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Thursday, November 23, 2023



This wit and wordplay are important parts of Lovell’s poems. For her, words are lively, amusing things to play with, and the words themselves can sometimes create the humour. (Review by Margaret von Klemperer, courtesy of The Witness)

Late in October, Moira Lovell, well known in Pietermaritzburg as a poet, writer, teacher and, to readers of the Witness, a book reviewer, launched her fifth collection of poems, Notes. This elegantly produced collection of more than 50 poems shows Lovell’s skill as a crafter of, or as she describes it, a player with, words. There is also her characteristic humour and wit, even where the subject matter is ostensibly dark.

Some of the poems are about poetry and its power to speak calmly and rationally, an example being Soliloquist:



Having few listeners,

The poet delivers his thoughts

In a soliloquy on the page,

The way, on stage, Hamlet reviews

The state of his soul, the soul of the state,

Finding the one wretched, the other rotten,

While outside the crowds raise

To the rank of demigod the ranting demagogues,

Hoarding all the syllables of their sophistry

In the dusty storerooms of their heads.

If only they would hear, instead, the poet,

Unpacking his soul, unpicking the state,

If only they would try his words and test them,

They might just concede that the poet is

The author of infinite dialogue.


I ask Lovell, in view of the increasing popularity of spoken and Slam poetry, how she feels about this more “ranting” approach. “I opt for careful, highly wrought poetry,” she says. “But at the launch, a number of people said they so enjoyed hearing some of the poems read aloud. They felt as though they accessed the poems more.” Lovell feels that readers have to be careful how they read poetry. She says that when she writes, she plays with the sound of the words, and if someone reads silently, they may miss that aspect. But while she accepts that Slam poetry has a place and a following, she will be sticking with the written word.

Lovell quotes a statistic that claims only one percent of the population reads poetry – though she admits that may be just a sour poet’s reflection. “But it must be accessible,” she says. “There’s no point writing something that readers can’t understand.” Martin Amis said of James Joyce that the writer must respect the reader, and Lovell firmly believes that the poet has to combine accessibility with wit and wordplay.

This wit and wordplay are important parts of Lovell’s poems. For her, words are lively, amusing things to play with, and the words themselves can sometimes create the humour. An example is her Defence of the Hadedas – not every suburban dweller’s favourite bird, particularly when they strike up in the early morning. But for Lovell, they are infinitely preferable to living under the flight path of incoming planes.


Defence of the Hadedas

(following accusations of noise pollution)

Accused of littering obscenities

Across suburban skyscapes, we defend

Our vocal scores, intended to be sung

Fortissimo, as written by the Great

Composer, who, despite the common view,

Is not averse to dissonance and din.

Or, maybe if you so prefer, cacophony

In birdsong might be evolution’s work.

Complaints, we feel, should be directed at

That plucked and painted pseud, the avion,

(Attempting to be classed as avian,)

Which regularly takes a direct flight

Across the territory reserved by us

In manicured upmarket yards beyond

The city centre stench, where we can strut

And grub, deworming lawns, or perch among

Majestic trees. Stiff-winged, unflappable,

Intoning in a constant drone, it dips

Its beak imperially and heads towards

Its nesting zone. It clearly bores the sun,

Which cannot nuance silver monochrome,

And lights, instead, on us, transforming grey

To opalescence. When we feel its warmth

We rise like jewels, a necklace in the sky –

Not crude of speech, but loud with ecstasy.


Many of the poems in Notes convey a sense of time passing, of the frailty of life. Lovell admits she has always been conscious of transience – her second collection was Departures, dealing with emigration and death. “It’s something I have always been concerned about, and that feeling does get stronger as you get older,” she says. When she first submitted this latest collection, Jackie Kalley, her publisher at Otterley Press, said it was too dark, so she jettisoned some of the poems and replaced them with lighter ones. But even where the subject matter is dark, the trademark humour is still there. As Lovell says, she is not a confessional poet, writing about her own angst – and even when she does, the wit still comes to the fore.

One section in the collection deals with the Covid pandemic, which for so many people made the sense of time passing and fragility worse. Over the months of lockdown, people became homebound, which now gives an event like the well-attended launch of the collection the sense of being a rare cultural celebration. But in the lockdown days, Lovell says she wrote a lot, capturing those strange times when the usual noise around us all was silenced. “I’m pleased that I could capture those moments, turn that world into words,” she says. “A poem can become a word album, like a photograph album.”

Notes is a collection reflecting the world we live in, with both its good and bad aspects. There are poems about friends, the weather, the seasons and the wider world. To end, here is a poem that speaks to us about what we are experiencing right now: the return of the rainy season.


The Weight of Wetness

At this first hint of sunlight

We peg our sodden spirits on the line:

They hang moodily, redolent of damp towels.

The day cannot be warm or wild enough

To tumble them dry.

Perforce we must forever wear

The weight of wetness.


Notes: Poems by Moira Lovell is published by Otterley Press and is available at Exclusive Books. It can also be ordered directly from or purchased online at ISBN 978-1-7764473-2-9 – Margaret von Klemperer