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DOUGLAS LIVINGSTONE …WE PRESUME? (article first published : 2001-04-5)

Last week saw something of a "literary overload" in Durban. On top of the Time of the Writer festival, a muted affair this year, came a revival of this presentation of selected poems by Douglas Livingstone. Livingstone, certainly one of South Africa's best-known poets, was a man whom people found awkward and reserved where social relationships were concerned.

The independent environmental consultant, however, broke out of the straitjacket of imposed convention when he turned to poetry. Here he found his voice, especially when dealing with wild animals, exotic flowers and environmental issues.

Stalwarts of the Durban stage, Caroline Smart and Peter Gardner, have mounted a lively, amusing and thought-provoking production. They are gently and ably assisted by Patrick Collyer as he fills in interludes between the poetry on a resonant guitar. Too bad, then, that this poetry offering came hard on the heels of the writers' festival. It certainly deserves better audiences than the sparse few at Saturday's matinee.

I am not sure whether Livingstone's poems have been setworks for schools, technikons and universities. Certainly they ought to be - or to have been - since both high-school pupils and students at tertiary level would find much to muse over in this endearing compilation.

Town Tembu was a particularly apt choice to include in the anthology. The poem relates the befuddlement in the mind of a rural African gardener at the strange ways of the white family in town, for whom he now works.

Then there's Gentling a Wildcat, also in the first half, which is a deeply touching study of a wild cat, callously attacked in pregnancy by a pack of marauding hyena.

A Flower For the Night, in the second half, refers to the exquisite Queen of the Night flowers attached to a succulent plant. Night Club Pianist is a reference to the former Blue Note Jazz Club in Cuckoo Lane, a favourite haunt of this talented writer. For those who missed this presentation the first time round, it is well worth a visit now.

Performances are at 19h30 from Thursday to Saturday, tickets are R30 and booking is at Computicket. The theatre's phone number is (031) 309 2236 - Patrick Leeman




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