Palimpsest Press, 2018

Reviewed by Charles Gonsalves

Therefore Therein All There Is Is There: A Review of Klara du Plessis’ Ekke


Ekke is a patient book, despite the urgency of its contents, and a helpful1 book, despite the importance of the difficulty its demonstrations pose. Its opening poem (“First of all we no longer write in black but white stones”) begins with a gentle but deft telescoping between two kinds of bordering—

            In small towns on South African outskirts,       

            names are outlined in whitewashed stones, packed […]

—from “South African outskirts” to “names … outlined in whitewashed stones” (10, emphasis added). The lines that immediately follow (three, four, and five of the first strophe2/vers3)—


            […] on hillsides to spell,

            to welcome,

            to warn […]


—feel like being led down a stair, which is, indeed, a simple enough operation—like spelling, welcoming, and warning—when attempted apart from other operations and contexts. Descending this strophic staircase into Ekke is not admittance to an obviously hospitable topography/lexicon but, on the contrary, an entering, exiting, and enduring: du Plessis’ reader, on this occasion, is witness to the poet’s effort to exorcise excision from excession4:


            There are certain associations I harbour against Clara

            too British

            too Victorian


            Her chastity is duty

            her aesthetic ethics

            knowledge is restricted to goodness.


            I shame my sister name because I

            sense the same gentleness cum submission in me.                                         (34)


Although the dialectical emphasis and re-emphasis of the I is central to the operation of the gathered poems, Ekke’s5 poet knows how to elide the first person in favour of its terrain (the first movement of poems does not, with the exception of one “my,” reference her) (15). And this is indeed what I now see depicted by the book’s cover: a dress, a dress addressing … a dress that looks more a part of some scorched earth or a life-form in and of itself than a garment for someone addressable6… And if one dwells a little longer on the cover one discovers, in the space of the head of the absented body, the rhetoric of mirroring within Ekke’s pages at play, right there, spilling7 over to the right …

            This compositional detail is significant for Ekke’s reader because the seat of the voice that utters/ekes out the udder woman/the emphasis is the mind in the head, and because



            is an extension



            ek ke


            ek ek

            k lyk soos vlerke                                          [k resembles wings]




            is not a mirror reflection

            but it is a reflection.



            Spieël                                                               [mirror]

            Speel                                                                [play]

            Spel                                                                 [spell / game]                          (39)


            The direction the wings of the k take in the first Ek is, as it were, into the reflective plane; the E speaks itself and sees itself reflected but cannot access the image. The direction of the second k, however, from the perspective of the second e, is back out of the reflection—turning at/exceeding itself: wings by which the image manifests a person in turn. As a simple, obedient reader of Ekke, it is this dialectical alchemy of personhood that I look for and find on and in the surface and depth of each page; it is as this reader that I consent to and delight in the spelling of mirror as play, spell, or game.

             The linguistic gymnastic that constitutes this game, like most activities, relies upon and exploits form: the myriad forms of mouths and ears as well as hands, pens/cils, and pages. du Plessis manages, in Ekke, to lament this as often as she celebrates it. Fitting, I think, that doing one necessarily means doing the other:


            Domesticated animals most often live in a form 

            an enclosure like a field or a pen

            pen different identities

            down on the ground […]

—and they suffer ambiguities like those that might issue from abbreviated / chriographically8 emptied field-notes like “h.g.” (hunter-gatherer) that, almost of their own volition, bloat with the word “hunger” (also a hunter and gatherer) (61). In a remarkably pithy move, du Plessis uses the form not of letters but numbers to further complicate her attempt to communicate the feeling of incommensurability borne by “the hardest doubling act you’ll ever see”:


            from    1          to         11—

            it’s the death sentence / pagination / museum / mausoleum

            in this country.                                                                                                            (57)


            The terra in Ekke’s terrain is earth long lived in by language—by numerous worlds. Now, after having read and re-read Ekke, I feel encouraged to see, as if each word is an object (or world) extended in space, the sides that the revelation of one side always necessarily occludes. For example, in “Tydskrif” (literally, time-writing) I can read tide-writing and thereby imagine tidepools as metaphoric sites of writing that belong to an incalculable time—time so immense that the words beginning or end are not only inadequate, but also incommunicable; time in which the reading of one character (say “I”) or the redoubling of it (say “ekke”) might exhaust the power and duration of an entire lifetime—or define it. This image, I will maintain, is a testament to Ekke’s ability to illustrate and make thinkable the outlines of a love large enough for earth and earthly life.




[1] Included at the back are pages where translations can be found, as well as notes, which, depending on your preference, may or may not have a place in poetry, but, as far as I’m concerned, greatly improve the experience of reading and reflecting. 

[2] Greek, turning

[3] Afrikaans, heifer, and giver of “one of the most beautiful literary definitions[:] that a poem is an untouched cow” (49).

[4] Not to be confused with the meaning of the word as coined by sci-fi novelist Iain M Banks. Rather, excession here is meant to suggest both excessiveness and succession—the marriage of which I intend to dampen the pejorative key excess receives normally while preserving, both, the vowel so crucial to the book’s thesis, and, the substance that mere succession renders prior. 

[5] Ekke’s / X poet: from the emphasis of the I to its cancellation via mirrored italicization.

[6] Two meanings are intended here: someone capable of being addressed, and the more specific rendering that accommodates the needs of computer science: eg., “Memory uses 32-bit words, is addressable and alterable by 8-bit bytes, half words, words, and double words” (OED, my emphasis).

[7] / spelling.

[8] Learned from Ekke (34). 

Charles Gonsalves is a student of literature and criticism originally from Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, currently living in Montreal.