Please join us for the second Karavan Press Literary Festival on Saturday, 3 December 2022, at Karavan Press’s headquarters (6 Banksia Road, Rosebank, Cape Town). Ticket numbers are limited, so please book early to avoid disappointment. Let’s talk books again!
In Small Souls, words resist the passage of time and provide calm acceptance of that which is inevitable. And thus, the witnessing carries on with elegant care, even if not ease: the poet observes the world around us ‘in a time of sickness’ and the resulting intricacies of homelife put under the pressure of current circumstances and the relentlessness of time. The sun rises and sets, the tides obey their eternal rhythm, we grow old, our children spread their wings, forcing us continuously to find new maps for navigating future skies. Flight – ‘wings dusted / with the ashes of last light’ – is an unmistakable thematic link to Symons’s previous collections.
The path of a lone bird
after a storm
given its altitude
but music nonetheless
above a scuttled country.
– ‘A short history of love’
Throughout the ages, love triumphs, refusing to be silent. As does poetry. They are inseparable, after all. In these collected and new poems, Symons offers us the greatest of gifts: balm for (sm)all souls.
– Karina M. Szczurek, Introduction, Small Souls
Publication date: November 2022
STEPHEN SYMONS has published poetry and short-fiction in local and international journals, magazines and anthologies. His debut collection, Questions for the Sea (uHlanga, 2016), received an honourable mention for the 2017 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, and was also shortlisted for the 2017 Ingrid Jonker Prize. His unpublished collection Spioenkop was a semi-finalist for the Hudson Prize for Poetry (USA) in 2015. His second collection, Landscapes of Light and Loss (Dryad Press), was published in 2018, and third collection, FOR EVERYTHING THAT IS POINTLESS AND PERFECT (Karavan Press), in 2020. Small Souls includes the winning poem of the 2021 The Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Competition, “Small souls”. Symons holds a PhD in History (University of Pretoria) and an MA in Creative Writing (University of Cape Town). He lives with his family in Oranjezicht, Cape Town.
“A brave, searing collection. Out of a difficult year of compulsory service at a slaughterhouse, Sussens has forged a plain–spoken, lyrical poetic voice able to ‘gut truth, / exhume the body of memory.’ Whether chronicling the forging of a queer sexual identity, the loss of innocence or its renewal through requited love and poetry itself, these unflinching poems refuse to be forgotten. In response to the inevitable risk of loving, she writes: ‘Sometimes I wish / I never knew the word merge …’ All the more poignant, then, that the collection should bear witness to precisely such points of fraught, perilous contact between self and world. A remarkable body of work that will sustain many rereadings.”
– Jacques Coetzee, author of An Illuminated Darkness
“Blood animates and stains these remarkable poems, but Melissa Sussens asks us not to look away. Slaughterhouse is a hauntingly powerful debut. We get to see a poet grapple with ongoing legacies of vulnerability and violence, death and desire, all while experimenting cleverly with form. Some of these poems dripped off the page and stayed with me for days – I loved them.”
– Maneo Mohale, author of Everything is a Deathly Flower
“‘I watched death’ is the first line of Melissa Sussens’s debut collection. Never have I trusted a poet more to guide me by way of a book than I do Melissa – who has worked both in a veterinary clinic and a slaughterhouse. Fluent in the message that is at the core of art – we die – Sussens’s poetry is a relentless reminder in the utter thrill and sacredness of living. These poems find both the slaughter and the house, the home, in all the scenes of a life: from stalking an ex on Instagram, to coming out to your mother, to biting your nails, to girlhood, to loving in the face of bigotry. Of course this book will encourage readers to reckon with the humanity of animals, but what’s unexpected is the way it will help us acknowledge both the beast and the fawn, the Grim Reaper and the Angel of Death, within ourselves. Melissa brings her vocational history into these pieces at the line level – with lyricism oscillating between both brutal blade and gentle hand at once. I have never read any book like it.” – Megan Falley, author of Drive Here and Devastate Me
MELISSA SUSSENS is a queer veterinarian and poet. Her work has appeared in many publications, both locally and internationally. She placed 2nd in the 2020 New Contrast National Poetry Prize and was amongst the winners of the ClemenGold Writing Competition. She was selected for the Poetry for Human Rights anthology, Between the Silence, in 2021, and has been nominated for Best of the Net. Melissa has performed at the Poetry in McGregor festival, Off The Wall, The Commons and The Red Wheelbarrow, where she also hosts poetry readings. She lives in Cape Town with her wife and their two dogs. Slaughterhouse is her first book. Find her at www.melissasussens.com.
One of the creatives Kim Gurney interviewed for her latest book, Panya Routes: Independent art space in Africa (Motto Books, 2022), Nana Oforiatta Ayim, the founder and director of the ANO Institute of Arts and Knowledge in Accra, said that she “wanted to set this place up so that others like me who wanted to write and express something could come and have a home, a place to think collectively, create, push boundaries.”
Earlier today, Kim was in discussion about Panya Routes with Joy Watson – both belong to the Rosebank Writes group, recently founded by Kim and other writers who live and work in and/or are affiliated with the suburb of Rosebank, Cape Town (we have a sister organisation in Johannesburg). The event was hosted by another member, Shireen Mall, in her beautiful lounge that was transformed into an independent art space for the day. Writers, readers and creatives gathered to celebrate the publication of Panya Routes (which Karavan Press and Protea Distribution have the honour of distributing in South Africa along independent panya routes of their own) and listen to Kim and Joy discuss the book, its origins and consequences.
It was a morning of illumination, and I cannot thank Kim, Joy, Shireen and all who attended, enough for inspiring us all to search for our individual panya routes which allow us to be creative in spaces where, in the words of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, “the progress of any one person is not dependent on the downfall of another” (quoted in Panya Routes).
Melissa Sussens will be the feature poet at The Red Wheelbarrow on Thursday, 20 October, at 19:30 SAST / 13:30 ET. She will share poems from Slaughterhouse, her debut collection coming soon from Karavan Press. There will also be an opportunity to ask her questions and to share a poem or two of your own in the open mic that follows the reading.