June is World Ocean Month, and to celebrate the sea and beaches integral to South Peninsula life (and so beautifully represented on the walls of the gallery), Salon Hecate at the Noordhoek Art Point Gallery is presenting something different this coming month: surfer-poets. What better way to celebrate the sea than by hearing from those who spend their spare time in and on the waves? So we’ve invited some fabulous surfers, sailors, and stand-up paddlers who also happen to be published authors to come and read their poems and passages about the sea.
You’ll hear from surfer-poets Justin Fox, Byron Loker, Stephen Symons and Melissa Volker. There may be one or two more surprise performers (there are quite a few creative surfers – or should that be surfing creatives? – in the ‘hood). We’ll keep you updated.
Justin Fox travels (and writes about it) for a living. The former editor of Getaway Magazine, he has published over twenty books, ranging from fiction to photography to art to children’s books to poetry, but always returning to the ocean horizon. He still finds time to surf and sail.
Byron Loker is a freelance writer and filmmaker, with a Masters in Creative Writing from UCT. His prescribed collection of short stories, New Swell, explores the corners of our local neighbourhood and celebrates his love of surfing.
Stephen Symons is a poet, academic, historian, graphic designer, husband and father (not necessarily in that order), who has won national and international awards for his poems and published research. He writes about his many passions, including surfing and the sea.
Melissa (Missy) Volker is an author, beautician, SUP prizewinner and surfer, who takes pride in teaching her daughters to stand up for themselves in the backline. This from her publisher’s website: “Melissa found a way to obsess about surfing – by obsessing about writing about surfing! A mid-life blooming writer and water woman, Melissa’s delicious fiction blends ‘surf noir’ with ‘environmental romance suspense.’”
Newsflash: we’ve just heard that Glen Thompson, local surf historian who looks at “the role of black surfers and female surfers in shaping today’s wavescape” will be joining us too. Not to be missed!
Date and time
Please join us at the Noordhoek Art Point Gallery on 5 June, 5.30 for 6. Entrance is free, we’re always prepared for loadshedding, and there will be a glass of wine to warm you.
Surf Therapy collections
We’ll be collecting gently used wetsuits, swimwear, reef booties, rash vests, boogie boards and even towels on the night, so please look around for any gear you’re no longer using. These will be handed over to volunteers from the Roxy Davis Foundation, an NPO that provides surf therapy for children with disabilities. Read more about the inspiring work they do here: roxydavisfoundation.org/surf-therapy
SALON HECATE was launched Noordhoek Art Point last night. Art lovers from across the peninsula gathered to celebrate the new space which will welcome readings, book signings and discussions throughout 2023 and beyond.
Thank you to the gallery and Helen Moffett for welcoming writers into this exciting place of co-existence between the visual arts and literature.
Melissa A. Volker and Stephen Symons, among others, read from their works and I read from one of the stories included in Let It Fall Where It Will by Lester Walbrugh because Lester was baking Grabouw Bread between insane bouts of loadshedding and could not make it to the launch (it was an honour to step into his literary shoes for a few minutes).
Poetry galore! Family, friends and poetry lovers filled Wordsworth Books Gardens to the brim to celebrate the publication of Small Souls: New and Collected Poems by Stephen Symons.
Stephen was in conversation with Kelwyn Sole, who has been a mentor and friend to Stephen for many years. Here are his notes for the introduction of the event:
Introduction to the launch of Small Souls (Karavan Press) by Stephen Symons | 28th November 2022
I first met Stephen Symons as a Masters student in the English Creative Writing programme at UCT a decade ago.
To quote Neruda, he is an unusual poet, ‘like the poets of our age, in light clothes and walking shoes’ (Pablo Neruda). I haven’t previously met a poet who is not only a sportsman but also someone who could weld, fly a plane, in addition to being a prodigious reader, Stephen is a knowledgeable lover of classical music and fine arts, and an excellent photographer.
In our interactions as his supervisor, I very soon realised that Stephen was already skilled in the lyric form and its formal devices (metaphor, image, extended tropes)
But equally quickly, I realised this designation of ‘lyric poet’ did not give the full story of what he was and is trying to do, nor what his poetry was increasingly to morph into.
