SOUTH AFRICAN POETS I: GAIL DENDY
LET’S GO GLOBAL!
When I was in South Africa in May, the Cape Town newspaper printed a brief review of Gail Dendy’s new book, Closer Than That (Johannesburg: Dye Hard Press). Not only did the review declare, “Here is a poet who seems to not take herself that seriously, but who takes her craft very seriously indeed” but also identified Gail Dendy as a “master…of poems that tip the reader deliciously off balance with their startling, almost tangible, plays with images.” I was intrigued.
Online I learned that Gail Dendy has published 7 collections of poetry. She’s been short-listed for the EU/Sol Plaatje Poetry Prize 2011 and 2012 as well as the Thomas Pringle Award for Prose (Category: Short Story), 2010.
In a 2011 interview in litnet, Gail Dendy explained, “For me, writing is about being alive and open to the world and so I love the way in which poetry, in its relatively short-form format, is uniquely suited to exploring, distilling and crystallizing our life experience.”
Throughout the 1980s and early 90s Gail pioneered Contemporary Dance in South Africa and was nominated for the inaugural AA Vita Award for Best Performer. Responding to how her dance experience has influenced her writing, she’s said, in the same interview in litnet, “Where my dance crosses over into my poetry is in that heightened sense of movement and musicality – that is, the rhythms and cadences of the language, the way that syllables, sentences and stanzas move and swirl and almost bump up against one another like boats bobbing on water.”
Gail Dendy’s poems, delicate observations about the human condition, are noted for their musicality that make them a delight to read. Here she offers our readers her poem, “Anatomy” (short-listed for the EU/Sol Plaatje Poetry Prize):
Between my shoulder blades
the slim rope of my spine
towards my hips.
If I lie with you
on your wide bed,
will be regarded
smiling when I am asleep,
when I am awake,
and it is a birch tree
in the bare winter,
and a sapling
in the blue summer,
and it is the compass needle
of my days
and the bell-rope
of my nights,
and before I was born
it resembled a musical clef,
it will lie in the earth
as a broken string
and they say
pearls are for tears,
but if I were you,
and you my beloved,
I should not weep
for my spine,
for it is safe
between the arrowheads
of my shoulder blades,
of my hips.
— Gail Dendy
Gail has another wonderful poem, “I Want,” which is reprinted here from Scrutiny 2” Issues in English Studies in Southern Africa (vol. 13, Issue 2, 2008)
I want a poem that curls like a child
and falls asleep in my arms. I want
a poem that breathes in and out at all the right
moments. I want to pet it and cuddle it
and place it in a small, hand-made cradle
and sing to it when the sun can no longer
be seen. I want the stars to pinpoint it
and the sun and the moon to shine on it.
Only, I don’t want the wind to come up
and blow all the bits of it away. Rather, I want
the poem to become a woman, to smoothe out her dress
and step, like Marilyn, across the subway grate.— Gail Dendy
Gail’s worked as a university academic, copywriter and radio news writer. Currently, she is the Information Specialist for an international corporate-law firm. Gail is passionate about environmental- and animal-rights issues. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, together with her husband, pets, a law library and a huge collection of Rock ‘n Roll.
Click here for the Dye Hard Press interview with Gail Dendy
Click here for email address to Dye Hard Press for details about obtaining Gail's new book