Intimate Lightning: Sydney Clouts: poet


Dan Wylie
Rhodes University


Intimate Lightning is the first book-length study of a poet who, though still frequently anthologised, has fallen into some obscurity. Yet Sydney Clouts (1926-1981) was acknowledged by many during his lifetime as the strongest poet of his generation, albeit a difficult and elusive one. His Cape Town-inspired poetry fizzes with energy, an adventurous vivacity of image, a capacity for delight, an authentic humility, yet an authoritative sense of cerebral depth. Reading Clouts attentively is still both a poetic delight and a heady intellectual challenge.

This study is biographically-framed, but is centrally an appreciation of the poetry: “The work is the thing!” Clouts himself urged. The exploration is supported by interviews with family, friends and colleagues, but draws most importantly on archival sources: his letters, notebooks, and some 1700 pages of drafts that illuminate his methods. It unpacks his essential themes, follows up his wide and eclectic reading, explores his relation to the troubled politics of the apartheid era, and offers an explanation of the poetry’s philosophical underpinnings. Intimate Lightning finally pays proper attention to a man who devoted himself unremittingly to poetry.

Book order form

Preface: “The Work is the thing”  
A note on referencing  
Introduction: “Fragile resilient life”  
1 . Beginnings  
2.  Juvenilia
3. Anxieties and influences  
4. “The Beginning” 
5. New soundings  
6. An impossibly difficult move  
7. Publishing One Life  
8. The “Hotknife” affair  
9. One Life, the critical reception  
10. A dangerous country  
11. “Grahamstown is like Paris!” 
12. “The Violent Arcadia” 
13. Pavements grey  
14. “Wat die Hart van Vol Is” 
15. Endings  
16 . Part and particle  
17. The pebble outside 
18 .   . . . and Thomas Traherne  
19 . Coastlines toughly disputing  
20 . Mountainous weather  
21 . Animal kingdoms  
22 . Long and wandering forests  
23 . Peripateia  
24 . Darken us, lighten us  
25 . Silence and song
26. Violence in Arcadia  
27. Love’s assonance  
28. Odd and strange characters  
29. Afar in the desert  
30. Bartholomeu Diaz and the advent of imperialism  
31. “Juan”  
32 . The decline of the West  
33 . “Intimate Lightning”  
34 . To write like Mondrian  
35 . “Residuum”  
36 . To speak like Skelm!  
37. The dry political gaze  
38 . Heraclitus’ fire  
39 . Jewish poet  
40 . Colonial Romantic 
41 .  . . . or Modernist?  
42 . Phenomenologist  
43 . The self in the ecosystem  
44 . Beyond metaphor  
Epilogue: “Seahorn messiah”

Author Biography

Dan Wylie, Rhodes University

Prof Dan Wylie is attached to Rhodes University. His research interests include white writing on Shaka; African literature; Southern African poetry; twentieth-century prose and poetry; spirituality and poetry; and ecological issues in literature.He has published widely, including several articles on white writing on Shaka, and on Zimbabwean literature. His book, `Savage Delight: White Myths of Shaka' was published in 2000. He is also a published poet. His collection 'The Road Out' appeared in 1996, winning the 1998 Ingrid Jonker and Olive Schreiner prizes.

Cover for Intimate Lightning: Sydney Clouts: poet
April 19, 2018