Thursday, 31 January 2019

Give Your Writing The Edge Newsletter No.43, January 2019

Due entirely to an error on my part, the online version of this month's newsletter is only available from today, so, while I don't usually use the blog for the newsletter, I am using it now to re-post it across the social media channels. I apologise sincerely to all who may have been inconvenienced between Tuesday and now.

Below is my covering letter; if you wish to leap straight to the newsletter, it is here:  

Dear friends

Happy new year to you all with a whopper of a start for Give Your Writing The Edge.

The editorial, On Building a Theatre for Spirit, is to a large extent inspired by Pulitzer-prize winning poet, Mary Oliver, who died, at the age of 83, on 17th January, leaving behind an extraordinary trail of creative work. Do follow the link (in the second footnote) to the interview with Krista Tippett - it's a worthwhile set of conversations with the deeply experienced and humble writer Oliver was.

I hope you enjoy South African-born, Italy-based feature poet Tania Haberland's series of poems, written during a recent unexpected experience in hospital. The poems are accompanied by haunting images - photographs taken by Haberland herself, who often combines her poems creatively with visual and audio-visual material. An intimate, erotic poem of hers is slipped in, anticipating the month of love that's coming up. Tania's new book, Water Flame, is available ... I think at a special price at this stage still, so you may click on the link provided and seize the opportunity.

Rene Bohnen's excellent review of the Ecca Poets 2017 publication, This Moment's Marrow, is bound to fascinate with her thorough investigation of the concept of 'marrow' and her application of it in her reading of each poet's contributions. May you enjoy it, and please don't be shy to send responses!

I popped in a few links on the Notice Board Page to YouTube channel clips featuring work in process with filmmaker Riccardo Magnanini - those of you with an interest in the way in which moving images can be poetic, and can serve poetry, will hopefully be entertained and uplifted. Your feedback is SO welcome.

Since I was sadly forced to withdraw from the Summer Songs and Poems event on 6th January this year, I have published all six poems, which I had planned to read on that day. I invite you to read them aloud to yourselves or your fellows, in trust that they will move you as I had intended my audience to be moved.

Coming up on February 15th is the launch of an unexpected (yes, completely so) book of love poems I've put together for Valentine's Day which I've entitled Path of Beauty. They're being printed next week - please do let me have your orders. The launch will be complemented by songs and stories of love, in an event held at the Rose Theatre in Hogsback, with Gwyneth Lloyd and Trevor Webster. If you are in or near Hogsback, we would be delighted to have your company. I'll be publishing extracts from Path of Beauty on my blog in the next two weeks. (Most of the poems in there are pulled out of Section 7 of  my upcoming book, Greater Matter, so I guess it amounts to a kind of preview.) 

You'll see a new page in this newsletter, announcing that I shall be doing this newsletter as a charitable venture for another five months. Thereafter, I would like Give Your Writing The Edge to be carried by donations - that is my plan, at any rate. Unfortunately, I am far from being a wealthy widow. Please see p.26 for details.

I'm keeping VERY busy with the fourth draft of Greater Matter and am likely to announce a launch date in next month's newsletter, so if you've been following my Facebook and blog posts, you can start looking forward to that collection (my 'heffalump') FINALLY seeing the light of day :-)

I wish you a beautiful month of reading and writing. 

Yours in fellowship

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

The devil in words

Building up to the launch of Path of Beauty, I'm practising piano/ keyboard to accompany soprano Gwyneth Lloyd for a couple of songs we intend to include in the programme. Along with a love story or two, told by Trevor Webster.

Path of Beauty includes 8 old love poems (9 if you count the one on the back cover) and 12 new ones. Of the 8 (9) old poems, 3 are erotic in tone.

I'm thinking about my audience ... are they going to enjoy that? Should I pull those poems out and replace them with others?

The devil in words

If the frogs court with bleeps,
and the birds neck
one another,
opening wide
their feathered arms -

if they're free
to compose
their rapture,

and mating beetles fly
through the air
close by our heads,

and the butterflies
dot paths and grass,
wings shivering in ecstasy -

why, if all this is SO normal, why
should WE not speak
the language
of love?

