The African poems with their earthy imagery, allude to the theme of racial and social inequality in the South African Velds – possibly the most dominant part of the collection. One senses the poet’s affection in these lines, mixed with a kind of despair at the insularity of the Afrikaners. We see this in the poem entitled ‘The Ballad of Ek and Jy’.
Mixing vernacular and playful rhythms the poem relates the story of a mixed marriage. The fusion of English and Afrikaans is sardonic, and the poem harks back to an earlier piece entitled ‘Magoo’, depicting the Afrikaner’s dread of tainted bloodlines. ‘A touch of the tar’s a very base hue’.
The whimsical humour offers a touch of wry cynicism, and an earlier poem, ‘Intruders’ brings satire. There are satisfying echoes of Mark Twain, who once declared, ‘The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.’
The is the writer’s personal odyssey, journeying beyond the narrow confines of normality, blended imagery and word/memory associations, shifting arabesques from Quebec to South Africa to England.
The poem, ‘God and Lipstick’ (to which the book’s title alludes) is starkly different in tone, if not in theme, to the rest of the collection. (Racism, separation, and Holocaust are also present here). In this poem, two distinct voices, one old, one young, converse without really listening to, or understanding each other. The interstices between youth and age, frivolity and seriousness, provide us with glimpses into alternate reality, which is never fully known, and where memory is never explicit, but like the number engraved on the old woman’s arm, can be inferred from what is left unmentioned. So many of the poems in the collection have this characteristic of syntactical divergence, so that we must create meaning through association, through inference, or by the use of our imagination.
It is this tension of opposites that gives these poems their strange, tensile strength. Then there is the interface of lightness and shadow, of whimsy and tragedy. It’s a sinuous and stimulating book, a collection of word art.