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South Africa: Unlocked – Poems for Critical Times

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In this new feature by Maverick Citizen, poet Ingrid de Kok will twice a week select a South African poem that sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely, addresses the question of how to imagine ourselves, how to be, in the current situation. We asked her to start the cycle with a short introduction about why poetry matters at a time like this, followed by two of her own poems.

People have always turned to poetry at critical times, whether in periods of personal sorrow and stress or at times of great public upheaval, disquiet and dread. Perhaps this is because, at its finest, poetic language provides unique insights into shared human experience.

A poem can disrupt standard habits of attention, alert us to new connections, reshape how we think and refresh our sense of community with others and with nature. It can confront, cajole and console. And it offers us inestimable pleasure in the play of language itself, its rhythms, image-building and metaphorical capacity.

Poetry can make us alive to ourselves and others.

Most of the poems I select are by South African poets or poets linked to South Africa and most will have been published before. Different in tone, texture and…

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