Societies & Exhibitions


International Watercolor Society South Africa (IWSSA)
South African Society of Artists (SASA)


Golden Eggs (2016): 1st International Watercolor Biennale, Quito, Ecuador, 28 February – 28 March 2017.

Naming the time

Among ferns made denser by winter rain
I find a toy train, maybe mislaid in busy play:
its unknown destination perhaps serving
in the first naming of love and loss.

Empty wrappers, their once loud branding faded,
the foil made soft, whisper of secret meetings
out of sight of mothers and grandmothers –
not yet knowing that absence.

The young geese overhead know
their journey, but not yet the experience.
It must be spring again.

© Sara P. Dias (6 August 2012)

The poem, Naming the time, was first published online as part of the SLiP Poetry Project for August 2012: Before you grow old and grey.

Finuala Dowling says of the poem:

Naming the Time’ by Sara P. Dias was another poem that stood out for me.  Like those already mentioned, this poem uses real artefacts – faded sweet wrappers, a discarded toy – to hint subtly at indefinable aspects of the passing of time.

2 poems

Waiting for the bus to stop

We hear the passing of a loud bass pulse,
and smile in recognition of a mutual vexation.

In such proximity we can follow lines
beside the eyes to the veins below the epidermis –

not just imagine the flat of one another’s eyes
behind comments online.

Our thoughts soften as we listen more closely;
sighs and laughs carried on the southeaster aerate us and

for a moment  we quiver at the same frequency,
altered and shimmering above a long Karoo road.

© Sara P. Dias (June 2012)

From armchairs in retirement homes

Seasoned travellers follow the settling sun:
Desiccating moths cornered with the dust.

© Sara P. Dias (June 2012)

Two poems, Waiting for the bus to stop and From armchairs in retirement homes, were included in the SLiP June poetry workshop: Return to the masters.

Finuala Dowling says of the poems:

Sara P. Dias has written about a moment of cross-cultural and perhaps inter-generational reconciliation.  What I really liked about the poem was the close attention it pays to ears and eyes – particularly the latter, and how

In such proximity we can follow lines
beside the eyes to the veins below the epidermis –

not just imagine the flat of one another’s eyes
behind comments online.

The last lines of Dias’s poem are satisfying too: ‘altered and shimmering above a long Karoo road’ is a beautiful ending — all our
worries and prejudices transmuted into a road trip.

Her gift for compression is equally evident in her image poem:

From armchairs in retirement homes

Seasoned travellers follow the settling sun:
Desiccating moths cornered with the dust.

Living unit

The widow next door bitches that the tenants in the house behind her
jump her six-foot fence,  cross her yard, and then jump the prefab
fence in the back to get to those cheap rooms they rent, can you believe it.

Too far to walk around the block like the rest of us. They know
there’s no husband, so it’s okay to take a shortcut through
her property. Now she’s barb-wired the fence. It’s an eyesore.

She flaps her hands about when she whinges. She explodes her Ps
and drags out her Gs and Rs and I want to decline the offer of tea.
I feel a little guilty sometimes, but dear god, so many slights!

My cat scratching in her garden, the tenants’ boy
who keeps bouncing a ball off that rattling fence …
He’s going to bring it down, she says every time.

On Saturday mornings, the only time we sleep late,
she tears off the branches that reach over the fence from
our garden. Who can sleep through that?

She says only onward.  She tells her depressed children –
who can blame them? – not to re-tread the past, but she never stops
telling you how awful her husband was. Always the martyr.

You’ve never seen such a clean and shiny house. I knocked on her door early
one morning looking for Tomcat. Her hair was in curlers and she’d already
tidied the house and she was busy putting on make-up. I have better things to do.

No sense of design, just the odd dried-out calabash and copper jug.
And that bunch of old proteas! And the furniture is covered in plain cream –
the carpet is beige, the walls are white. It is all so vanilla.

