I am a poetry junkie. If there was a twelve-step programmes for people like me, I’d never get a chip. At a literary festival last year, I borrowed R500 from a friend to buy two slim volumes – this during a month of brokeness so severe I was driving around on a fume and a prayer, feeding my child from the back of the store cupboard on those gourmet items you buy on a whim but never actually find a use for, like pickled juniper berries and brandied sugar cubes. Call me a bad mother if you must, but my child has a broad palate and once used the word oscillating in the correct context.
The first step to healing is admitting you have a problem, which is the only step I’m prepared to take. I’m not interested in curing my addiction, but I can’t afford to feed it with the same gusto ad execs once stuck cocaine up the nostrils*. Like all junkies, I have a supplier of really good stuff who lets me buy on credit, let’s call her C. H., but I still need to control my habit lest I binge on payday and my kid finds me passed out in a pool of stanzas.
To feed the beastie so I don’t go postal, take out the lovely staff at The Book Lounge and sack their excellent poetry section, I have a reading method I call poetry-methadone. When I buy a new volume, I allow myself only a single poem each day. There are usually around thirty poems in a volume, so I can just about get through the month. Poetry-methadone doesn’t always work – sometimes the words are like crack and I can’t stop – but, over years, I’ve developed a measure of self-control. Plus, I have quite a collection of used-verse to dip into, if I need a fix.**
Six months ago, I came across a volume of poetry that poetry-methadone did not work on, nor was it like crack to be devoured in a single setting. I began reading it the evening C.H. presented it to me. I read the first poem. The poem moved me a strange, disconcerting, disconnecting way I had not experienced with any other poem. The next night, I read the poem again. The junkie inside me felt fulfilled, she wanted to savour the poem on her lips, have the images it conjured flicker in her mind while she slept. She didn’t want to turn the page, move on to the next poem. She wasn’t done with that poem, with the rhythm of it’s words, the gasp moment that always took her by surprise at the end, no matter that she’d been reading the same poem for three months, then four.
It has taken me six months since receiving to Kelwyn Sole’s Absent Tongues to read five poems. Each poem is now beloved, each wonderful. I’m still on poetry-methadone, or a variation thereof, reading, and re-reading, and re-reading a poem a night, but one dose of Absent Tongues is a years worth of poetry-crack.
*Maybe they still do, but I wouldn’t know that as I’m well out of that industry.
**Don’t tell me to go to the library, poetry must be on tap any time of day or night, so it must be possessed.