Reviews for 'Questions for the Sea' - Stephen Symons (uHlanga Press - 2016)

Honourable Mention for 2017 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry

Mentioned appreciatively for the 2018 Ingrid Jonker Prize for Poetry

Cape Times review by Karina Magdalena (October 2016)
'New Coin' review by Diana Bloem (December 2016)
'Stanzas' review by Basil du Toit (September 2016)
'Poetry is for days like this' by Helen Moffet (May 1, 2018)

It was the most glorious day today. Water crisis, climate catastrophe and all, there are days that come in April when the light is so radiant, it almost hums. And April light makes me think of Stephen Watson, the poet and mentor to many who died seven years ago this month. Every day in April I am grateful for the words he gave us to corral the feelings I have about this conflicted, tormenting, afflicted and staggeringly beautiful city: stuck in traffic along the False Bay coast this afternoon, fragments of his writing kept running through my head, his words about this city “almost en-islanded by one rough mountain, two cool porcelain seas”, and its light at this time of year: “Astringent, like lemon in fresh water, this light distills.”

The other reason Stephen Watson has been in my mind is because I recently acted as a judge for the Ingrid Jonker Prize for a debut collection of poetry. Judging poetry is a truly impossible task, because good poetry puts the reader’s own feelings into words, or as a wonderful poet once told me, “It travels direct from the eye to the heart”. So how do you place merit and value on that which plays your heart like a jazz drummer, each volume, each poem tapping out a different rhythm? Do you reward the words that make you weep, or laugh, or both?

I’m hoping to write reviews of the collections I really loved (there were a lot!), but one of the ones that swept me off my feet was Stephen Symons’s Questions for the Sea (uHlanga Press). There are a dozen aesthetic and literary reasons to praise this exquisite collection, but my response to it was first and foremost emotional: something about his voice reminded me of Stephen Watson’s. In some ways, Symons’s spare and understated lines are very different, but something about the way he looks at a beautiful location and holds time still in it; something about the way he captures light: these are familiar, these I love.

But don’t take my word for it: just read this.


This bay
in calcium whiteness
a midday rise of talcum

bare feet desecrating
a wind-broken boneyard

of angels.