South Africa is a complicated, contradictory, and haunted place. Len Verwey captures the trajectory of life in such a place, dealing with childhood, war, marriage, divorce, and death. He explores the challenges posed by place and history, shared identities, deep embeddedness in the continent, and the legacies of violence and exclusion, as well as beauty. Verwey offers poems that speak of uncertainty, ask questions, and challenge simplistic and scapegoating narratives that become so tempting when living in a society undergoing intense social and economic pressure. Dealing less with factual or political explanations of war and more with the compulsion of war, in particular, “maleness” and violence, Verwey pulls the reader into another world, opening eyes to the “crisis of men,” the violence against women, children, and the foreign in a country where conflicts are again escalating. In a Language That You Know strives to understand the complexity of one of the most unequal, violent, yet most vibrant societies in the world.
Poems in this book plunge you, without warning, from a mattress on the floor, a village bus stop, or a fishermen’s boat into the depth of human aloneness. . . . Len Verwey writes: ‘You need to breathe / in stone, breathe out a flower.’ He accomplishes this mission in his book: breathing in history and landscape, he breathes out powerful, fervent lyricism.Valzhyna Mort, author of Collected Body and Factory of Tears: A Lannan Literary Selection