He has kept the mastery of the traditional lyric, yes, and – like all good poetry – a 2nd and 3rd reading in these terms reveals gems the reader will have missed the first time around. However, what struck me also was his inquisitiveness and willingness to experiment and extend the lyric form in other directions.
I now understand that his knowledge of music and sensitivity to sound gives him a deftness with rhythm and rhythmic changes. Moreover, as a graphic designer, he is fascinated by the use that can be made of the page as an arena for spatial experiment (how a poem looks) and has worked on several poems which reflect this. Furthermore, he quickly ventured into the prose poem, a realm which abounds in lyrical and narrative possibilities; but a realm where few lyric poets venture, especially in SA.
I think these exciting formal directions he has followed reflect the openness of his own personality. When we worked together, he was prepared to follow, examine and think about every reading or individual poet I suggested to him. At the same time – of course – he was reading and thinking prodigiously on his own. He has an openness to the influence of the new, not from any desire to imitate but rather to see whether anything or anyone he comes across can teach him what may be useful for the further development of his style.
This openness to influence encompasses not only SA poets but also the poets of metropolitan modernism and postmodernism, and those further afield, like modern Arabic poetry.
In summary, for me, the effectivity and reach of his poetry lies not only in his usage of form but also in the number of recurring interests – themes and perspectives – which make his poetry unique.
The titles of his books are instructive here: Questions for the Sea; Small Souls; Landscapes of Light and Loss; and my special favourite, For Everything That is Pointless and Perfect, indicate some of his abiding major interests and perspectives.
Many of his poems revolve around acute observations and musings on the everyday (the quotidian), sometimes little noticed, details of family interaction, suburban experience and life. Poems about marriage, family, children and friends are recurrent and resonate particularly strongly. Among the weight of practicalities as a householder, there is a compelling awareness of the fragility and lightness of being alive on this planet at this time; and the particular anxieties and uncertainties of living in a strife-ridden country, itself part of an increasingly precarious world order.
It is also a poetry stippled with memory and immanence. There are poems filled with the memory of loves, youth, and his fraught time in the military.
As a result, there is a grounding of Stephen’s lyrics in our lives and our contradictions. Our past and present repressions and oppressions in SA leave their trace. I can think of no better concise example of this than a poem which notes how the shadows in a garden ‘leopard-crawl over mossed brick.’ (‘The intricacy of a body in the dark’) – the image has an immediacy but, simultaneously, a reference to the recent military past of this country, which is unforgettable. He writes within a country which, in the words of another poem, “simply wraps bandages” (‘Night drive’) around everything; a country where – to quote another particularly memorable longer poem, fences appear to “give chase” to human movement (‘The fence’). The threat of enclosure, violence, or peer or personal psychological repression and suppression are still with us and tinge his lyrics with their presence, giving them a greater resonance and accuracy.
Stephen’s poems resist restrictions of subject matter and style. He is superb at interweaving the social world of his poems with a more expansive natural world and the lives of the other creatures with which we share the planet. These intrude in poem after poem to advise and admonish us. The non-human is there and interacts willy-nilly with the behaviour (and, one should add, follies) of human beings.
I find references to the sea, and astronomy, in his poems especially powerful and healing.
For me, I find Stephen’s poetry, as a whole, moves exhilaratingly between stillness and flux; the numinous and the prosaic; between the concrete and the abstract; between family gardens and an expanded vision of the sky at nighttime; between the small details and compulsions of our surroundings and the large, philosophical and ontological questions always contained in these. (His poetry aids a reader’s understanding of their interconnectedness). For instance, a poem watches a dying butterfly, ‘paying life’s inevitable invoice / for a weekend / in paradise.” (‘Last afternoon’) Or, elsewhere, a rising wind reminds a banished angel, huddled beneath a streetlight, of flight. (’Beneath a streetlight’)
But even among the strictures we face, as he points out in several poems, “no loss is a perfect amputation/ … / the ghost of the limb lives on’ (‘Nervelines’).
Thus Stephen’s poems are always replete with possibility, with potential, with our human impulses that promote love and life in the midst of everything that besets us. As one poem says:
every outcome is possible –
of happiness and hopelessness
intent on manufacturing wonder.
