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Moira Lovell PDF Print E-mail

Moira Lovell

Moira Lovell (1951-    ), a former Head of English at The Wykeham Collegiate, private girls’

school in Pietermaritzburg, has published four poetry collections: Speech after Long Silence (2017), Not all of Me is Dust (2004), Departures (1997)and Out of the Mist (1994) She is also the author of four plays and a number of published short stories. Her play, Bedtime Stories was awarded the Olive Schreiner Award for Drama (playwriting) in 1999.

Speech after Long Silence, reviewed in The Witness was described as ‘meticulously crafted. While the subjects may often be mundane – monkeys in suburban gardens; shopping on pensioners’ day; rubbish bags by the side of the road; a visit to the aquarium; ageing or travel, her take on them is never predictable. Some are deeply moving: many are funny.’

Following the publication of Not all of Me is Dust in 2004 Lovell was interviewed by Margaret von Klemperer, arts editor of The Witness. The following is an edited extract:

"For Moira Lovell, writing poetry is a private process. Until she feels a poem is finished, she shows it to no-one. And once it is completed to her satisfaction, she never goes back to rework it. “I can’t rewrite,” she says. “All the energy is over and I can’t go back.”


Lovell says the way a line, a word or a phrase comes into her mind is the wonder of poetry, and when it happens, it fills her with both gratitude and dread. Dread because, until she has dealt with it, she has a sense of something unfinished. The first poem in the book, Flight, came to her like that. On the first day of a holiday, flying overseas, she woke up in a plane full of sleeping people, and thought of Juliet waking in the Capulet’s tomb in Romeo and Juliet with Romeo lying dead beside her. She had the idea, and worked it up into a poem after the holiday was over. “I don't think one asks to write,” she says. “One is compelled to do it.”

Although Lovell says she works hard at finding her own poetic voice and is determined not to walk in anyone else's tracks, she does acknowledge a debt to Douglas Livingstone who was another writer of polished and crafted poetry. “The Russian poet Joseph Brodsky wrote that a poem is like an aeroplane on a huge wide sky - every bolt and rivet matters. It is so little compared with prose that every word and punctuation mark - or lack of one - is vital. It's not just guts spewing or sloganeering,” she says.

“In writing something, you are documenting little pockets of life and things that have happened. A diary does the same, but it is raw, unworked. In the crafting you are getting away from the immediacy and sentimentality and turning it into a public artefact,” she says.



Grandfather Clock: Restored

for Tiki and Spick

They had put the old man

In the corner

Where he stood very grave

In his dark brown suit;

I thought I should shake hands

But his were occupied

Feeling the way around his face

As if to know it better.

We turned from him then,

The anachronism,

And closed into our conversations;

He, though, insistently

Chimed in

With what could have been rebukes

Or simple reassurances

That he is still alive

And serving time


Cretan women

Wear the rippling wine-dark sea

In their hair

They are wrapped

In the skins of olives

Their teeth smile white

As sea-salt;

Their men are blue-eyed

And bardic

Brooding on barstools

Basking on beaches;

While pale tourists

Wander like cretins

Through the labyrinthine streets

Of Heraklion, Réthimnon, Chania

Lost among epsilons and upsilons

Somewhere between alpha and omega

Found at the airport

Dusted by Knossos

Dipped in the Med

Rewritten as poetry.



Collections of Poetry published:

Out of the Mist (Snailpress, 1994)

Departures (Snailpress, 1997)

Not All of Me is Dust: (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2004)

Speech after long silence (Otterley Press, 2017)

Poetry published in the following journals: Contrast, New Contrast, Sesame, New Coin, Illuminations, Fidelities, Carapace, Stanzas.

Poetry published in the following anthologies:

Soundings (1989) ed. Douglas Reid Skinner (Carafour Press)

Signposts (1989) ed. Sally-Ann Murray (The Mandla Series)

Breaking the Silence (1990) ed. Cecily Lockett (Ad. Donker)

The Heart in Exile (1996) ed. Ian Tromp and Leon de Kock (Penguin)

Wordscapes(1997) ed. Robin Malan (OUP)

The Best of Snailpress (2000) ed. Robin Malan (David Philip)

Writing Light (2006) ed. C. du Toit and S. van Straaten (NaSou Via Africa)

Birds in Words (2006) ed. Gus Ferguson and Tony Morphet (Umuzi)

For Rhino in a Shrinking World (2013) ed. Harry Owen

Short Stories published in the following:

Firetalk (1990) ed. Marcia Leveson (Carrafour Press)

The New South Africa: Writing for a Changing Society (1992) ed. Stephen Cooper (Systime, Denmark)

No Place Like ... and other stories by South African Women Writers (1999) selected by Robin Malan (David Philip, Cape Town and Sterling Press, Delhi)

Opbrud (2000) ed. Chris van Wyk in association with Danish publishers AKS/Hjulet

Post-Traumatic: New South African Writing (2003) ed. Chris van Wyk (Botsotso)


1990: Won the ENACT playwright of the Year Award for The Entertainer

1995: Won the COSAW-SAFM Soundscapes Radio Play Competition for Bedtime Stories

1996: Bedtime Stories broadcast on SAFM, directed by Jack Mullen

1997: Oneironautics or The Art of Dreaming broadcast on SAFM, directed by Hillary Keough

2000: Awarded the Olive Schreiner Award for Drama (Playwriting) for Bedtime Stories

2005: Bedtime Stories performed in Sydney, Australia, directed by John Haigh


Of literary fiction, poetry and literary biography for The Witness, since 1981