Apparently the kitchen floors are sterilised daily. Once a week she moves
the furniture about and vacuums the carpets with arms pumping like pistons.
Our bedroom looks straight into her living room – no net curtains to trap dust.

She says she finds it therapeutic to sit down and polish
the marks and scratches on her copper pots. They all gleam.

You can lift the rug in such a house and find nothing.

© Sara P. Dias (May 2012)

The poem, Living Unit, was chosen for the SLiP (Stellenbosch Literary Project) May 2012 poetry workshop: Left out of the Republic.

Finuala Dowling said of the poem:

Two poems that engaged me but that I wanted a little more restrained were Sara P.Dias’ ‘Living unit’ and Stephen Roberts’ ‘Watching and Waiting’.   In very different ways we are drawn to the characters in these poems, but because the poems are a little crowded, there’s not quite enough space for us to move into these worlds and secretly observe.

A daffodil on the grave

The daffodil offends me.
It trumpets in gaudy confidence
its spring renewal.
It knows nothing of a loss so loud
that it compels hands to mouth
in constraint of a serrating sorrow.

The daffodil offends me with its
seasonal rot and strut –
unmindful of the commemorative
scratching at the splinter that remains.

© Sara P. Dias (April 2012)

The poem, A daffodil on the grave, was chosen for the SLiP (Stellenbosch Literary Project) April 2012 poetry workshop.

Finuala Dowling said of the poem:

I was startled by Sara P Dias’s opening gambit, ‘The daffodil offends me’, …” and of the poets chosen for this months workshop, she says, “It was as though I had been sitting dully alone at a party when suddenly ten animated, imaginative, articulate, amusing and cerebral people swept me up in their midst.

Pluto’s Children

Pinpoints of light prickle the belly
of the night: fireworks blaze to actualize
a new year. The horizon arches
its back in an ecstasy of excess.

Flares follow the curve of a distended
abdomen to its end in a slow gaze:
a body smaller than Pluto is caught
in the after- flash of an old day, staring.

© Sara P. Dias (January 2012)

Pluto’s children’ was first published online by the SLiP Poetry Project: Black armband day for poetry, January 2012.

Finuala Dowling said of the poem:

Sara P. Dias in ‘Pluto’s Children’ and J.D Warner in ‘This Year’s Resolution in Polite Conversation’ offer an original take on the old theme of time.


The Silver One

Roots netted by the coral
and the bristling acacia,
the leaves of the birch tree,
serrated in the image of her seed,
stand out among the scalloped and feathery:
foredoomed to project a picturesque
Northern clime, rust and red
set in at the advent of a
Southern pubescent spring.

She is denied the
the rapture of young leaves
in their rub and slip
against one another,
frisked about in the spring breeze:
sap presses through her skin
as if after a winter thaw, dries,
tightening it, making it inflexible,
so that when her buds erupt bright

over a frosty winter, she feels that
she must be more,
like the naked coral tree with its
flamboyant red tips in spring.
She flares into foliage amid the rimed
trees of a southern hemisphere, a crown
of arched branches, dripping leaves,
resembling that summer’s weeping
willow and drooping karee.

© Sara P. Dias (November 2011)

The Silver One’, was first published online in response to the SLiP Poetry Project: Poetry by numbers, November 2011.

Finuala Dowling said of the poem:

Sara P.Dias managed to make me care about an out-of-synch silver birch tree in her ‘The Silver One’ – quite an achievement since I am usually wary of nature poetry.


The Trio

You speak of converting digital to analogue
and bi-wiring the speakers for
more enveloping frequencies.

Draped warm by a cat and surround sound
my voice strains the lines of a poem
above Keith Jarrett’s crows and swoons,

and is further sifted through your
praise of high fidelity,
until it drifts low and heavy into a sigh.

© Sara P. Dias (November 2011)

The Trio’, was first published online in response to the SLiP Poetry Project: Poetry by numbers, November 2011.

Finuala Dowling said of the poem:

Sara’s ‘The Trio’ plays delightfully with the idea of three-ness and cross-purposes.


