of being alive.

This is my certainty, my identity.

People ask me, where is home?
I say
home is where the heart is.

At night I watch the stars:
distant villages, all aflame,
terrified angels, running away.

» read article

Above the clouds

When we started it was just getting dark.
Your face was a flame and I wanted to cup it,
to keep it, to light my way up the mountain.

We were sitting close to a small fire, we had eaten
and washed our dishes and we were resting before
walking on, your eyes were setting on my face,
stroking me with a warm light; behind me the moon was rising,
I could almost lean on it.
Around us the darkness was settling like a big
black dog, turning and turning and turning
in his night basket
until only his crickets were creaking.
It was clear, but mountains are unpredictable,
sometimes, without any warning, a mist seems to
percolate from the dreaming earth, and then it becomes dangerous.
But we weren’t afraid.
Our own deaths seemed impossible to us, clasped by golden life we were
immortal angels on an earthly mission, naked as children and as curious.
Without nostalgia for the fire’s warmth or a sentimental wish to prolong
the comfort of our sharing, we stood up, picked up our bags and
started the ascent in the crisp air. We always knew that this would happen:
we would each have to take our bags and walk up on our own.
Neither of us could carry the other’s
Although we were now physically separated, we still touched one another
with our voices, until our stories also fell into the grass and then
our feet carried on talking in the
stone language of the path. I could see you glowing faintly
up ahead, the late crescent moon over your shoulder, the stars
holding hands across millions of light years,
And we were sweet companions walking into an immense
dark silence that was not at all frightening.

I thought of my son, how we daily return to the hearth of our origin: my lap.
The busy day coils up its hands and feet and we
curl up before he sets off on his night voyage
in his single bed:
our breasts breathe together, and I give to him the candle of my eyes
and kiss him warm to keep out the dank and howling mists.
You and me, we’re different, on this mountain, there is you
and there is me, and yes, that’s us, but we remain separate.
Sometimes I look around to see the light you carry in you
and I can’t find it, and then I try to hear your feet speak
but my ears are deaf to all but the sound of my own
exertion. I know that somewhere on this mountain, you too
are walking up and maybe wondering where
the flame of my face has gone
and the path pulls you on and you may not wait and your feet startle
a nightjar, who flaps off to the left, and you pause and listen, and
maybe you hear my muffled snuffles as I proceed on my own path, behind you.
Perhaps you’ll wait awhile until I catch up, and then I’ll be the leader
and you the follower, stumbling in my wake. Perhaps you’ll move on, and
the darkness will seem so loud that once I shout, just to hear another voice,
and maybe
there will only be an echo.

After the brave adventure began,
did Columbus feel the abysmal dark
sliding away into a dreaded eternity;
at some nameless point in the ocean’s belly
did he doubt his first step?

But I know that on this mountain you are walking just as I
am walking and I want to hold your face between my hands again
and know the way. There is only one certainty: the path, and all I want
is to believe that when the dawn raises the curtain and
calls out life, I will see you
and we will come together like this landscape
like two stones or like a tree and a bit of grass,
or a stream;
passive and natural,
about to be discovered.

» read article

Myself and Andries Bezuidenhout at Saturday Voices at Boekehuis

Taller than BuildingsRetourBoekehuis’ famous “Saturday Voices” / Saterdagstemme event this week is a dual poetry reading with… myself, and Andries Bezuidenhout (Retoer).

Details are below: everyone please come!

Here’s the “Oor die digter” blurb on Andries:

Andries Bezuidenhout het veral bekendheid verwerf as lid van die rockgroep Brixton Moord en Roof Orkes en vir sy rubrieke op Litnet en in Rapport. Hy is dosent in Sosiologie aan die Universiteit van die Witwatersrand.

And here are two sample poems from the books:

» read article

Shine: it ain’t a sin to be black

Napo MasheanNapo MasheaneActually, what I set about writing was a report on the launch of Napo’s book Caves Speak in Metaphors, but the event gave me so many ideas to think about I ended starting the piece completely differently.

I create the world through my works, through my works I represent the world. This is the role I have chosen or was chosen for me: storyteller, poet, healer, performer.

In a world of silences, I itemize the infinite variety of experience, in telling I give new names to the unspoken, and liberate my suffering from an inarticulate chaos. When I name sorrow, loss, exploitation, racism, fear, disgust… I am no longer subject to them, in fact, they become my subjects.

» read article


Otter TrailBreastsummer
For S.H.P.

At first I barely noticed you:
the darker skin,
the double kiss of nipples,
dot dot
adorning the free state
of my flat brown
little girl’s body.

Like buds that swell in spring
my body opened like a flower,
handfuls ripened to cupfuls,
then the full bounty
of my own, home-grown
life support system
ran over,
a breastsummer,
showcasing potential
suitors collected like coats and shoes,
I wore their eyes,
accessorized my self-esteem.

Only in a mirror
framed by shame
I named you
too big
too small

This body curves
around creation,
it is the work of mighty nature,
it is my land:
I live here.
I rename the elements these days
I farm in phrases:
beautiful, holy, vital, divine,
warm, fertile, nurturing, mine.
Skyseasons pass and I keep turning
the sweet earth,
planting hope in even furrows,
savouring the harvest.

» read article

Enthusiasm: Margaret Legum

Long before I met her in the flesh, I encountered her ideas through the columns she published in the Mail and Guardian. I loved the way that Margaret Legum put the most vulnerable humans at the centre of economics. Her writing seemed to me to reflect a philosophy that says: a team is only as strong as its weakest player, so therefore all our endeavours should be to help those who need it the most.


» read article

Praise Song: Poetry Africa 2007

Phillippa Yaa de VilliersI woke up in a luscious swirl of words, the faces and voices of poets and singers still dancing around my sleepy head. For days after Poetry Africa 2007, I would start each sentence with: when I was at Poetry Africa… In Durban they said… I wrote a poem to Chirikure… I performed with Stanley…

I am palpably susceptible to exaggeration and florid metaphors: shamelessly intense, I gorge myself on opportunities to change and grow. Poetry Africa 2007 was intensely stimulating, generous, effervescent and inspiring. On the simplest level, to walk in foreign landscapes of words and find yourself looking right back at yourself, was like opening new territories of emotion that I had not imagined.


» read article

Parliament of Poetry Flyer

Parliament of Poetry in LondonHere’s the flyer for the show in the UK I mentioned earlier this month.

Now let me resound the call: please tell your SA expat friends and family in London about the event, so they can come and support myself, Lebo Mashile and Napo Masheane.

Admission is free to this “Parliament of Poetry” on October 14th – all the more reason to come watch!

» read article