An appreciation of a fine South African poet and writer
by Jacqueline Dowling
Kobus Moolman has had a profound effect on my writing; his imagery and stark use of words, creating pictures and sensations in minimalist form, choosing only that which carries both sentiment and image straight to the soul. Certain of his poetry contains echoes of Pablo Neruda, Dostoevsky and, possibly, Chekov. Dark in parts but always sweeping his canvas with vivid and emotive observations and portraits. Life stripped down to its bones. Seeing people and places in a different and realistic light.
‘Time like Stone’, a collection of poems and prose written during his time in Nieu-Bethesda after winning the Helen Martins Fellowship, traces the poet’s struggle for language over silence – . The great open spaces of the Karoo: his thoughts and senses.
From Silence and the Stones:
‘ Silence and the stones
speak impenetrable codes
loud as emptiness…’
‘…and now a solitary bird, wide-winged
rides slowly the lonely railroad
of a neighbour’s sky.’
Finally The Wind of Bethesda
‘…All day the doors on the street
are closed against the dust,
the wooden window-shutters too.
Only the sun seems not to mind,
and an old grey donkey
that chews slowly an old rose bush…’
Tactile, emotive and immersed in the otherness of life in a different place. See the infinity of sky, hear the soughing wind and the high keening of a kite; feel the gritty dust in your mouth and nostrils, and the texture of an old scruffy donkey whose coat has seen many seasons, his tired body drawn many carts. The paucity of grass and shrub.
Perhaps Karoo Notebook, to me anyway, is Kobus’ magnum opus. The extracts from the journal kept during his stay in Nieu-Bethesda for me, are echoes of feelings and emotions that go so deep into my soul that it’s hard, at times, to express them. But he does…minimalist, saying only what he sees, hears and feels. No frills.
Wrestling with the thought: what is selfishness?
In a place like this – where one is largely an unkown element
(even to oneself), because, significantly, so much alone – one is
continually moving into areas of oneself that had not been known
Even a simple expedition to the corner trading store, then, to
buy a loaf of bread and a piece of smoked wors, becomes a journey
of discovery. We are our own Columbus or Eric the Red.
I have lain on sunburnt rocks under an infinity of night sky, high in the mountains of the Klein Karoo, the stars so close you could hear them crackle. Below, in a kranz, a river chuckled its pebbly way to the sea, a jackal barked and was silent.
Sitting on the low verandah wall at night. A vast plain of stars
above me. The darkened street around (Bethesda has no street lights)
with the deep outlines of trees tossing in the wind, and
Then the low bubbling of water in the village furrow.
Apparently, in all the history of this village, the spring that feeds
these street furrows from high in the hills has never run dry.
The creak and clank of the wind-pump in Tannie W’s yard
A wind lifts the curtains slowly
in the room,
a warm wind with the voice of crickets.
Other lives happen all around us, but we do not have eyes to see…
I have learned, through Kobus, to open my eyes to the unusual, to store moments, scents, sounds and emotions. And not ever to be afraid to listen to the music in my soul.
Time like Stone
University of Natal Press 2000
ISBN: 086980 979 2
For my signed copy – thank you Kobus.