Book Reviews

Graham Vivian Lancaster, South African Poetry at its Best

'Fledgeling' is a book of poems published by Dr. Amitabh Mitra who owns the the Poets Printery Publishing House. Amitabh himself a well known poet uses his his publishing house to provide a platform for poets from all over the world.

Graham Vivian Lancaster, a representative voice from South Africa offers his work, a collection of poems, 'Fledgeling'. Never could a name be so misconceived. Graham is not a 'Fledgeling' but an Albatross, who sails the seas of the skies of the world so proudly.

Or yet, am I mistaken?

For he still seems to look at the world with the naivety of a fledgling seeing it for the very first time in pristine colors. He explains himself in his poem of the same name that he has brought up a Fledgling and says:

"I give you my shoes
But I can not give you my feet."

His poems put us on the right track but it is we, who must trek.

Some simple poems evoke everyday life in South Africa e.g. 'Jabu's take away and sit down', which turns out to be a tree in the shade where "Three baykons, two ekks, shize, honions, tamato, lettuce" sounds tasty. Then we realize it's "For divers very hungry" and all is explained as the men sit down to simple hearty food in this cheap watering hole because having spent energy in some watery hole, they now require sustenance. In the same way, 'Poplar Street' is mostly realistic:

"The caf' down the road
That sold hot chips 
That smelled of vinegar and salt 
And cooking oil."

This is the past that the poem takes us through to the present:

"The paint was flaking now 
The once proud garden 
Dry sticks, and crisp brown grass 
And I wondered - 
What became 
Of the caf'"

The trip down Memory Lane is really as realistic as any memory and a ramble through nostalgia and pain, which nonetheless at times is realistic - a blend of poetry and the world. 'Vegetable Seller' is also a semi-realistic description of a person "Weather furrowed face of many lives" and again

"Her gap toothed smile 
Walks after me 
Until the corner."

It can be seen, of course, from this that the 'realism' we are talking about is always a poetic realism that threatens to slip loose of Earth's gravitation by means of its own centrifugal poetic force.

Some poems call to life the wonderful nature of southern Africa as the start of 'Roller Coaster'

"Like the meteoric 
Rise and plummet 
Of the fork tailed drongo 
Chasing insects."

'A Song for Jordan' has tremendously long lines and is almost like a prose poem but adjectives are piled high to create flaming orchids of description:

"When squalling black heavens split with crackling cobalt fire
 And hooded sailors cower in silver lit pitching ships."

The sure instant, at the fingertips excitement of words is found in Wings

"And the baobabs, brown 
Raise their cellulite heavy arms and arthritic fingers."

And how about this magic moment in 'Magical'.

"Opportunist picnic seagull 
In cloudless blue 
Hangs effortlessly."

'Where Doves Drink' is also a riot of beautiful words,

"Where doves come to drink, swooping in low.
Flared wings banking hard on whistling feather sighs.
Quivering heads back, swallowing."

It is a very simple moment caught so sharply in the zoom of a poet's eye that every feather can be seen and every color of the moment sparkles like the water from the birds' beaks as they drink. Also, in 'The Traveler' there is the same Bonsai sketching in of scenery in a few pencil strokes of unsmudged 3H architect's pencil:

"Trees stood tall 
In brown shades of crackling dry winter."

Almost Haiku is

"But the strengthening sun 
shone through the dripping leaves 
In shafts of golden light."

Poets are people, who know about love. Anyhow, they seem to go through the mill more often than most of us. They tend not to be wiser but at any rate have a sharp eye for detail and share poignancy. Graham Lancaster has some beautifully moving love poems.

"Awry gypsy hair cascading softly over his face 
Eager breath puffs 
Lusty little dust devils gamboling on his cheek."

- an unexpected description of the male lover in a poem dedicated to the female. Perhaps it is the author himself. 'Last Night' is the beautiful apparition of a lover lost, though she seems as if she might be the same as the girl he remembered but, "I saw it wasn't you..." 'Dress Rehearsal' is built "On the immovable foundation pillars / Of hope and dreams." The poem moves dreamily and never seems to reach any conclusion at all nor to take on any definition - perhaps "Greek romanticide", whatever that is.

'Today' is much more direct and there is an image of the beloved but then that image focuses away for it is no longer today but a lonely, dreaming 'yesterday'.

"I felt you by my side 
But when I looked 
You had gone."

'Butterflies' is a riot of colors but yet it is transient, love will last a day to be replaced by

"Burning desires of sleepless passion 
Awaking in lonely beds."

Finally, the real live fluttering butterflies will be replaced by

"luminous plastic butterflies 
Eternally fixed on their ceiling of darkness."

In 'Meaning?' which, for many of us also, has a question mark, Graham talks of a rose,

"The color of passion 
[which] Touched my heart."


"It's drooping now 
Life almost over."

Is he giving us a Freudian symbol of the penis after having ejaculated? 'Lie with Me', of course, is fully erotic. "ripe cherry lips," "angel breath", "naked breasts" etc. are concrete images. "caressing hands", "drowning in your inner thighs" are only a little less concrete.

There is actually also a miscellany of other themes "Locked in the golden cupboard / Of tragic dreams." ('Golden Cupboard') Such would be 'Warrior', which is about the relationship of whomsoever is the narrator with a dying man, "Beholden to others for his life" because "His race [is] finally run." It is an intensely moving narration of the noble, dying warrior and also the implied relationship with the younger man: "Everything he'd done for me." 'He' is another 'relationship' with a man, this time merely glimpsed in traffic but by enough to recall a friendship. 'She' is juxtaposed and sums up all the many things a woman can mean to a man including his desire to guard her as a child. I enjoyed 'Rover' with his "quick stealing eyes" so punny and roguish, relishing rabbit stew just as I did as a child. Discarded is a cynical look at love between "sweaty sheets", where it becomes clear that the night's fine clothes are what have been discarded and what is left is "two lonely hearts". 'The Shopping Mall' in all its boredom "The malcontent depraved jungle of creation" is, in fact, invaded by a wonderful butterfly that somehow survives "its brief life span./ Amongst indifferent bovine trampling." We can definitely conclude that Graham does not like to do the shopping because we are left in no two minds as to how awful The Shopping Mall is. Briefly in 'Punishment of Leaving', we see a troop train and are reminded of the uneasy relations South Africa enjoys with her neighbors.

There are fifty-six short poems and while it is possible to chart one or two lines here and there, recommend en passant and so forth, the reader should himself (herself) acquire the slim volume called 'Fledgeling'. It is a tour de force of wonderful poetic magic. The poet's eye sees more clearly than the naked eye for it sees a reality closer to the soul than the everyday. Sometimes, Graham's images are concrete and are evoked very clearly in our mind's eye. Nonetheless, he has distorted reality through a poetic lens. Sometimes, the poetry belongs in the world of poetry and the reader ascends to a sublime heaven to partake of it. Never does he plod through the mud of everyday but always surmounts vale and hill in Seven-League Boots. The front cover shows an albatross winging effortlessly in a blue sky. A faded child's face looks full of surprise, promise, wonder, a lifetime to be realized. The dedication is "welcome in my world, Love you, Papa." Welcome into Graham Vivian Lancaster's world and into the intensity of the gifted artist's soul.


More by :  Geoffrey Jackson

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