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African Writing Archives


Fourth Child

Fourth Child

Publishers: Modjaji Books
Pages: 55
Price: Unstated
First Published: 2007


 Fourth Child

Poetry is most valuable when it is ‘honest’. It communicates most when it springs from deep-felt emotions, however prosaic or personal. For this reason, a poem about the commonplace may well succeed where one about the great issues of life fail.  The poems in Cape Town poet,  Megan Hall's poetry collection, Fourth Child, are intensely personal, preoccupied with the twin themes of leaving and loving.

The poems on leaving are almost always about a death – sometimes violent, as in the maternal suicide that is the subject of the poet in Gunshot. In this sense, the slim volume (55 pages / 30 poems) pulsates with pain, and the poet returns again and again to this scene in Suicide Notes, Seed, and – most emphatically in the title poem, Fourth Child.

April is the cruellest month. I should never call the month my mother left ‘kind’

The honesty of these poems have a certain translucence. The volume carries something of an autobiographical charge, with poems that are mostly in the first person. The emotions of bereavement are served up here, from different viewpoints. Many lines here are linear, unlike the more three-dimensional poem, Real, they stray into journalese, but are no less poignant for that. Suicide Notes, for instance, is inspired by a New Yorker article that breaks all suicides into 5 basic varieties. The poet concludes

I am the property to be disposed of in your note;
it may have been the first time you owned me in this way,
then immediately bequeathed, handed me over,

intact, to the next generation.

These are acutely observed pieces and the poet’s observation particularly comes to life in Kiss:

I bring all of myself to this kiss
                   on the back of your neck
                   as you work

and you nod,
continuing your own thoughts.

It is mostly in these poems on love that the poet’s lyrical voice comes into its own. – Although the pain of death is never far away. Indeed sometimes the imagery of death obtrudes, jarringly, as when in the midst of the exquisite sensuousness of the lines of Your Red and Secret Lips, the finger of death appears:

‘Lips that I’ve taken and tasted like sushi,
or a dead man’s finger,

lips that I’ve rolled between mine
like a stone rolled in water ‘,

making for one dead line in an otherwise great poem. There are no such lines in 14, whose words seemed writ for speaking,

‘I’ve seen the pictures on the screen,
rolled the knowledge over like a pebble on my tongue.’

The rest of the lines of the conception poem rolls off the tongue just as assuredly.

From the self-absorbed (Face considers the poet’s mirror image in a tongue-in-cheek, ‘you never know/ which parts of you incline to treachery, which will raise/ the flag of their own republic’) to the cynical (Meeting at Night: two lovers sharing a bed with little heat. ‘You are still inside me…/ We get older stained by the meetings and leavings of other bodies’) one of the accomplished poems in the collection blends the two themes of death and love. Seams is dedicated to a grandmother.

Her love is in the seams, the length of lace.
the afternoons spent being patient

her love is in the dresses I’ve outgrown but can’t toss out.’

This fusion combines with the wicked humour of You Move Fast and To a Friend on Getting Older, to season a collection of honest poems anatomising a grief.

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