Why are words taken as obscene, intrusive,
when love
is common -

pure music, movement
and creative

What is it that puts the devil

- Silke Heiss, 29th January 2019

Front cover

Back cover. Portrait of Norman by Michael Chomse

Thursday, 24 January 2019

'What is marrow?' A glowing review of the 2017 Ecca Poets publication

Ecca Poets 2017 

I am delighted to offer you extracts from a new, beautifully engaged and engaging, review of the 2017 Ecca publication, This Moment's Marrow, by Rene Bohnen. Below I have cut and pasted her words on Norman Morrissey's and my own contributions. For the review in its entirety, please click

Ecca Poets: This Moment’s Marrow
A reader’s impression by RenĂ© Bohnen

What is marrow? This question spontaneously pops up as I hold the 2017 publication of the Ecca Poets – their 20th book in 25 years. This edition, This Moment’s Marrow, offers the reader  an eclectic group of poets in an anthology which makes for an enriching read.

So what is marrow? Dictionaries present definitions we know so well that we probably seldom pause to think about the profound meaning of the word.
Marrow is “a soft fatty substance in the cavities of bones” the internet offers, and also “ the essential part of something”.  Synonyms given are: “essence, core, pith” and “heart”.

In the reading of This Moment’s Marrow,  I discover and experience the whole spectrum of these dictionary entries.

The anthology title is taken from a Norman Morrissey poem on page 26.


A dove called,
and I’d a vision
of our lithe boomslang

up in the cherry tree:
the Holy Ghost
and the hero

winding Hippocrates’ staff of healing
in one grasp
of thought:

old myths, symbols
in this moment’s marrow.

All of the Morrissey poems in this anthology show an accomplished poet at his task. Strong pastoral imagery, bursting with life, alternates with delicate vignettes of tenderness and tranquil silence.

Norman Morrissey passed away in July 2017 and has left a rich literary legacy. Like the butterfly shows us the breeze, this poet shows us wisdom. (Page 24)


You knew there was a breeze
because the butterflies


According to the Preface, the poets have had “no real aspirations or manifestos” and their books will hopefully always have “a workshop feel” (Brian Walter on page 1)

If the function of marrow is to generate blood cells, the vital role of Ecca get-togethers is evident. Nurturing and giving oxygen, the group promotes growth in individual poets. All have successfully made their own paths as well – since paths are made by walking, as the Spanish poet Antonio Machado so succinctly put it.


Children and babies feed the marrow of a mother’s soul, as they do that of the poet. 

            When I fell
            with you I fell

            into new makings,
            poems would wake me”

writes Silke Heiss in “Kept up” on page 27. She is a poet who understands the exquisite tension that is created by holding two polarities at once. I give you the example on page 29, where a surprising contradiction alerts the reader to a vast truth held within a small poem:


Mist is
a revelation,
a happy Gossip –

tells all
where air has been –
is going to.

Almost haiku-like, the short poems sigh with insight and meaning; they show Heiss to be a master of cutting right to the essence of her observation. In her longer poems, she displays an instinctive grasp of the objective correlative, by evoking strong emotion in the reader without annoying prescription. On page 29 we find the

            Wood Owl

            I go outside to fetch some kindling,
            my blankets snag on branches dry –
            unwitting I catch them with the twigs I’m breaking:
            they whirr and cough and patter and sigh.

            Panic I subdue with patience,
            pull away gently, sensing why.
            Free at last I fill the box,
            but am lost in the dark by the Wood owl’s cry.


Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Path of Beauty

In preparation for a Soiree of love songs, poems and stories - to be performed at The Rose Theatre on 15th February by Gwyneth Lloyd, Trevor Webster and myself - I've assembled twenty love poems of mine, ranging from the early 1980s to the present, in a collection I've entitled Path of Beauty. (Twenty-one, actually, if you count the poem on the back cover.)

Artist Michael Chomse has kindly given permission for me to use his portrait, Norman leaving, on the back cover.

My printer's colour cartridge is just about empty, so these prints are pretty wasted-looking - but they give you an impression anyway, and hopefully whet your appetites for what is to come.

If you want a copy of the book, you are welcome to pre-order it. (R50 per copy, add R20 postage inland, R40 overseas.)

I'll post some extracts or poems from the collection as things start warming closer to Valentine's Day.

