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Friday, November 15, 2019


 (Marí Peté (centre) with Prof Jean-Philippe Wade (Head of Department of Video Technology, DUT) and Prof Heidi van Rooyen (Executive Director, HSRC).)

A new anthology of poems by Marí Peté titled winter: water and fire | winter: water en vuur was launched in Durban recently. Review by Illa Thompson

Durban poet Marí Peté launched her fourth anthology of poetry to a packed audience at the monthly gathering of Durban creatives at St Clements in Musgrave this week – a slim, elegant collection of poems in English and Afrikaans inspired by the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

winter: water and fire | winter: water en vuur is a collection of 46 poems ordered into seven parts, complemented by full-colour companion photos – the Berg through a micro lens:  small detail of a guinea fowl feather; a sheaf of red grasses; moss on a boulder, a charred protea, flaming aloe and reflections in a stream - not the more obvious sweeping panoramas and majestic vistas. The images provide a worthy companion to her words: with the focus on the intimate often incidental detail, not the grandiose whole.

The anthology is presented as the writer’s love song to the Berg in which she consciously works equally in English and Afrikaans – some poems being written in Afrikaans, others first in English and some through a process of “trans-writing” – starting in one language and ultimately crafting both poems in interaction. In her foreword, Peté references Antjie Krog in Down to my Last Skin: “Krog writes about the crossroads a translator of poetry encounters - choosing either to render the meaning literally, or opting to risk new meanings by working with the music of the target language. I think about identical twins in the case of the former, fraternal twins in the latter sense.”

Everything about the work is paired down; it is clean, unfussy, minimalist and frugal - and utterly free from pretentions; quiet as an everlasting flower, gentle as a mountain stream, welcome as afternoon rain, with an underlying frisson of an imminent storm. There is space to breathe, observe and reflect. Every word and every white space is carefully considered and finely distilled with a sleight of hand and a dollop of humour. That said, there is an underlying current which understands that water and fire can be both tame and wild, beautiful and devastating; healing and harmful.

In her presentation, Peté recited a selection of poems: some in English, some in Afrikaans. Her criteria to choose which of her works to read was: “Some poems are comfortable being read aloud, while some prefer to lie still on the page.” Her presentation was accompanied by two pieces of carefully-chosen music and a selection of photographs from the book.

In conclusion she poses a question to the audience: “What is your winter, what is your water, what is your fire?”

This anthology has been quietly simmering since Peté first began visiting the Berg more than 20 years ago. “Like a seed that lies dormant,” she explained. Sometimes she began writing straight after trips, sometimes up to two decades later. Her preferred way of working, she explained, was to put her thoughts down, which would then be edited and crafted during a process which could sometimes take up to 50 drafts. “My writing hardly ever falls onto the page. I need to surrender to the subconscious, give it time and space and distil and further distil to bring it down,” she considered.

The book is a significant contribution to South African heritage and culture, according to Professor Theo Andrew, advisor to the Vice Chancellor of the Durban University of Technology, where Peté works as educational technologist.

Not wanting to detract from her anthology, part of the back-story which Peté didn’t publicly share during the launch event, is that a particular interest of hers is exploring the use of poetry as a structural device for research and academic investigation.

Professor Heidi van Rooyen, HSRC Executive Director in Human and Social Development, who was at the launch, explained to me that creative mechanisms - such as poetry - digs below the surface level of conventional research and allows the author to talk about what really matters in a way which can engage new audiences and help to make the research more  accessible. By definition, poetry as a type of artistic writing, attempts to stir a reader's imagination or emotions. For the past two years Heidi has been training others to use poetry, storytelling and arts-based enquiries as a research methodology. She has also used poetry to spotlight some issues she has been interrogating in her own work – such as gender, race and identity.

As UKZN Emeritus Professor Pieter Scholtz (leader of the monthly Monday gatherings at St Clements) said in his introduction of the writer: “Marí has an incredibly vibrant and perceptive imagination which she is able to translate into words and images which speak to our hearts and minds.”

winter: water and fire | winter: water en vuur – Maloti-Drakensberg Verse, a new anthology of poems by Marí Peté, is available from the KZNSA Gallery in Bulwer Road, Durban at a price of R100, and on in printed and Kindle format.

The book can be borrowed from any of the six libraries of the Durban University of Technology.

For more information, contact Marí Peté on or visit -
Illa Thompson