Gail Dandy, born in Durban and now living in Joburg, is one of SA's leading poets. Her poetry has been described as having a "magical realism" that cleverly intersects reality with fantasy. She is widely published - her work can be found in local journals Carapace and Scrutiny 2; in online publications such as Litnet; in overseas publications like Shirim (US) and Orbis (UK).
She has worked in many fields, including dance. Her latest and sixth book is called The Lady Missionary.
Do you still dance?
I've always felt the need to write, but - in a strange twist of fate - I find I have exactly the same need to dance. I did ballet in my teens. Later I discovered Contemporary Dance, which became a serious focus for me. While working at Unisa I performed part-time with the fledgling Equinoxe Dance Theatre. In Joburg I trained with Robyn Orlin and performed with her for many years. I still dance, doing adult ballet classes several times a week.
What do you like about The Lady Missionary?
As poetry goes, this is a long book (96p), so it enabled me to paint on a really large canvas and to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Not many poets get such an exciting opportunity.
How do you write your poems?
I like to write the first draft of every poem by hand, and preferably late at night. I am very particular in only ever using a fountain pen and black ink. I will then type up the poem on my computer and keep working at it until I feel it is done. This process can be quite quick if I'm lucky or, more usually, will take several weeks or months. Sometimes a poem can literally take years to complete - and, believe it or not, I still have works sitting on my computer that have been in the pipeline for over a decade!
What challenges do you face as a poet in this country?
There is a relatively small market for poetry and hence publishers are generally cautious. Having said that, I have been extremely lucky in that Snailpress and, later, Kwela, have been totally enthusiastic in getting my poetry into the public domain.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about poetry?
Two things: that it is elitist, and that modern poetry is difficult to understand.
Anything else you'd like to add?
On my to-do list for the distant future are such diverse things as studying filmmaking and getting back to playwriting and choreographing and finding a new nib for my fountain pen.
By Gail Dendy
The old clock's winding down:
its parts jammed with dust and
the works an intricate metallic lace,
the years, the days, the hours.
With a trilling whirr, it breaks:
one lifetime stirring
as feather-ready as birds in flight
clapping their way across the sky,
collecting up hours and minutes and
then tipping them over, just for fun.