Many of the recent love poems in the book are extracted from Section 7 of Greater Matter - a section which I've re-titled Path of Beauty - so if you want to hold a sneak preview in your hands, this little book would be it.

Path of Beauty front cover

Path of Beauty back cover

Monday, 21 January 2019

Blunder, a lovely paradox, and 'A Wife's Entreaty'

My apologies to all who may have been inconvenienced by last night's post - 'Caution: Poet at Play' - which I had to delete after discovering that I had no authority to use the accompanying picture.

The picture is the front cover of a book created privately 33-odd years back, and the reason I wished to share it was really to show how longstanding my writerly 'career' has been going on, on the quiet, really ... I would not know how to write if it weren't happening on the quiet.

For me, poetry and love have always gone together - both by definition occupy a quiet, private, special space.

The love books, which Norman and I produced, questioned that definition, you could say, in that the private poems shared in public began to function as reminders to others of their own quiet, loving spaces, as well as the fierce relationship-work, that is necessary, to achieve harmony. You could say that our sharing of our private, intimate experiences worked to spread the possibility of private, intimate experiences between others. A lovely paradox if ever there was.

So today I'll share an old love poem, written to my ex-husband, when I was still trying to salvage our marriage. I addressed him as the poet I/ we believed he was, asking, as so many women do, for open communication. It was not to be. Today I can say I am glad that I/we tried and also glad that I/ we failed. He is far happier not to be a poet.

The poem was published in Love Gyres, my first love poem reading with Norman, in February 2011, in Noordhoek, Cape Town.  

A Wife's Entreaty

I have to find you                                                         
Where we are together
is such a quiet place.                                                    
I mistrust you                                                               
in the world,                                                                
which I mistrust.                                                           
I fear your defeat,
and my loneliness.                                                        
Good cheer is a chore.                                                 
I miss my joy                                                               
in hiding, a quiet place.                                     
Secluded with you,                                                      
both of us.                                                                   
I am not sure
that facing life                                                               
means being visible.                                                     
If so, I need you
to lift my face for me,                                                   
to put the garlands
in my hair,
so that people can say,
‘She’s there.’

We do nothing
for ourselves.
We scoop the water of our knowledge
from our hearts
and baptise thus
each day.

Let us not be silent
with one another.
Let us protest, entwine,
and say:
‘The quiet place
is full of murmuring. Let us echo
its delicate decrees.’

Look: my lip, my ear.
Clay worked to completion.
Please seek to place
your lip against my ear,
to speak. Your ear
against my mouth,
to hear.
In the din
of this frightening world
it is those intimacies I desire.
You may still steel me
with a verbal smithy’s fire.
You know I have words, signs,
writing in my blood:
captains of so many
red and white boats.

Therefore I do require constant flood
of murmured love.

- From Love Gyres, Simonstown, 2011 

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Guinevere's gift

Looking for suitable cloth upon which to stitch this morning's poem, Norman's and my Covenant Tree - the splendid copper beech, whom he called Guinevere - gave me this moment of heaven.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Your Depression ... footsteps of a grounded butterfly

I often hear in my mind Mandela's words I once saw quoted - "It's not what you are given, but what you make out of what you have, that is the difference between people."

My darling Norman suffered from clinical Depression. You could say that's what he HAD. And what he made out of it were the poems he promised to write from the moment he'd made that pact with himself in 1979 faithfully to record the moments as he experienced them.

When we met, I'd experienced what I suppose might have been diagnosed as Depression periodically in my life; Norman persuaded me to go onto anti-depressants during one particularly hellish year we had together. (It was hellish for reasons external to ourselves.) But overall it was a condition I've never had the humbleness of spirit to pay attention to either in myself or others.

It's as if, during this second year of grief, I'm being ferried through a deeper understanding of my late husband and his heartaches. That's how I see it, anyhow.

I don't know where it's leading. There's a weird, blind trust. I've not lost my footing ... the fact that I can put together an image such as the one below I'd like to believe is proof that, step by step, I am still going ... somewhere ... not forgetting that, unlike reserved and private and strong Norman, I am, I guess, willing to be 'weak', that is to say, receptive to the most unbelievably sound support among my friends and community ...

