Christine Coates was awarded a prize by the organisers of the Kalahari Short Story Competition in December 2020 for her short story. Her new book of poetry “The summer we didn’t die” was published in November 2020 by Modjaji Books.
In her third collection Christine Coates casts her eye over the arc of her life, sweeping from childhood memories to life under Covid-19 lockdown. In richly crafted poems, Coates recalls the sights and sounds of childhood from party lines to fetes, to a beloved grandparent and early loss. Life as a young woman in Johannesburg comes with its own pleasures and early love. There are poems of travel, politics is echoed in the resounding roar of Marikana and a woman’s performance art. There are the quiet intimacies of a long marriage and meditations on ageing. And then there is life under lockdown and the small pleasures of baking bread and growing quinces while life turns upside down.
The poems are shot through with detail and texture: blue veins, and dry bones, a hill baking in the sun, a full moon wrapped by meanings.
This is a poet at the height of her powers who has mastered the poetic form. Her elegant vision illuminates every word.
“These beautiful poems never die. They remain alive through loss, grief, drought, fire and water, from the nineteenth century to the present day, from Hermanus to Istanbul, from Klerksdorp to Cape Town. Rhythmic, always enriching, the poetry keeps the reader close as Christine Coates’ sure voice guides us through the world anew.” Wendy Woodward
Poet and Writer Christine Coates
Cape Town poet and writer Christine Coates hold a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Cape Town. She has published three poetry collections, Homegrown (Modjaji Books, 2014), Fire Drought Water (Damselfly Press, 2018) and The Summer We Didn’t Die (Modjaji Books, 2020). Her first Homegrown collection received a Honorable mention of the Glenna Luschei Award. His poems and fictions have been published in many local and international literary journals and have been widely anthologized.
My father the movie director
He carried his Zeiss, his Leica,
slicing, splicing our childhoods,
his film running through
his editing screen, the toxic liquid
seeping as he glued the scenes,
punched captions on plastic tape.
He should have been a movie director
instead of exploring women’s dark cavities,
a speculum his lens, his scalpel
slicing, splicing their flesh, pulling babies
from their bodies, legislating their weight,
controlling their Caesareans.
The first year without my father, the year
I turned seventeen, I swam the streets of Joburg – laps
in a pool; up and down, in and out –
Commissioner Street, Rissik, Pritchard,
Anderson, Diagonal, Eloff, Loveday.
I got to know pavements, entrances, parking garages,
newspaper vendors, beggars at traffic lights.
I swam between red city buses and morning traffic, veering
between shoals of Yamahas and Suzukis.
Keep brushing against death, I told myself, until
it becomes a whisper, just a breath.
Sometimes I was sure I saw him,
my father just ahead, turning a corner.
I’d follow, quickening my pace, my heart fast.
At lunchtimes I swam across the Oppenheimer Gardens,
under jumping springboks. Signs on benches read:
Once I followed a man all the way down
Anderson Street. I tapped him on the arm,
when he turned, he had
the face of a stranger.
Learning to drive
I steer down my mind’s road
not knowing how to brake, I dead-eye
the destination I cannot reach.
How to Fold a Paper Bird
Take a poem you wrote
or a map of your city
and fold it in half,
draw your nail across it.
Once paper is folded
the mark never disappears,
it’s a spine to carry nerves,
it is your DNA.
Start with a small girl,
fair hair like yours;
try folding in orchids
you dreamt of last night.
Fold in your hopes,
your fears, your failures,
fold in teas and fold in cups,
fold in your sisters and friends.
Fold in conversations,
all you wanted to have.
Fold in days of the week,
the Sundays and empty spaces.