“One could say that I started as an outsider who could easily get the necessary distance from the task at hand: a young, inexperienced woman with a husband, a dog and two sons. I finish it as a widow without a dog with two young sons.”
So writes Frieda van den Heever, voice artist, songwriter and singer, in the foreword of Life is a breath long in which a collection of 100 poems about loss and consolation by some of Afrikaans’ most famous poets was recorded.
When NB-Uitgewers approached Frieda at the beginning of 2021 to compile a poetry collection that offers comfort, her understanding of loss was radically different. Still, she tackled the assignment to the best of her ability.
“It immediately made me think about what comfort really is. From my experience, comfort is not an emotion that is wished away and talked away. Comfort often has to provoke before it offers comfort. So I wanted to include poems that come from a place of compassion.
“I immediately started to gather material on the subject. I searched widely, but I was not prepared for the kind of gravity it would exert on me. It was a kind of heaviness that I could not describe.
“Loss is learning to live with something and which I didn’t feel so heavy on my body at that stage, but which I knew was the truth,” Frieda tells RNews.
She thinks back to a specific moment when she came up from her study, which is in the basement of their house, when her husband said to her: “You have to come out now, because it feels like you have brought death into our house.”
Although at that stage she lost a friend and her beloved dog to death, the experience of loss intensified when her husband, Leon Kruger, a playwright and actor, died a few months later.
“With Leon’s death, I stopped working on the volume for a very long time, but at some stage I began to realize that I had to pick up the reins again for my own sake. I knew I was going to read the poems differently than before.”
Frieda further says that a bundle like Life is a breath long a way is to put something on someone’s doorstep without trying to find the right words.
“It is something that you give as a gift to someone along with the food packages and care. It often offers much greater comfort to people to read poems that come from the mouths and hands of writers who know what it feels like to have to deal with loss.”
Some of her favorite poems in the collection are Antjie Krog’s “a longing – desperate and without end”, Breyten Breytenbach’s “26 November 1975” – from which the title of the collection comes – and several poems by Ronelda S. Kamfer, Clinton V du Plessis and Petra Muller.
The theme of loss also flows through Frieda’s music. She is currently busy with recordings for her latest album which will be released later this year. Art and music lovers will soon be able to listen to her music when she is in Clean field can be seen at the Toyota US Woordfees.
In Clean field together with a few other gifted musicians she gives life to her own songs. She interweaves songs about laughing, crying, loving and life after death with poems and stories to take audiences on a journey to all the places people actually know well.
“The production is mostly about the surprise of loss and continuing to live life with joy and finding fulfillment in a life you didn’t choose. A life that I have to try to say yes to every morning. I express my emotions through writing, especially in the form of music and lyrics.”
- Life is a breath long cost R330 (price subject to change). Click here to purchase the poetry collection from Graffiti Books.
- Tickets for Clean field is on Quicket