Social media is a strange and wondrous thing that has completely transformed my life. Admittedly, it is a distraction that I view as both my enemy and my friend and I spend much of my time caught up in the contradiction, trying to extract myself from its greedy fingers, whilst at the same time being drawn to it as a moth to a flame. However, no matter how much I might hate its brain sucking, time wasting qualities, I do have to concede that there are numerous positives that have come out of my relationship with the Internet. One of the most important of these has been my exposure to the plight of the endangered rhinoceros and my subsequent meeting with poet Harry Owen which resulted in our collaborative effort to raise funds and awareness to help eradicate the scourge of rhino poaching in Africa.
Harry is a rare human being, a man with principles and a conscience, who not only cares deeply about the condition of our environment, but who is not afraid to speak out in its defence. A casual glance through his Facebook page will leave you in no doubt as to where his sentiments lie, and if you listen to his words in the short clip below, they will give you a better idea of the man I speak of.
In 2012 I received an email from Harry inviting me to submit a poem for possible inclusion in a book that he was putting together as a fund and awareness raising project for anti poaching. I sat with it for a while, caught between the feel-good sensation that his invitation brought up in me and the frustration of my poor poetry writing ability. I wanted to be a part of this project, but knew that my poetic skills just wouldn’t make the grade. I do, however, think that there is such a thing as visual poetry, and so when I bumped into Harry one sunny Saturday morning, standing by the artisan bread counter of our local Grahamstown morning market, I heard myself offering to illustrate his book. Until that moment I hadn’t actually articulated this idea, even to myself. It kind of just popped out, like the best ideas usually do, and as I drove home ten minutes later, I realised that I had just made a commitment from which there was no return. But, there was no need to return, for it was one of the most enjoyable projects that I have ever worked on, and it was with great joy that For Rhino in a Shrinking World: An International Anthology was launched to much acclaim in 2013.
As you have heard in the interview above, it was his meeting with the legendary Dr. William Fowlds that sparked Harry’s idea for the project, and since then the anthology has traveled far and wide, spreading its message and adding to the coffers of the Chipembere Rhino Foundation. Countless people have read and listened to the moving words of the contributing poets who come from all parts of the world. One only needs to listen to Harry Owen as he reads his poem Eyona Indala, to get a sense of the depth of passion that this project brought out in the poets:
There have been many favourable reviews, and most recently, poems from the anthology were beautifully read by Dennis Morton on KUSP’s Weekly Poetry Show in the USA. Do yourself a favour and listen in to the show in its entirety, for you cannot fail to be moved.
So, I return to our new technology and say that if, like me, you have been bombarded with horrific Facebook images of bleeding and dying rhino and feel helpless and overwhelmed by the enormity of the rhino poaching problem, take heart, for there is something you can do, whether it be signing petitions, donating funds, writing poems or simply clicking a ‘Share’ button. Or, better still, if you want something more tangible, remember that there are copies of the anthology available from The Poet’s Printery and Christmas is just around the corner! All proceeds from the sale of the book will go into the Chipembere Rhino Foundation fund.
As another dimension to the project, I have limited edition, signed and packaged prints available of each of the drawings that appear in the anthology. The cost of these is R250.00 per print, plus postage, and may be obtained by contacting me. There is also a range of greeting cards of these images, so to see the full collection, please visit my website.
In conclusion, I leave you with a quote from the foreword of this book, written by Dr.Ian Player and Andrew Muir, who heads up The Wilderness Foundation:
“What we need in the world today is to hear within us the sounds of the earth crying” (Taken from a Zen poem)
“Rhino have a particularly plaintive cry, which once heard is never forgotten. The screams of agony from rhino that have had their horns chopped off while still alive should reach out into the hearts of all of us. We believe that it is only through a GLOBAL campaign and POLITICAL will that we can save this remnant of the dinosaur age – the rhino.
