The View From the Stockade
by Landeg White
DANGAROO Press 1991
Now out of print, this title shall soon be available as a PDF e-Book.
The View From the Stockade begins and ends with poets who are threatened with political violence for being poets. The stockades, in southern Africa or York, are places of safety where poetry like private life may flourish. But they are also places of sadness, or anguish over cruelty and injustice and of regret for vanished pastoral. This is an accomplished but embattled book with a strong sense of places and of divided peoples, in which poetry fights back with tenderness and lyricism, with celebrations of family love and the ramshackle heroism or ordinary people.
The truth is he was born at Chimwalira
not Bethlehem. For Immanuel the conception
was a good one. But it was hard in a place
without writing to show prophecies fulfilled.
She gave birth on a reed mat in a mud house,
but so did every woman. How much grander
a stable signifying property in the foreground.
So when the Magi appalled by the Nile’s
green wilderness turned back worshipping
a Jewish boy in a safe colony, they missed
their star’s conjunction with Crux Australis
and God lay forgotten in Africa.
“where someone died”. He grew up ordinarily,
neither Tarzan nor Shaka, eating millet
and wild mice. After his circumcision
there were songs about his dullness with women.
He became a blacksmith and a doctor skilled
in exorcism, and people saw he was touched.
But there was nothing startling to the elders
in his proverbs. He died old at thirty-three,
a normal life span.
(It was the Reverend Duff McDuff
screamed the Python priest was the Black Christ
as they led him to his steamer in their straightjacket.)
from The View From the Stockade by Landeg White
“The View from the Stockade provides an advance on the already considerable achievement of White’s earlier collection For Captain Stedman. The wit, irony and strong sense of history are still there, but mellowed by a more compassionate perspective and domestic tenderness.”
“A much travelled, politically seasoned commentary on the post-colonial world of ‘Armies, budgets and the iron dictators’, but with a real sense of rumpled ordinariness and a strong compassionate drive. The poems are unflaggingly good, with an Audenesque ease of utterance overlaying anger, and a sensual vividness that has one wiping the dust from the eyes. The best surprise of the year so far.”
“… quite literally in a different world from anything else reviewed here … Stockade is notable for its sense of place, its gentle but firm reminders that many of the world’s peoples live on one side or another of a particular conflict and its portrayal of ordinary people made extraordinary by circumstance. This is poetry that has no doubts about its role in the world as unofficial history and as source of hope”
“Landeg White’s poems are ironic, fragmentary, allusive, self-mockingly well and improbably read. Out of this box of tricks, he builds in The View from the Stockade not in fact the view from this privileged air-conditioned office of modern poetry onto the harsh landscape of the post-colonial world but a vision of the impotence and irrelevance of that office (and all the other, apparently more practical, air-conditioned offices) before that appalling starkness … This book by its structure and juxtapositions, shows it is possible to use the sophisticated modes of the late twentieth-century European poetic tradition as a way of expressing the dreadful incongruities of that experience.”
“Extends and amplifies the imaginative territory of For Captain Stedman … White’s stress-count lines and terza rima are as satisfying as in the first book … offers correctives to our stockaded views, understated narratives and insights written to a pulse that beats quietly, tolerantly”
“An excellent collection from an excellent press .. White combines a directness of style with an eloquent willingness to confront difficult important themes – particularly the violent recent struggles in Africa … White gives the details, the scent, the stuff of history being made, but manages also to bring tenderness as well as violence, love as well as anger. This is not an embattled or didactic view but a steady look at problematic relations so complex as sometimes to seem insoluble.”