Leon Retief. Twee Kanadese digters: Dave Margoshes & Jan Zwicky




Hendrik Botha se inskrywing oor dokter-digters en sy opmerkings oor mediese poësie in die besonder het my herinner aan die onderstaande gedig deur Dave Margoshes. Die intense situasies waarin dokters in sommige dissiplines hulself van tyd tot tyd bevind, sowel as die interaksies met pasiënte en hul families – soms amusant, soms gespanne, soms aangrypend – moet beslis ryk stof vir skrywers en digters bied. Margoshes laat die digkuns dalk makliker lyk as wat dit is – almal van ons, nie net dokters en digters nie, het ondervindings en gedagtes in ons koppe en harte wat kan oorsprong gee aan romans, gedigte of fabels maar om dit op papier neer te skryf is natuurlik iets anders.




What could be easier than learning to write?

Novels, poems, fables with and without morals,

they’re all within you, in the heart, the head,

the bowel, the tip of a pen a diviner’s rod.

Reach inside and there they are, the people

one knows, their scandalous comments,

the silly things they do, the unforgettable feeling

of a wet eyelash on your burning cheek.

This moment, that, an eruption of violence,

a glancing away, the grandest of entrances,

the telling gesture, the banal and the beautiful,

all conspire with feeling and passion to transport,

to deliver, to inspire. Story emerges

from this cocoon, a crystalline moment, epiphanies

flashing like lightbulbs above the heads

of cartoon characters. All this within you

where you least expect it, not so much in the head

as under the arms, glistening with sweat, stinking

with the knowledge of the body, the writer

neither practitioner nor artisan but miner, digging

within himself for riches unimagined, for salt.


(c) Dave Margoshes


Dit herinner my ook aan Octavio Paz: “The gush. A mouthful of health. A girl lying on her past. Wine, fire, the guitar, tablecloth. A red plush wall in a village square. Cheers, glittering cavalry that enter the city, the people in flight: hymns! Eruption of white, green, fiery. The easiest thing, that which writes itself: poetry!”

Jan Zwicky

Jan Zwicky

Jan Zwicky het die volgende geskryf: “the nature poet is not simply one whose subject matter lies out of doors. The nature poet is, first and foremost, someone who does not doubt that the world is real – or, more precisely, someone who would resist the suggestion that the world is a human construct, a thing that depends on humans speaking or knowing to exist.”




For performance with Bach’s E Minor Partita for Solo Violin, BWV 1006




There is, said Pythagoras, a sound

the planet makes, a kind of music

just outside our hearing, the proportion

and the resonance of things – not

the clang of theory or the wuthering

of human speech, not even

the bright song of sex or hunger, but

the unrung ringing that

supports them all.


The wife, no warning, dead

when you come home. Ducats

in the fishheads that you salvage

from the rubbish heap. Is the cosmos

laughing at us? No. It’s saying


improvise. Everywhere you look

there’s beauty, and it’s rimed

with death. If you find injustice

you’ll find humans, and this means

that if you listen, you’ll find love.

The substance of the world is light,

is water: here, clear

even when it’s dying; even when the dying

seems unbearable, it runs.




Why is Bach’s music more like speech than any other? Because of

its wisdom, I think. Which means its tempering of lyric passion by

domesticity, its grounding of the flash of lyric insight in domestic

earth, the turf of dailiness.


Let us think of music as a geometry of the emotions. Bach’s

practice, then, resembles that of the Egyptians: earth’s measure as a

way of charting the bottomlands of the Nile, the floodwaters of the

heart, as a way of charting life. Opera, Greek tragedy, Romantic poetry

tell us that sex and death are what we have to focus on if we want to

understand any of the rest. Bach’s music, by contrast, speaks directly

to, and of, life itself – the resonant ground of sex and death.


And it does this not without ornamentation, but without fuss:

the golden ratio in which the whelk shell lying on the beach, the leaf whorl

opening to sun, the presence of the divine in the chipped dish drying

in the rack, that miracle: good days, bad days, a sick kid, a shaft of

sunlight om the organ bench. Talk to me, I’m listening.




E major: June wind

in the buttercups, wild

and bright and tough.

Like luck – a truth

that’s on the surface of a thing,

not because it’s shallow, but because

it’s open: overtoned.

Because it rings.