Waiting for a sign from the gods

As a very green writer, advanced in age and with no academic credibility, I recently asked a professor if he could write an article about what poetry is, what it isn’t anymore, what it has become and, most importantly, what it shouldn’t be. My questions were born out of a deep frustration with the different signals I feel I get from especially the South African literary community. Also, teaching myself writing without an academic support structure means that I’m constantly groping about:  a play by Sophocles here, a modern poet there, and a haiku over yonder. I grab what few books on poetry I can find in our local library or in bookstores.  Both lack quantity and variety in the poetry department, so my options are limited.

When Prof. replied that there were no answers to the questions I posed, but that he considered them important and felt I should write about my dilemma with SA poetry and my own sense of poetry, I thought, “Aikôna, Sir, you’ll be throwing me to the wolves.” I’ve witnessed ferocious exchanges between seasoned writers and I have no desire to be at the receiving end. I don’t speak Academic and at this stage of my self-imposed learning I don’t know enough to argue.

On reflection I realised that I asked these questions because I want to understand the essence of poetry in the hope of becoming a better writer, and, from what I’ve read so far, agonizing over ‘what is poetry’ is part of every writer’s journey. I’ve been waiting for a ping moment that would indicate that I’ve come to a deep understanding of poetry, maybe in the form of a sign from the gods of poetry.

I looked up the word “essence” in my Collins Concise English Dictionary and found the following definitions:

1. a perfect  or complete form of something

2. Philosophy. the unchanging and unchangeable inward nature of something

The immutability of this definition exposed my faulty thinking about something that in fact is never static, but always changing because human thought and language are forever adapting. There can therefore be no fixed form of poetry.

Perhaps even more importantly, poetry must happen in the context of on-going human development and achievement, else it would become predictable; and isn’t one characteristic of a poem that it makes something unexpected of the familiar? The word poetry itself is based on the Greek word for doer or creator, and creators keep on finding inspiration in the old and the new to produce something different or improved. Also, by now there must be as many definitions of poetry as there are published poets and critics.

Subjectivity and Context

I may feel that some poetry reads like prose, that it is not distilled or compressed enough, that it looks like a laundry list of emotions, or that it isn’t “turning from the literal” as Harold Bloom would say, but in the context of the information age it may be an effective way of communicating poetic thoughts to readers who don’t have the time to decipher mysteries or open a dictionary.

In a way we’ve come full circle: performance poetry is on the rise, and it relies on sound and gestures, punchiness and catchiness, which must be similar to the way the ancient poets recited poems from memory. This from the Wikipedia on the history of poetry:

In preliterate societies, these forms of poetry were composed for, and sometimes during, performance. There was a certain degree of fluidity to the exact wording of poems. The introduction of writing fixed the content of a poem to the version that happened to be written down and survive. Written composition meant poets began to compose for an absent reader. The invention of printing accelerated these trends. Poets were now writing more for the eye than for the ear.

This reminded me that poetry is meant to be spoken, not just read. In The Art of Reading Poetry, I learnt that Harold Bloom, American writer and literary critic, memorised Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and that he still recites it on those days when he has to “battle depression or adversity, or just the consequences of old age.” (Harold Bloom, The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer through Robert Frost (New York: HarperCollins Publishers), p. 19).

Because I can barely remember two lines of my own writing, I saw this as a challenge: if he at his age (80+) can remember the whole poem, then surely I can memorise it. I left one of my anthologies open on Ulysses and every morning I would try to retain an extra line. At some stage I managed one third of the poem without checking the book, but this quickly regressed into choppy lines once I gave up the discipline and allowed life to interfere.

