Read an excerpt from PR Anderson’s new collection of poetry, In A Free State: A Music

The JRB presents excerpts from PR Anderson’s new collection, In A Free State: A Music, published by uHlanga Press.




And in the Courants and Advertisers,
in their one type, on pages
fined with meal, wrestle a taxonomy:

war of the wire and beacons, also the war of the left-hand cairns;
stock-war; war of the handshake, also the comrades; war of water,
also the war of the Gariep; war of the generations; war of the clans
of cat and not-cat; war of the kinds of grain; trot-combat; church
war, also war of the weiboere; war of the blockhouse, also of the
roadblock; war of the railway;

war of the ford of Jabbok; war of the famine-thong; war of the
black peaches; war of the watchtower mortared with bitumen;
war of the balloons, Bloedfontein; war of the Asking; war of the
common enemy; war over the uncollateral sea; war of the Anthill,
also of incomers and runaways; Rebellion; war of the Treaty, also the
Concession; war of the mud river, the dry river, the sand river and
the great river.


On cold trains, in disembarked
clots at taxi halts, people become.
Easy to see the wing of war

beat shadow over all, but travel
poses the polity of the living dead, how all
pass through with gut-ache and full bladder

and the ail of cares. Money
moves at every station, counted
votives issued as barren shares.


I had thought alliance was the good itself,
somewhere to sit out the thunder, reason
enough to slaughter, live as if

this was the life. All our tomorrows were
in your hands. And every day after came
more of the fire-impelled, the wailing,

wanting. I came to you even though I am
metonymically the stronger and I said we can
only do this together, as the thunder said.


Of the present and those not,
none is free. Of this rapid
muster of the dead, clueless
and akimbo, bones still pearl:
mouths somehow refuse the clay
like kissing. We own ourselves
by love unsafely made, or
is there any other way?
Even the dead are running
out of time, are come unstuck.
Nobody’s out of the rain.

The graves are coming downhill,
sliding like shadow, cloudfall
down-slope, toppling ditch, rock, fence,
Saturdays and short months; now
their tenants will in no time
reach the road. To all a share
in this new common, sodden,
bought of the farm, now made
a middle of nowhere. Who
owns their share? Whose the borrowed
grader sunk in a puddling

clay? To each a part in that
field’s weeping lesion. Shallow
ground down to the bone, this all
blank boneyard washed with drizzle
drifting over graves. A hand
drawn down its face and dropped.
This was unworked in one night
by a jackal weather. So
canvas rots and a blood seep
seethes in milk got free. Shroud
grass. And bells of buried frogs.


© PR Anderson, from In A Free State: A Music (uHlanga Press, 2018)

  • PR Anderson is also the author of Litany Bird (2000) and Foundlings Island (2007; republished by uHlanga, 2018). Living in Woodstock, he teaches English at the University of Cape Town, with special interests in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century South African history and literature, as well as Romanticism and Modernism.

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

Header image: Neal Markham/Unsplash

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