A book I am thrilled to be bringing out in April is The Everyday Wife by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers. I met her while working at the Centre for the Book. We both participated in the British Council sponsored Crossing Borders programme in 2005/6. At the final workshop we got to read our writing, and Phillippa read a sonnet about her son that brought me to tears. Since that first meeting, we worked together on her first collection, Taller than Buildings, for which she received a Community Publishing grant, have seen each other at various Cape Town book fairs and here on Book SA, and now we have this new relationship. It’s an honour to publish her new collection. Phillippa has an extraordinary energy and facility with words and images.
Actually bringing the book out is a midwifing process, and we are (as I speak) still attempting to make the book a bit shorter (budget constraints) except that the poems Phillippa is willing to “kill” (her words) are the ones I love. But we have the cover, we have the wonderful Megadigital waiting in the wings to print, we have the London Book Fair, we have Book SA, we have all Phillippa’s fans. We have the first draft of the layout done by Jacqui Stecher who also did the cover design. We are in poetry book labour ward. Now we want to hold the baby in our arms.
Phillippa was lucky enough to have Margaret Busby write a foreword, for The Everyday Wife, so to tantalise you, here it is…
What treats are served up in this new book of poems by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers!
To read just the first line of the first poem is to be skeined into a tantalizing world where nothing is predictable. Like the best of poets, she makes language do her bidding, wresting new sense from familiar images and situations, surprising us and ambushing our expectation. In the title poem can be seen the range and subtlety that characterises her work – the clear-eyed honesty, the perceptiveness, the playfulness, the attention to nuance. The Everyday Wife sums up the boundaries and expanses of a relationship,
the possibility of menace, even, in the midst of love.
In one way or another, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers illuminates relationships of many kinds and many intensities – between lovers, children and parents, the politics of emotion shared and remembered and confronted, sustained across the distance of place or memory. Sometimes, as in ‘The Organ of Love’ – which manages that crucial combination of passion and humour – she makes meaning hold on
to the last word of the poem like the last drop of a delicious drink.
In poem after poem are revealed different facets of her shapeshifting talent. The raw and numbing truths told in ‘Hell in a Handbag’ contrast starkly with the theatricality of a supermarket encounter in ‘The Middle Promise’, which transforms into a reminder that ‘the cost of things is not the same as the value of things’.
The historical and everyday realities of South Africa permeate even her observations about the weather as in ‘Home drenched’ and in ‘Sixty-nine bullets’ (for the Sharpeville 69) the tragedy is given poignant new impact.
Her blending of the literal and the metaphysical makes it possible to take so much from a single image:
sits tidily beside a giant cactus, the giant sun
just another father: distant and a little too warm.
The alarming familiar that she summons up so matter-of-factly, and so well, in ‘The guest’ epitomizes that edginess of imagination, and the sanity of the conclusion that one can never improve on freedom.
Phillippa Yaa de Villiers has claimed a freedom to speak the unspoken, however it emerges. ‘A safe house is a place of fear’ – a title thought-provoking in itself – captures the potency of silence, the dangerous power of wordlessless, where ‘silence is the skin of fear’.‘Words become me,’ she begins by saying, in ‘Lasso’… ‘withoutthem I am shorn’. Phillippa Yaa de Villiers is a poet for
whom there is no danger of separation from expression. She definitely has a way with words, and words have their way with her.