The heritage of a species, the rhino, and the environment we share with it, symbolises so much of what the Wilderness Foundation is driven to take care of. It is our hope that what lies within this anthology will reveal enough to inspire everyone to respond the “the sounds of the earth crying”.
Finally, I take this opportunity, through this miraculous platform of social media, to wish you and all the remaining rhino a blessed, safe and peaceful Christmas.
Love it ! where there’s passion there’s power. The same culture that drives the demand for powdered rhino horn is destroying my “environment”, aided by political greed . The poetic illustration of this is a text of over a hundred years ago when our dockyard closed and to prove nothing really changes fellow campaigners added a few verses to bring things up to date.
Ghosts In Deptford
Written 100+ years ago by Cicely Fox Smith
If ghosts should walk in Deptford, as very well they may,
A man might find the night there more stirring than the day,
Might meet a Russian Tsar there, or see in Spain’s despite
Queen Bess ride down to Deptford to dub Sir Francis knight.
And loitering here and yonder, and jostling to and fro,
In every street and alley the sailor-folk would go,
All colours, creeds, and nations, in fashion old and new,
If ghosts should walk in Deptford, as like enough they do.
And there’d be some with pigtails, and some with buckled shoes,
And smocks and caps like pirates that sailors once did use,
And high sea-boots and oilskins and tarry dungaree,
And shoddy suits men sold them when they came fresh from sea.
And there’d be stout old skippers and mates of mighty hand,
And Chinks and swarthy Dagoes, and Yankees lean and tanned,
And many a hairy shellback burned black from Southern skies,
And brassbound young apprentice with boyhood’s eager eyes,
And by the river reaches all silver to the moon
You’d hear the shipwrights’ hammers beat out a phantom tune,
The caulkers’ ghostly mallets rub-dub their faint tattoo —
If ghosts should walk in Deptford, as very like they do.
If ghosts should walk in Deptford, and ships return once more
To every well-known mooring and old familiar shore,
A sight it were to see there, of all fine sights there be,
The shadowy ships of Deptford come crowding in from sea.
Cog, carrack, buss and dromond — pink, pinnace, snake and snow —
Queer rigs of antique fashion that vanished long ago,
With tall and towering fo’c’sles and curving carven prows,
And gilded great poop lanterns, and scrolled and swelling bows.
The Baltic barque that foundered in last month’s North Sea gales,
And last year’s lost Cape Horner on her sails,
Black tramp and stately liner should lie there side by side
Ay, all should berth together upon that silent tide.
In dock and pond and basin so close the keels should lie
Their hulls should hide the water, their masts make dark the sky,
And through their tangled rigging the netted stars should gleam
Like gold and silver fishes from some celestial stream.
And all their quivering royals and all their singing spars
Should send a ghostly music a-shivering to the stars —
A sound like Norway forests when wintry winds are high,
Or old dead seamen’s shanties from great old days gone by, —
Till eastward over Limehouse, on river, dock and slum,
All shot with pearl and crimson the London dawn should come,
And fast at flash of sunrise, and swift at break of day,
The shadowy ships of Deptford should melt like mist away.
Ghosts 2014 (after C.F. Smith)
If ghosts should walk in Deptford they’d find it very hard
In all the yuppie towers that cover the King’s Yard
To even find their bearings, to drop their anchors well,
Or feel they’re not forgotten in some foreign concrete hell.
And sighing in their sadness, they’d gather to lament
The gated, cold “communities” that smother in cement
The green and lovely acres of John Evelyn’s Sayes Court,
The buried docks and slipways of Deptford’s once-great port.
The riverside apartment blocks stare vacant at the shore
Accumulating value with their backs turned to the poor,
Whose ancestors would shuffle, stretching out their hands
For token recognition in an unfamiliar land.
And all the skilful shipwrights and all the weathered crew
Would stand on the street corners not knowing what to do,
But turn up their coat collars and huddle in the wind
If ghosts should walk in Deptford, whose history was binned.
We all have our fights,