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A collection of Breytenbach's poetry from 1964 through 2006, this volume features a number of unfinished poems, from a South African prison, from 60s Paris and New York exile in the 90s, spanning the geography of Africa (Dar es Salaam), Amsterdam and Vancouver. A harbinger of the winds of change, the poet speaks to universal conscience and one man's journey through a troubled world as expressed in his work. Born in South Africa in 1939, Breytenbach left his country of origin only to be imprisoned when he returned.
In sections, from "Iron Cow Blues, Poems in Exile (1964-1975"), "The Undanced Dance, Poems from Prison (1975-1982)" and "The Lines Have Fallen unto Me in Beautiful Places, Poems from Outside (1983-2006)", the progressive journey of the creative mind emerges, a poet sorting images through time and place, sprinkling the world he passes through with memory:
"give me a heart
small fountain of blood
to spout blossoms of bliss
for blood is never for naught"
"I need to die before I'm dead
when my heart is still fertile and red
before I eat the darkened soil of doubt"
("rebel song"- Iron Cow Blues, Poems in Exile, 1964-1975)
Indeed, exile breeds waves of thought, sorting through places, people, governments, soldiers with drawn bayonets who turn blind eyes on those they face:
"in a crowd you're always a fugitive,
don't smoke, don't drink:
is your life not a weapon?
you go down poisoned with despair
shot like a dog in a dead-end street"
("exile, representative, for FM and MK"- Iron Cow Blues, Poems in Exile, 1964-1975)
The cycle of life and death persists, an awareness of the harsh excesses of captivity, trapped inside walls while the world continues, oblivious:
"we all walk that road
of life on its way to death-
murderers, burglars, drug addicts and firebugs
thugs, embezzlers, rapists
and fellow terrorists
you like me tattooed in lineament and skin
single in our destiny"
("for Francois Villon"- The Undanced Dance, Poems from Prison, 1975-1982)
Coalesced in freedom, or at least no longer confined, words flow from the deepest chambers of the heart, a life survived yielding valuable lessons, a scorched landscape of human endeavors, flaws and soul-searing insights:
"At night dreams enter the houses where I sleep.
Sometimes I converse with flies about suns
and the sins of being human, for I engrave
self-portrait journeys in scattered verses
and align my life to the lines of landscapes."
("self-portrait"- The Lines Have Fallen unto Me in Beautiful Places, Poems from Outside, 1983-2006)
A thrilling collection that spans years and alternative landscapes, the voice is unmistakable, significant and profoundly provocative. Luan Gaines/ 2007.