South African poet Ingrid de Kok has written poems about her country's historic transition from apartheid. They include accounts of testimony given to the new South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, childhood memories that reach to the time of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, and images of machinery lifting statues of the old regime's leaders away from their pedestals. A volume of new and selected poems by de Kok, Seasonal Fires , brings together three earlier books, the first published in 1988.
This publication introduces an impressive poet to American readers. De Kok offers, among other things, a vision of her country through the lens of poetry. The social problems and political history of South Africa sharpen a general question for art: How does a relatively privileged artist register deprivation or suffering without emphasizing her advantaged viewpoint? How to avoid condescension, exoticism or mere tongue-clicking? With attention, and imagination:
THE HEAD OF THE HOUSEHOLD
is a girl of thirteen
and her children are many.
Left-overs, moulting gulls,
wet unweaned sacks
she carries them under her arms
and on her back
though some must walk beside her
bearing their own bones and mash
when not on the floor