The JRB presents an excerpt from PR Anderson’s new collection of poetry, Night Transit.
Read Simon van Schalkwyk’s interview with PR Anderson here.
Dryad Press, 2023
~ Transvaal, c. 1989
It’s just one passenger
and one postilion in
the taxi, on the run
The state we’re in. The sun
comes in at Ntwane, sets
at Dennilton in dust.
scuds to the floor. We touch
love; songs of the earth lie
in the wheels, sweet porridge
on the night air. The lights
of Philadelphia go
down in the back window.
Our Hi-Ace intercepts
a slow VW
tramp-steaming to the south.
Heave to and board beneath
stars’ flares. This is a new
order out of the old.
This is the remembered
future to be endured
as love again, to hold
close, sharing the common
blanket, sharing shoulders.
Here where all are elders,
breathing the one carbon
monoxide through the floor.
We cross the Winterveld
to Monday. Work. This world
the one sleep wakes us for.
Wild Duck in the Marshes
Tell el-Amarna, New Kingdom
Over millennia it keeps its stalled faith
with the real, backstroking in ascent
over the lotus confronting it, put up
out of the hiding bulrushes, treasure.
Its pinions are spread to the ongoing air,
its gut tucked, breast given in the exact
attitude of duck bone. Goethe says
blue has no need of it, being the theory
of itself precisely. You could say
here it strives for faience, but nature
resumes it, a river blue. The paint
merchants would style it Blue Nile.
A duck rising in accurate light, on the far
side of morning or evening. Across
the negligible ages you hear the whurry
of wings and forsaken water, the bronze
alarm hacking the air, and smell the silt
nethers of rush root and lotus. But look
again and you will see everything drawn
to itself in a doctrine of signatures:
the spread wedge of its tail reports
to the committee of lotus, and each
fan of the peacock plant is a webbed foot.
The lotus is leaping up, and the rushes
feather the disturbing air, and the blue
hood of the duck is daubed for a river god
resurrecting, a blue sun over the marshes.
- PR Anderson has published three previous volumes—Litany Bird, Foundling’s Island and a long poem, In a Free State: A Music (‘Destined to be a landmark in South African poetry’—JM Coetzee). He is the recipient of South Africa’s Thomas Pringle Prize for Poetry (2018) and the Sanlam Literary Award (2006). His work has appeared in various journals, both locally and abroad, and is widely anthologised. He teaches English at the University of Cape Town.
‘A profoundly sensitive and insightful view into humanness’—Nandipha Mntambo
For PR Anderson, poetry is ‘language equipping us as itself at the frontier of the unspeakable’. Night Transit is such a volume, confronting the dark before and after life. There are poems of travel that take on an existential dimension and also poems of mythopoeic origin, memoirs of South Africa in the nineteen-eighties and after, and poems of witness and advocacy in the current ecocide.
Whether it is love or death that axiomatically stirs up the poetry, Anderson sees into the cloudy transit with clear and original eyes. These poems range from a consideration of the fourth war of resistance at what is now Makhanda to the care of insects as populations collapse across the planet. Anderson considers the project of poetry, and recalls the euphoria of transit and relocation in an epoch of anguish, yearning and crisis.