Reciting bits of Ulysses out loud gave me a deeper understanding of that yearning for youthful endeavour, that stubborn clinging to ideas of adventure, courage and lively companionship, that urge to keep advancing, no matter what, and how miserable a life it is, in the end, to be confined in any way. But more than that, I became aware of how quiet and graceful the lines are even while describing strong feelings like despair:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rush unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

The Quality of Inevitable Phrasing

In The Best Poems of the English Language, Harold Bloom states that “Intuitively, Tennyson understood what poetry was: argument that could not be separated from song, gesture, dance, and the rhythms of a unique but representative individual’s breath-soul.” (Harold Bloom, The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer through Robert Frost (New York: HarperCollins Publishers), p. 593). Having said that, he also talks about the “quality of the inevitable that is central to great poetry.” (p. 19).

I think I recognize what he means by “unavoidable wording rather than merely predictable diction” (p. 20): to exercise control over expression to such an extent that lines which are powerful and memorable seem effortless and natural. I’ll quote from the poets I’m getting to know better; first from Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens:

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.

I never tire of reading the above. I’m in awe of the simplicity of a first line that contains so much. I feel the soft folds of the dressing-gown, the sedateness of the sun, and it makes me long for the smell of oranges and coffee. I imagine the cockatoo depicted on the rug in full flight in a far-off jungle. And then my thoughts darken on the concept of religion, that “ancient sacrifice”, and I think of those awful Sunday mornings when my sister and I had to walk kilometres to church, not because our parents were devout, but because it was the social norm. Easter weekends were especially depressing.

My next example of what I consider magical phrasing is from Repose of Rivers by Hart Crane:

… There beyond the dykes
I heard wind flaking sapphire, like this summer,
And willows could not hold more steady sound.

The “wind flaking sapphire” cuts me every time, and I wonder if the poet is referring to a perverse sense of companionship that he finds in a steady stream of pain. I think many of us have a familiar named Sorrow warming our necks.

The following is from The Listener by John Burnside:

… Summer now: an older mode of sleep;
and this, the running dream that follows stone
and fence wire, digging in
for what remains of snow-melt and the last
good rain, the low road
peopled with bone-white figures: not
the living, in this aftermath of grass,
and not the dead we mourn, in empty kirks
or quiet kitchens, halfway through the day,
but something like the absence of ourselves
from our own lives,
some other luck
that would not lead
to now.

(The Listener by John Burnside, The Paris Review, July 12, 2011)

These lines appeal to me because I see a universal truth in “not the dead we mourn … but something like the absence of ourselves from our own lives …” and I can think of no better way to say it.

Below is an example of a keenly observed moment captured in the amber of a haiku:

pink river
a heron pulls away
to the stars

John Barlow

(British Haiku Society)

There is effort in the pulling away from what is in all probability yet another beautiful sunset over a river. The heron might be pulling away from the mundane in order to discover the unknown.

The following haiku made me smile. There is humour in the disgust and self-disgust at being alone in a sushi bar in the middle of winter when one yearns for warmth and company.

Mid-winter evening,
alone at the sushi bar—
just me and this eel

Billy Collins

(Modern Haiku, Volume 35.3, Autumn 2004)

The few poems above represent what I feel is inevitable phrasing. I have many more to discover, especially in South Africa where we have so many languages and other forms of poetry, for example praise poetry.

Some poets write only for fellow academics and poets, others believe that poetry should be accessible to all. I’m grateful to the latter, but the Internet does make understanding difficult poetry easier.

We have podcasts and YouTube now, and maybe in the near future we will have HoloVID projections of poetry readings and performances in our living rooms and schools; and with it I have no doubt that a new kind of poem will emerge.

My conclusion is that I will wait forever for signs to descend from the gods. In the meantime I can work at crafting an inevitable phrase.

© Sara P. Dias (October 2011)

A Sentencing

What soundings we take by chiming
metre to meaning and sound to the senses,
we glean from lines weighted
at the end; an appeal to the curious
to find significance,
true or fanciful,
in their depth, but in conclusion
a wordsmith relies on intuition and ear –
prescription be damned:

in echoes over time
we plumb a line’s measure
as the signals traced
turn and ping in memory.

© Sara P. Dias (October 2011)