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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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NEL, Adéle. "The poem is play" - aspects of play in a number of T.T. Cloete's poems. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2015, vol.55, n.2, pp.188-204. ISSN 2224-7912.

The rationale of this investigation is that the poetry of TT Cloete can be approached as continuous play - play that involves the author, text and reader in the literary discourse, but that can also be read as a specific poetic conception. Cloete raised explicit verse-external opinions with regard to play, for example: "The poem is play, even body-play. " (Freely translated.) Although Cloete made the statement within the context of the creation of a specific poem, it is, however, a poetic perception that could be applied to his complete oeuvre. This poetic and word game feeds among others into reference play and especially intertextual play. Johan Huizinga's thesis (in Homo Ludens. A study of the Play-Element of Culture) that poetry is play and born in play, is also confirmed in numerous poems, because the notion of play relates to the creation of a poem, as well as the existing poem. In this article different facets of play are explored with regard to a number of selected poems and poem analyses in the poetry of Cloete. A characteristic of play in poetry is the playful character as attitude to life. It is, however, important to note that this playful attitude to life frequently can be typecast as "play-play in all seriousness" (freely translated from "Oordag" in Driepas/ The origin of the playful attitude to life is with Cloete, partially theological in nature. God plays with man and also allows man to play with Him as is obvious from the poem "job die tweede" (Cloete 1985:47) in which the narrator identifies with Job and in which he argues with God. As a consequence of the playful attitude to life, Cloete's poetic prowess is indeed situated as dynamic play, but often not an ideological innocent play. Play, poetical prowess and power relations are explicitly verbalised in the poem, "balspel" (Cloete 2007:110). The key idea, which is put forward as a thesis in this poem, is "the poet is always a batsman". Being a poet is, therefore, equated to a ball game and the poet as the defendant in this game finds himself in a tussle with the dynamics and the wilfulness of language. In this poem the whole poetic procede is in the light of the poetic play - a play of words, of repetition and of sound and echoes. There are furthermore two aspects of play and the playful attitude to life that are explored in the article: the fulfilled person in his love play (which can once again be equated to poetic play), and the possibility of an incantation or the liberating function of play that is aimed at the temporary abolishment of man's existential fear of life or his fear of death. Both these facets illustrate the ambiguous essential nature of play, as well as its underlying seriousness, in spite of its playful attitude to life. Huizinga (1952:44) points out that in the Germanic languages it is obvious to equate play and eroticism (as well as play and strife). He also mentions that the play of love is the purest form of all forms of play, as it demonstrates the characteristics of play the most clearly. Therefore, the statement can be made that eroticism, language/poetry and play have many aspects in common. This statement is confirmed in the poem "Zeus vandag" (Cloete 1989:14). This poem has play, eroticism and language as important thematic premises. Apart from this, this text has other texts (among others, also a Dutch text) as source texts - intertextual play is, therefore, also relevant. Masking, identification and obfuscation are, for example, typical play elements, which are also stressed with regard to enumeration. The erotic play also features in language, words, the poetic process - a relationship that is confirmed by the closing lines of the poem with the explicit poetic gist: Die poësie laat hom geld met delikate geweld. (Freely translated as Poetry asserts itself with delicate violence.) There are different perceptions with regard to the handling of death in Cloete's poetry, but there is one common denominator: despite the grim seriousness of the given the form of play is always recognisable, because this play on life and death has a liberating effect because of the possibility of an incantation. Cloete ends the poem "Ewigheid-en Kroeks" (Cloete 1982:75), for example, with the expressed longing to stay at home for one day to play "cheating the eternity" ("dat ons Kroek-die-Ewigheid speel"). The poet attempts, however, to also cheat Eternity by means of the poetic word and poetic play that manifest itself in different ways in his oeuvre. In the first place it manifests itself in the urge to identify himself - there is an identification with the experience and handling of the concept of death by fellow artists and predecessor poets, and by means of this the own painful experience is objectified and reconstructed. In the second instance Cloete also utilises intertextual play to process the death experience in and through poetry. He uses texts of co- and predecessor poets as source texts to nuance and to put in relief the own experience of death. By means of references, puns, juxtapositioning and citation he plays with great effect back onto specific death poems. The paradox of play, however, manifests itself in the fact that the poem-as-play anticipates a wordy incantation possibility, which is aimed at the temporary abolition of man's existential fear of life and death, and/or the relentless assault of oblivion and death, but which also can undermine the possibility of an incantation.

Keywords : T.T. Cloete; Huizinga; play and poetry; intertextual play; play and poetics; play and eroticism; play and death.

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