So please see this post not as a desperate cry for help on my part, but as just a cry, a cry that, by crying itself, IS its own help ... that is to say, an expressive demonstration of what you CAN DO even if you are totally DOWN ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 


Wednesday, 9 January 2019

A confession - from depression to gratitude again

To my discredit I did not survive my stay in Somerset West intact. I returned home to Hogsback to suffer an immediate nervous breakdown so acute that I had to pull out of the Summer Songs & Poems gig this past Sunday. Every other minute a traumatic thought or memory would surface, reducing me to sobs. I did not recognise either my art or my books as mine. Weak and incapacitated by a dark film between myself and my surrounds, I was too hollow to pray and too numb to count blessings. My desperate mouthings of  'God be with me' were mechanical and seemed useless.

My son was still with me. Thirsty and hungry, I finally summoned the courage to whatsapp him in his room.
'Please would you make me a cup of tea?'
He knocked and opened my door and informed me that he had not dared disturb me earlier, since "When an adult's door is closed, you don't disturb. I mean, you're my mom, so you knock and can come in, but it doesn't work the other way round."
That made for a new and interesting bit of information.
He made me tea and toast and, with a touching degree of youthful awkwardness (he will be 21 soon), observed that he did not understand what was happening, but -
"Just let it out. I mean, physically you're ok, aren't you?"
"Yes ... I think the Disprin is helping that ominous pain at the back of my head."
"You were so happy to be back."
"I was."
"So what happened?"
"I think being back means I'm allowed to just do nothing."
"Well I do nothing all the time. It's the best."
"So just let it out."
"I am."

He told me that he felt that he was incapable of breaking down. It is true that he is profoundly blessed with psychic health. While concerned for me, he was utterly unfazed by my floods of tears, which I could no longer hide. He spoke with such casual humour that he made me start to laugh, and I grew aware of how deeply grateful I am for his existence.

I began to hear the young Chorister Robin - a character like no other, this season, for his hilarious, exuberant liltings - and the other birds again.

The next day I could already visit my neighbours again with thanks for checking up on the house during my absence; and thank my fellow performers for picking up the tab for me - adding songs at the last minute to fill out the programme, so that most of the audience had not even noticed my absence!

Only yesterday evening did I finally take myself to Norman's Memorial spot and saw that the gardeners had, during my absence, weeded it beautifully, leaving only the flowering weeds to decorate it exactly as Norman and I would have wished. The love they'd put in to welcoming me back radiated out of the cleared circle. The two little Yellowwoods on the circumference had produced further sprouts.

And then, this morning, I finally put pen to paper again to produce a poem I knew was waiting for me to write it, in gratitude to one of the members of the St Patrick's Chapel congregation in Hogsback.

Here it is.

Dedicated to my anonymous donor

By deeds we are
that which we are -

words, too, when finely wrought,
can act - do good or harm
in human hearts -
can provide balm,
boost courage,

a beam
of purest light

- such as this humble poem
seeks to do -
to stream thanks
and honour
to a donor of mine
for her kindness.

- Silke Heiss, 9th January 2019 

Tuesday, 8 January 2019


The Karoo's drier
than I remember this season -

more Pale Chanting Goshawks
and Yellowbilled Kites
on the telephone poles -

their increase somehow a sign
of their hope
for roadkill.

- Silke Heiss, 8th January 2019

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Self - A poem for my mother

It's my last day in Somerset West with my parents. I suddenly remembered that I'd been meaning to take my mother in her wheelchair to her mirror, to see whether the stroke-paralysed left side, and her hemianopia, may not benefit from the objective self-recognition, which a mirror asks for.

It was an uplifting moment, which brought not only gladness in us, and relief, for both my father and the carer, from the duty of combing my mother's hair, but, too, this little poem -

for my mother

For the first time
in twenty-one months
she's wheeled before a mirror -

'Looks familiar,' she quips,
touches her lame, left shoulder and knee,
crosses the left-right hemispheres - no problem -

combs her long, white hair,
is glad it doesn't pull
as much as when my dad or the carer do it -

and the very strands spontaneously make a delicate wave
above her brow, as newfound dignity
takes her forward

to the image now
of her lovely old

- Silke Heiss, 3rd January 2019

Wishes for 2019