Fate, too

Is character. But it’s

the shape – the cadence

and the counterpoint. Luck

lives in the moment, and it

looks at you: the clear eye,

gold, when being sings.


Menuet I & II


There’s nothing special in it. All you have to do

is hit the right key at the right time. Time:

that stream in which we do and do not,

live, just practice diligently, it will all go well. You have

five fingers on each hand, just as healthy as my own.

Unison, the octave; the fifth, the fourth, the third.

Of the strings? The viola, if I have a choice.

At the keyboard, don’t forget to use your thumb.

God’s glory and the recreation of the mind.

What I really need to know:

Does the organ have good lungs?

The partita of the world, the dance of being: everything

has to be possible.




Partita, partie – a whole of many parts. Pythagoras, who is said to have studied with the Egyptians, is also said to have taught that enlightenment meant solving the problem of the One and the Many, of coming to grasp the divine unity of the world through its bits and pieces, as these come to us in language.

This may also be thought of as the problem of metaphor: that metaphor’s truth, its charge of meaning, depends on assertion of identity and difference, on erotic coherence and referential strife, on meaning as resonance and meaning revealed through analysis.

Lyric poets are always trying to approach the issue by forcing speech to aspire to the condition of music. Bach comes at it from the other end: he infuses music with a sense of the terrible concreteness, the particularity, of the world. And enlightenment? – Acceptance of, delight in, the mystery of incarnation.




There is a sound

that is a whole of many parts,

a sorrowless transparency, like luck,

that opens in the centre of a thing.

An eye, a river, fishheads, death,

gold in your pocket, and a half-wit

son: the substance of the world

is light and blindness and the measure

of our wisdom is our love.

Our diligence: ten fingers and

a healthy set of lungs. Practice

ceaselessly: there is

one art: wind

in the open spaces

grieving, laughing

with us, saying



(c) Jan Zwicky



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8 Kommentare op “Leon Retief. Twee Kanadese digters: Dave Margoshes & Jan Zwicky”

  1. Maria Snyman :

    BAIE besonderse blog, Leon!

    In antwoord op daardie pragtige aanhaling van Zwicky oor die natuurdigter, veral daardie deel as “someone who would resist the suggestion that the world is a human construct, a thing that depends on humans speaking or knowing to exist” – o, die geil humanisme gaan ons nog onder kry! – die volgende aanhaling uit Vivien Law se The History of Linguistics in Europe: From Plato to 1600 (2003, p.166) wat ek ook lees in die lig van die asof voorgeskrewe beweging wat Derrida probeer wys het (en wat my dus laat glimlag, d.i. nie laat “doubt that the world is real” nie):

    “The Physics was the principle work in which Aristotle discussed motion, although he returns to the subject over and over again throughout his scientific writings. Early in the Physics Aristotle reminds his readers that art imitates nature. That innocuous little statement – a cliché to us – evoked powerful resonances in medieval grammarians. Right through the Middle Ages, grammarians were desperately anxious to rescue language from its apparent arbitrariness (and this was the driving force behind Speculative grammar, as we shall see). To be told that art – which they took to mean all the Liberal Arts, including grammar – imitates nature implied that language was in some sense natural and non-arbitrary. In what respect? Reading on, they found a clue: ‘Nature is the principle of motion, stability and change.’ From the middle of the twelfth century on, one scholar after another joined in the quest to identify the principles of motion, stability and change at work in language. Different scholars looked for it in different aspects of language – the masters of Paris in syntax, the masters of Oxford in speech sounds.”

    Bach se musiek, Nietzsche se The Birth of Tragedy, from the Spirit of Music, Freud se Pompeijiese psigoanalise, die Middeleeuse Meister Eckhart se nosie van die Godheid as die “dieper grond”, ‘n “divine wasteland”, waaruit God-die-drie-eenheid vloei, ensovoorts, ensovoorts – “the resonant ground of sex and death”.

    in the open spaces
    grieving, laughing
    with us, saying

  2. Maria Snyman :

    Leon, ek wil dan ook net graag die volgende byvoeg: Ek weet min van Bach se musiek, noem my maar ‘n barbaar, maar wat ek wel weet van Bach is dit: In Suid-Korea het my mond oopgehang toe ‘n middelskool seuntjie die mees ongelooflike lofsang aan Bach gesing het in sy bydrae vir die jaarlikse Engelse “speech contest”. Dit was vir my ‘n ongelooflike ervaring. Hy het so pragtig opreg en begeesterd gepraat, ek het geweet HY KEN sy Bach! En dit was by ‘n klein skooltjie op die platteland (‘n uur uit Seoul) …

