“I’d recognize you now
in an instant
yet I’d struggle to describe you to a
friend as you were then.”
This week I’m introducing My Poetry Corner where I’ll review chapbooks, literary magazines/journals, and other poetry collections. And I might add one of my own pieces from time to time.
In this week’s Poetry Corner I’ll be reviewing Len Verwey’s In a Language that You Know which is scheduled for publication later this year.
Let me start by showing my appreciation to NetGalley and the Publisher for sending me a free copy of the book for in exchange for an honest review.
My initial judgment of a book is usually based on the cover. That’s what caught my attention as I browsed titles on NetGalley. The artwork was intriguing. However, I requested this one because of the title, In a Language that You Know AND because it’s part of the African Poetry Book Series. One of my reading goals is to consume more poetry, especially by South African poets. After all, great writers read.
In a Language that You Know is a collection of poetry that paints the life of a man whose life was shaped by his experiences in Southern Africa. I say Southern Africa, because several poems reference Mozambique. The poems are grouped by life cycle: childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood. Collectively, the poems tell a beautiful coming of age story complemented by the author, Len Verwey’s, well-constructed prose.
What I liked
Verwey’s style, which is mainly prose poetry, gave the collection a narrative feel. The pieces flowed so seamlessly that at times I forgot I was reading poetry. I suppose that’s what prose poetry is meant to do. In several areas, he used titles to set the scene for the next section. Poems like Coast, Experts, Sunnydale, and 1999 ground the reader in the stage of life and era being discussed.
The poems about the Apartheid era are also different from others I’ve read. Verwey’s selection narrates someone who lived his life amid the civil war. He did what he wanted, other times he did as he was told, and in the midst of it, made money when he could. The love poems were sweet and definitely a few of my favorites.
I must say that Verwey writes great endings. There are a few non-rhyming couplets that were really captivating.
What I didn’t like
Although there were some lovely pieces, most of the poems aren’t the kind that stay with you long after you’ve turned the page. There were several moments when I got to the end of a poem and had forgotten what the poem was about.
The forms used are analogous, mostly because of the style. They are almost entirely prose poetry with variations of free form and a few other variations but for the most part, prose broken into verses. Personally, I would have appreciated more variety.
In a Language that You Know was okay. There are one or two pieces I’d go back to and even recall from time to time but overall it was a nice story. Would I recommend it? I don’t know. Maybe. Depending on whether or not you appreciate prose poetry. I do think it would make an interesting mini-series or perhaps even a short film.
And that’s it for this week’s Poetry Corner.
From Cape Town with Love,