What poetry is for

THE man who could speak to animals and make words sing: Eugene Marais.

OF RAIN AND curiosity, the personality of mountains, love and loss, this week’s Radio Sonder Grense drama slot is filled with the sound and fury of beautiful poetry. Born in 1871, Afrikaans poet Eugène Marais was to become one of the language’s most mysterious and romantic characters in many ways. In celebration of what would have been his 150th year, Rots van Verskrikking, a compilation of his pieces Die Lied van die Reën and Salas Y Gomez, adapted and directed by Ilsé van Hemert, broadcasts tonight (6 May 2021) on RSG at 8pm.

On a level this is not clear narrative as you may have tuned in for on a Thursday evening in this slot. It is poetry enswathed in song, and veiled in storytelling which keeps you holding on to the beauty of the words, more than the sequence of events. In many ways, it evokes the work of the late Grahamstown poet Chris Mann, who rendered poetry performance and lent the notion of the gesammtkunstwerk to lines and words depicting wonder and beauty.

And yes, it makes you think of watercolours and stained glass windows, of the bible and how bees work together, and it is the performers – Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Gys de Villiers and André Odendaal who lend the work a tactility which brings the visual images harsh and potent to your mind’s eye. It also makes you think of Jennie Reznek’s astounding play, I turned away and she was gone, in its ciphers and warnings of loss and forever.

It is, however, the regular interchanging of male and female voice that deadens the flow of the material somewhat; without the advantage of a live performance you are left with a poetic event, that teeters a little on the precious side as it evokes traditions of synchronised poetry, giving heard presence to the written word, rather than a conventional tale. This doesn’t hurt the magnificence of the language though or its sense of drama, if anything, it makes you sit closer to the radio, anxious to hold onto every nuance.

Not only a poetry reading, this is a work which recalls, the nuances and landscape, the illusions to biography, science and life lived in Katinka Heyns’s 2012 film Die Wonderwerker, based on the life of Marais. Either way, it’s a dish best served without interruption.

Rots van Verskrikking (Rock of Horror) is based on Uit die Bloute, a compilation of work by Eugène Marais and reworked for radio by Ilsé van Hemert. Directed by Ilsé van Hemert, and featuring music by Marimba! (Abraham and Lizanne Helberg), it is performed by Gys de Villiers, André Odendaal and Anna-Mart van der Merwe. Originally broadcast in 1996, it broadcasts on RSG at 8pm on 6 April, in honour of the 150th anniversary of Marais’s birth, and is also available on podcast through the radio station’s website:

1 reply »

Leave a Reply