  3. Marlene van Niekerk :


    #BachMustFall, en dis skynbaar hoog tyd, sien uittreksel hieronder uit ‘n onlangse plaasllike intreerede: die doodsheid, onkunde en anti-intellektualisme wat die westerse musiekkurrikulum, soos aangebied in die tipiese Suid-Afrikaanse konservatorium, omgewe, gaan eersdaags vervang word deur intellektuele vitaliteit en onder andere nuwe lokaal geproduseerde musiekkennis. Dit sal gebeur in die openinge, die bresse geslaan deur die tans lopende kulturele revolusie. Die plaaslike westerse musiek-côterie as enklave van bevoorregting en die agterlike omhelsing van verre noordelike musieksentra deur die lede daarvan gaan van buite-af oopgebreek word deur kritiese, musikaal-ingeligte, diep lokaal-gekonnekteerde, supra-westerse musiekbegeesterdes. ‘n Vars musikale toekoms wink verleidelik en die stroombed daarvoor word met daadkrag en verbeelding hier voorberei – en wel buite die konservatorium. Hoe sing Bob Marley? This song of freedom is all I ever had, redemption song. Mens verwag dat Slovo Migada, die sanger wat as een van vyf skuldigbevinde daders betrokke was by die Shackville skilderyverbranding, hier ontmoedig sal kan word in sy ambisie om Italiaanse opera en Ave Maria te sing. (Sien youtube) In ‘n onderhoud met Migada wat ek op eNCA gesien het, verklaar hy ter verdediging van die westerse musiek wat hy sing dat mens die meester se huis met die meester se implemente moet kan afbreek. Klink my hulle sal hom in ‘n Stellenbosche musiek-bootcamp moet kry om gerekonstrueer te word. Ek hoop ek leef lank genoeg om hierdie musikale hergeboorte aan die SA universiteite nog mee te mag maak. Achille Mbembe vra sig in een van sy stukke in die M&G af waarom die kunste soos verwag (en soos voorspel) nie meteen oopgeblom het ná die verstikkende Apartheidsjare nie. Miskien moes die artistieke oplewing eers half-klandestien in ‘n staat van kripsis bly vir twintig jaar lank voordat dit sigself kon begin aankondig met knetterende preludes van westerse monument-, biblioteek- en musiekverbranding. Mens vra jou af of die afskaffing van skoolmusiek deur die Departement van Basiese Onderwys dalk een van die eerste dinge sal wees wat reggestel sal word deur die leiers van die kulturele revolusie, die nuwe weergawe van die volkslied wat orals gesing word deur die Fallists wil inderdaad dui op ‘n eerste stap in hierdie rigting. Heady times. Woza Moya.


    “Like many late-20th-century and early-21st-century
    political compromises that followed the demise of
    apartheid, the idea that at least one music department
    in South Africa should remain where Western art music
    dominates the agenda through its canons, conventions
    and curricula to the exclusion of all other musics
    seems increasingly superfluous. The undeniably close
    relationship between the study and practice of Western
    art music in South Africa and colonial and apartheid
    approaches to culture is not, as is often mistakenly
    assumed, located in the material manifestations of its
    forms only (its instruments, its works, its conventions,
    its spaces, its performance practices – for all of which an
    argument of ‘universality’ is commonly offered in defence)
    but resides more significantly in the anti-intellectualism
    of its South African versions. This has manifested
    variously in its indifference to the local, its overwhelming
    orientation towards the past, its deference towards
    geographically distant cultural centres, its isolation from
    art, its alienation from critical thinking and its resultant
    curious enchantment with what is derivative. Wherever
    music exists in the grip of these combined forces, it
    is dead. The demand for radical reform that we have
    heard articulated on South African campuses since 2015
    under different banners of protest, will eventually move
    from statues and works of art to music. The question
    is not whether this will happen but when. Burning art
    and removing statues show an exteriority of force with
    no regard for the system’s capacity to afford it. The
    fundamental incapacity of institutions to come to terms
    with the densely populated exterior of their disciplinary
    proclivities far exceed the necessary disputation about
    the relatively simple matters of performance content or
    even curricula. A future beckons in which enclaves of
    privilege constructed on an embrace of ignorance will
    become opened from the outside.
    Openings are restitutive.
    Openings reverse decline.
    Openings embrace protest.
    Openings lacerate.
    Openings butcher.”

