In a Language That You Know

In a Language That You Know

In a Language That You Know

In a Language That You Know


South Africa is a complicated, contradictory, and haunted place. Len Verwey captures the trajectory of life in such a place, dealing with childhood, war, marriage, divorce, and death. He explores the challenges posed by place and history, shared identities, deep embeddedness in the continent, and the legacies of violence and exclusion, as well as beauty.

Verwey offers poems that speak of uncertainty, ask questions, and challenge simplistic and scapegoating narratives that become so tempting when living in a society undergoing intense social and economic pressure. Dealing less with factual or political explanations of war and more with the compulsion of war, in particular, "maleness" and violence, Verwey pulls the reader into another world, opening eyes to the "crisis of men," the violence against women, children, and the foreign in a country where conflicts are again escalating. In a Language That You Know strives to understand the complexity of one of the most unequal, violent, yet most vibrant societies in the world.


It is just habit or superstition,
it keeps nothing at bay and no one safe,
yet each time heavy weather moves in

They chant the same old words
under their breath
and carefully count the boats pulled up
on the sand and fastened to the stone.

As though they didn’t know exactly
who was back on land,
who still wasn’t.

As though any fool couldn’t see
that the flimsy boats of husbands and fathers
do not stand
a chance, should the winter ocean
bring its full flexing strength around.

As though the shuffling
walk to the cottage and the apartment block,
the refusal to look back harbor-ward,
the slurping at the tea with the
wind-slammed rain at the window all night

Constituted magic,
and magic enough to alter, this time,
the trajectory of those
as good as dead out there.

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