(‘A vast undecipherable stillness’)
Those of us who know Stephen are acutely aware “he never takes poetry, or the subject matter he writes about, for granted.” He never adopts the narcissistic self-regard that appears so often these days; instead, in his demeanour and work, he demonstrates the questing humility of serious talent, of a practitioner of the art of the poem: a stance which will, I know, result in much more to emerge from his pen subsequent to this wonderful, life-affirming and skillful collection we have before us tonight.
Professor Kelwyn Sole, Emeritus Professor of English Literature (UCT)
Thank you to Wordsworth Books Gardens, Stephen, Kelwyn and all who were there to welcome this beautiful book into the world!
Melissa Sussens is a queer veterinarian and poet. Her work has appeared in many publications, both locally and internationally, and has been recognised with several accolades. 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.
Sipho Banda was born in Himeville and grew up in Impendle, KwaZulu Natal. He is the author of Vusi’s Visit to Drakensberg Mountain, a children’s book published by Msinsi Press. His first collection of poetry, Ngigabe Ngezakithi, and a drama book, Umoya Wamagagasi, were published in isiZulu by Pelmo Publishers. Most of his poems in A Lonely Crowded Walk, his debut collection in English, reflect his own lonely and crowded walk.
Stephen Symons has published poetry and short-fiction, locally and abroad. His debut collection, Questions for the Sea, received an honourable mention for the 2017 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, and was also shortlisted for the 2017 Ingrid Jonker Prize. He is also the author of Spioenkop, Landscapes of Light and Loss and FOR EVERYTHING THAT IS POINTLESS AND PERFECT. Small Souls is a collection of new and collected poems.
Klara du Plessis is an award-winning Canadian South African writer, scholar, and literary curator. Her debut multilingual poetry collection Ekke, recipient of the 2019 Pat Lowther Memorial Award, was published by Palimpsest Press. She is also the author of poetry and essay collections, Hell Light Flesh, Unfurl, and most recently, Skin and Meat Sky. She is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Concordia University and lives in Montreal, Canada.
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.
Last month, Stephen Symons gave a reading of his poetry in the Karlstad University Library (Sweden) titled “For Everything that is Pointless and Perfect”. Stephen was in conversation with Swedish poet Linus Gårdfeldt, who heads up the Creative Writing programme at Karlstad University.
Stephen Symons has published poetry and short-fiction in journals, magazines and anthologies, locally and internationally. 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, a collection of collected and new poems will be published in 2022 by Karavan Press.
Symons holds a PhD in History (University of Pretoria) and an MA in Creative Writing (University of Cape Town). He is attached to the Department of Historical & Heritage Studies at the University of Pretoria as a Mellon Research Fellow.
Stephen Symons will be The Red Wheelbarrow’s featured poet this week.
Stephen Symons has published poetry and short-fiction in journals, magazines and anthologies, locally and internationally. 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. Landscapes of Light and Loss (Dryad Press) was published in 2018, and For Everything That Is Pointless and Perfect (Karavan Press) in 2020. Small Souls, a collection of selected and new poems will be published in 2022 by Karavan Press.
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.
**As always, the reading by the featured poet will be followed by an open mic session for poets from the audience. Poets are welcome to read from their own work as well as from the work of a favourite poet**
We parked the Karavan at Exclusive Books Cavendish this week, launching four of our books there, and we had the most wonderful time of celebrating the writers we love and talking books.
Tuesday: The Wilderness Between Us by Penny Haw, who was in conversation with Gail Gilbride
Wednesday: FOR EVERYTHING THAT IS POINTLESS AND PERFECT by Stephen Symons and Beat Routes by Justin Fox – the two authors were in conversation with each other and read from their collections
Thursday: The Skipper’s Daughter by Nancy Richards, who was in conversation with Kim Cloete
Thank you to everyone who made this possible, especially Linda and the great booksellers at EB Cavendish! Thank you to our authors – you make me believe in a future of Karavan Press and the journeys we are still to travel! And last, but not least, thank you to all the readers who came to celebrate these wonderful authors and their books with us – your support makes us possible.