  4. Marlene van Niekerk :

    Hier is die skakel na die onderhoud met Magida (jammer tikfout in die naam in vorige kommentaar.) Hierdie is werklik besondere materiaal

  5. Marlene van Niekerk :

    En hier is die artikel van Mbembe waarna ek hierbo verwys met sy opmerkings (uit 2012) oor kultuur. Miskien profeties?


    Capital accumulation
    The capacity of the South African state to mediate between the rights of the propertyless and the requirements of capital accumulation will be severely tested in the next decade. If nothing is done and corruption, abandonment and predation prevail, it will become increasingly apparent to many that capitalism is not naturally compatible with democracy.

    Also lacking in the policy documents is a proper analysis of the crisis of culture affecting South Africa. The ANC has not distanced itself from a purely instrumentalist view of the arts and culture, one that equates culture with the past, customs, heritage and tourism.

    There was a time when South African arts were powerful. In the works of arts, human life and experience were not just narrated, they were in themselves events of life.

    Two decades into a democratic dispensation, we have not seen the expected explosion of aesthetic boundaries. South African art still uses quoting, reappropriation and recombination. But it is struggling to be once again a witness to the regenerative forces of life. Just like politics itself, it seems to have lost its power to give form to life, and has become subservient to repetition.

    A “second transition” will not happen as long as the world of life barely forms the work of art and the idea of the political. It will not happen as long as we have not truly moved our imagination beyond a past world and into a world of the present and the future. Nor will it happen as long as we keep investing in anachronisms and keep thinking and acting as if not much has happened — the repetition of something that had power once, but no longer has.

  6. Maria Snyman :

    Marlene, ek antwoord soos volg (deur my klip/geometrie cum [onmoontlike] geo-logie à la Derrida in sy skrywe oor Husserl se “The origin of geometry” perspektief):

    Ek is, via klippe, letterlik en figuurlik, d.w.s. in die algemeen. ’n Interpretasie van ubuntu volgens my – Plato, in Gorgias:

    Socrates: If I actually had a soul made of gold, Callicles, don’t you think I’d be pleased to find one of those stones on which they test gold? And if this stone to which I intended to take my soul were the best stone and it agreed that my soul had been well cared for, don’t you think I could know well at that point that I’m in good shape and need no further test?
    Callicles: What’s the point of your question, Socrates?
    Socrates: I’ll tell you. I believe that by running into you, I’ve run into just such a piece of luck.
    Callicles: Why do you say that?
    Socrates: I know well that if you concur with what my soul believes, then that is the very truth. I realize that the person who intends to put his soul to an adequate test to see whether it lives rightly or not must have three qualities, all of which you have: knowledge, good will, and frankness. I run into many people who aren’t able to test me because they’r not wise like you. Others are wise, but they’re not willing to tell me the truth, because they don’t care for me the way you do. […]

    “Standpunte is nie die probleem nie. Klippe is.” –
    Kommentaar op Gerhard van Huyssteen se “Respekteer studente se standpunte” (

    Ek dink baie keer dis dalk ‘n geval van ‘n hele generasie wat wakker skrik rakende eeue en eeue se gelees-en-skryf in die noordelike halfronde wat daar al gebeur het – ‘n sekere meer algemene apartheid (wat niemand se skuld is nie, dit het net so gekom/gebeur)? – en waarvan hulle nie ‘n deel was nie, d.w.s. ‘n sekere ongeskikte ontnugtering, ‘n “verruklike verwarring” (Ratele, in There was a goat [Krog et al.]). Hoe hou mens huis met so ‘n situasie? Word jy ‘n skrywer “digging / within [your]self for riches unimagined, for salt”?

    Want uiteindelik bly die vraag (vgl. Bezuidenhout se “In Wellington brand ‘n klavier – ‘n verleentheidsgedig”) staan:

    Waaraan, wonder ek, meet ʼn mens
    ʼn klip? Waar omtrent begin
    ʼn klip, en waar eindig
    ʼn klip, soos die klip waarteen ek leun?

