The allure of Louisa Punt-Fouché’s poetry

Poetry is alluring. Who is there so insensitive among us that evocative poetic phrases would not move us? Yes, I know – there are indeed such people, but I believe that even they, when given the opportunity to learn from a gifted teacher, would develop a modicum of receptivity to poetry. Blake’s “He who binds himself to a joy, Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise”, is not only beautiful on the tongue and the ear; it also embodies a truth that those who are possessive of their wives, husbands or lovers should heed, lest they suffocate the latter.

My partner (such a clinical word – she is really my lover, my mate; the Afrikaans ‘lewensmaat’ captures it much better) and I are privileged to count among our friends Louisa-Punt Fouché and her husband, Ian Punt. Louisa is a Jungian psychoanalyst and therapist, as well as an artist and a poet, and Ian’s surgical medical skills are known to many people in Port Elizabeth, but over and above their respective talents, they have also, of late, blossomed into olive farmers. Louisa has published several books, all illustrated by herself, including “Webs of Enchantment”, “Daar is Kewers in my Ruggraat”, “Rarest Riverine Rabbit of the Karoo”/”Skaarser-as-Skaarste Oewerkonyn” and the recently published volume of poetry, “Ek skryf met bloed en bene” (published by Christel Foord).

Here I would like to share some of Louisa’s poetry from her latest volume, beautifully illustrated with her own drawings and reproductions of some of her paintings. The very title is strongly poetic, and somewhat macabre, at first sight: “Ek skryf met bloed en bene” (“I write with blood and bones”) – what does that suggest? Not only the image of someone writing, perhaps on dried skins, with a bone as a writing utensil, dipped in blood, but less literally, the inescapable fact that every poet writes, ultimately, under the influence, if not the spell, of that which is ingrained in their body as receptacle and enacting surface of their variegated life-experience(s). Succinctly put: one writes with the knowledge that is ‘in one’s bones’.

Hence, it is not surprising to find this image resonating with the verses in the book, some in English and others in Afrikaans. In “Nou se Lemme” (“Now’s blades”; p. 5), a disturbing image of the ‘cutting edge’ of time, on which we all unavoidably find ourselves pivoted ‘all the time’, we encounter the following (final) stanza:

“Ek, die middel van die heelal
nóg dood nóg lewend
luisterend na die fluisteringe
van duisende stemme
‘n trilling
gebalanseer op Nou se lemme”

(“I, the centre of the universe
neither dead nor alive
listening to the whisperings
of a thousand voices
a vibration
balanced on Now’s blades”[my translation])

If you don’t already know it, let me remind you that poetry is supposed to be read aloud, even to oneself, to appreciate the sheer musicality of language. Try it with the stanza I quoted above, and you’ll see how it rhythmically enlivens and enhances the meaning of these carefully chosen words: One is always at the centre of one’s own universe, which may overlap with the universe itself, and with those of others, but even when one temporarily becomes ex-centric (something humans can do, when called upon to do so, as when you have empathy with another), you still have to return to the centre to which you are tethered by your own, inescapable perspective.

It may seem counter-intuitive to learn that one is neither dead nor alive, but this is actually the case, all the time, as old body-cells die and new ones are born, and as old memories are forgotten and new ones made. In brief, we are beings-in-becoming, who are never static, although some people seem to desire such a state. Do we listen to the ‘whisperings of a thousand voices’? Perhaps not intentionally, but willy-nilly, we do – there are influences and stimuli addressing us all the time, both from around us (people’s voices or stares, the media bombarding us with news and attempts to cajole us into buying products we mostly don’t need) and from within us (our hopes and desires, as well as our fears and anxieties). These address us in the ‘now’, that is, the always-moving present, as if it is vibrating under the simultaneous impact of all of these impulses.

From my brief analysis, above, it should already be apparent that (good) poetry always condenses many thoughts, insights, questions, and so on, in comparatively few, well-chosen words, not only considering their conceptual meaning, but also attuned to their sound-qualities, which work at the levels of alliteration, consonance and assonance in a sensuous manner (if you don’t know what these ways of using poetic language are, it’s a good opportunity to look them up!).

Then there is this poetic evocation (in English) of women’s ages-long suffering and mounting frustration in the face of patriarchal oppression at the hands of men as well as patriarchal institutions, concretised in the image of a colossal old woman at the bottom of the ocean (p. 9):

“Once upon a time, and no time…there was a woman,
who has forgotten who she was…she had a dream…these are her words…

(Stanza 3): “Then I saw that she was pinned down by ropes crisscrossing her body and nailed into the
sea-bed. There were hundreds of little men working furiously to keep her down. At the
back, somewhere, I noticed a creature that looked like a grey blob looking at the activity.
I felt very scared and so helpless. I knew that she was going to break free, but I also knew
that her fury would know no end”.

The huge old woman (described as ‘vast’ in the second stanza) represents womankind; she is depicted as being on the ocean floor to suggest the (transparent) weight of patriarchal history and tradition bearing down on her, and the Lilliputian image of little men pinning her down with ropes speaks for itself – men working uninterruptedly to keep women from escaping patriarchal constraints. The ‘grey blob’ is somewhat mysterious, but I would surmise that it suggests the greyness of ideology, in this case the patriarchal variety, or perhaps its institutions. Why would she be furious when (not if) she broke free? After centuries of oppression and suffering at the hands of men, wouldn’t you be?

One of the most beautiful poems in this deliciously lingual collection is called “Die Blou Blom” (The Blue Flower”; (p. 66), which simultaneously compares woman to nature (the ‘blue flower’) and depicts nature as a woman, who – despite her fear of man (or men) – has the power to overcome him with her own seductive powers. Take note of the evocative sexual imagery (‘kloof’/’gorge’, ‘bossie boude’/’bushy buttocks’, etc.). Note, too, how her initial frozen fear, faced with his gaze, is followed by her seduction of (the) man, which ends, in a sense, with the downfall of both – which makes of this a deeply moving eco-feminist poem:

“Diep in ‘n skelm kloof
sien hy haar vir die eerste keer
fyn gepoot en amandel ge-oog
smuilend van vrees gevries
in yskoue afwagting

“Sy verlei hom
en sprei haar bossie boude
totdat ‘n geur van Chanel
sy kopklier kielie
en sy rede kraak

“ ‘n Oerwese van honger en plesier
bulder verwilderde
voëls uit die boomplafon
en sy sidder vir die blou blare
van die verbode blom

“Diep gekloof
in haar murmelende water
gespoel tot ronde klippe
lê sy
en ‘n bietjie verder hy”

All I could offer here is a mere morsel of Punt-Fouché’s sensuous poetry, which tantalises as it indicts, celebrates as it laments, but always reminds the reader, almost tangibly, of the ontogenetic (‘creating things’) poetic power of words. After all, the ancient Greek word, ‘poiesis’, from which our word, ‘poetry’, is derived, means ‘to make’, or, freely interpreted, ‘to bring something novel into existence’. This is what Louise Punt-Fouché has done here, as in her other works, both literary and artistic. Let that tempt you into exploring her creations further.