    Uit: Stockenström se “Die klip” in Vir die bysiende leser

  7. Tristia

    die digters van ’n bedreigde taal
    klou maatvas aan die tradisie – probeer
    hul vereerde voorgangers lewend hou
    terwyl alles verval, geruïneer
    word: universiteite, biblioteke,
    teaters, argiewe en uitgewers

    dit is nie ’n tyd vir eksperimenteer
    nie – daarom is hul radelose verse
    dikwels palinodes en parodieë
    daarom is oorspronklikheid ’n valse
    maatstaf om hulle aan te meet:
    hulle stry teen die laaste groot vergeet

    Daniel Hugo

  8. Marlene van Niekerk :

    Of mens begin sommer skryf in Engels.

    White material

    (Remembering the film by Claire Denis and thinking
    of John Clare)

    I go for my evening walk and I see
    they’re erecting a fence around
    Middelvlei, gum poles, treated, two
    metres high, every ten yards an anchor
    of tempered steel, the entire perimeter
    electrified by a dozen taught, grey wires.
    They’ve taken out already the tumbling greenery
    along the edges where one could
    stroll through the worlds of men
    and animals, an open domain of owls
    and quail. Where must the dandy
    lizard listen to the spheres now? How
    the wren wright her nest of wild ears?
    For the love of the pale kicking heels
    of the hare who always veered
    into this thicket, please, stay the assault –
    generations have had their history
    in these half ripped out hedges, on summer
    afternoons in blue school shirts
    kids sat in their shade eating pilfered
    wine grapes, nobody minded.

    When I get to the pathway above the dam,
    the dogs bark madly in the farm-yard.
    In the glow of the led-lit cubicle a guard
    sits stiffly, an open target with a walky-talky
    crackling in his lap. The scene suggests
    that one should give the homestead
    a mile wide berth. They might be tempted
    to fire at a mumbling shadow, for who expects
    an old woman on these paths after dark?
    She might be taken for a thief. For they carry
    white material – a wine press, metal
    vats, houses, implements,
    stocks of cement, petrol and sought
    after sheets of corrugated iron.
    Things, I am told, get stolen
    at a frightening rate and the owners
    fear something might happen
    like happened to Costa, just over
    the hill, who one night questioned
    a sound outside and got the bullet
    on his doorstep in front of his child.
    Or in the neighbouring valley to Jochen
    Rädel whose scull was cracked with a pick
    axe when he went to inspect his half built
    house. His wife did not speak an entire
    year and left one day without
    a suitcase, for Germany, somewhere
    in Nieder Sachsen, I hear.

    So this is the neck of the country
    from which I used to glean the stuff –
    moonlight, stones, feathers, dust – for my tiny,
    percussive, palatal nocturnes, now, here
    I feel these songs dehiscing through
    the rhythm of murders, rumours, labels,
    betrayals of trust. All kinds of countrymen
    had laid in their sickles on the verge
    of my tongue, scoffing at my standard sweet
    nothings – tenderness, play, the shock
    of the small when accosted. So defences
    go up, retraction sets in, also my own.
    My old friend Humble, the activist
    who tinkers at civic rights in the bordering
    informal settlement insists that some
    wine farmers are right wing hysterics,
    but he’s a short-tempered lefty these days
    as his Beautiful Soul wears thinner than
    sin in the cut-throat company of
    Credit, Need and Bare Necessity,
    all three grinning, and cruelly
    indifferent to pain, their own
    and everyone else’s.

    These things I consider (oh stars)
    under the glittering half-moon of this familiar
    haunt, where I pause to finger under frazzled
    blue-gums the husk of a psalm. I can barely
    remember its riff of heady syncopations
    I once delighted in. Of late grown
    wary I now dim the syllables
    before I scatter them – here, there, often
    anonymous, as ashes of English, who cares
    anyway about my mother tongue?
    Looking back across the water
    from the side of the dam (oh wild geese
    calling, oh little black coot), I see the search
    lights sweeping my trail, so I had been detected,
    after all. Back at my front door, ten minutes
    later, I take out the mail and right the flimsy notice board, pressing its pegs in deeper.
    Pam Golding, it says, sole agent,
    house of a poet for sale.