I lick away the blood from the gash on my hand, press harder against the barbed wire fence. Blood. Pain. They help me feel alive. Every day I stand here, stare at the abandoned house. I turn and look over the camp. Smuts is under the awning of his command tent. His head turning this way and that way looking for something. Or someone.
'You would like to go there wouldn't you,' Smuts says when he catches us looking at the house. 'Don't be stupid, you go there you die. You go past the barbed wire fence you die.'
A woman disappears each day. I don't know if anyone else has noticed -- lethargy has descended. I know the heat is overwhelming but they must be drugging us, keeping us docile until they take us somewhere else.
When I asked Smuts why there are only women in the camp, he said 'Don't be stupid, all the men are fighting'. You should be fighting too, we all should be fighting I wanted to say. Fear kept me quiet.
Smuts has found what he is looking for. He gets to his feet, lumbers across the dusty field towards me.
Kerry Hammerton has published two volumes of poetry, These Are the Lies I Told You and The Weather Report, and has had poems published in numerous anthologies and magazines. She participated in and won SSDA's 8th #WriterPrompt Event, Restricted Area.
In 2015 you spearheaded a social media project under the hashtags #readwomen #womenwriters. Can you tell our followers about the project and why you did it?
KERRY: I wanted to do something positive in Women’s Month [August is Women's Month in South Africa] and I love reading and writing. The two things combined in a project where I asked women writers (mainly South African) to recommend a book by another woman writer. I blogged and tweeted these posts almost daily – I had 28 recommendations. I hoped that it would inspire people to read more women writers. My own to-read list has also been extended! The idea was picked up by the Good Book Appreciation Society (a Facebook book club) for their October newsletter – it has had a longer life than just August which is wonderful.
Having your poems published opens a poet up to a certain amount of exposure and vulnerability. With poetry, there is an unpeeling of the inner self that goes beyond what fiction writers generally experience. How did you deal with the scrutiny of your inner self?
KERRY: Before my first collection was published I spent a lot of time in my therapist’s office feeling anxious about that exposure – particularly because I write some erotic poetry. After my collection was published I realised that the people who know and care about me know that inner-self anyway. They are the people who matter. What I write (even though it is poetry) is just words and in no way defines who I am, or even who I want to be. Once a poem is ‘out there’ it no longer belongs to the poet and people will interpret it according to their own inner selves and moral code. That has nothing to do with me – this has been very liberating.
You also co-authored Sugar Free, a non-fiction book about sugar addiction. Why was writing a non-fiction book about sugar important to you?
KERRY: I am a sugar and carb addict. Through my own journey to health I learnt a number of important things about my own eating disorder. I also learnt a number of important tools and techniques to deal with my addiction. I wanted to share those with other people. I met Karen Thomson (co-author) through her sugar and carb addiction programme and suggested to her that we write a book. One of the readers wrote to us and said ‘Thank you. I realise for the first time that I am a sugar addict. I didn’t understand my own behaviour. I thought that I was alone.’ That was really powerful. The book has given individuals the language to talk about their addiction as well as ideas on how to deal with it.
What drew you to participating in #WriterPrompt?
KERRY: I am currently completing an MA in Creative Writing through Rhodes University in Grahamstown. The first part of the MA is devoted to course work – we wrote short stories, essays, drama, book reviews etc. It helped me to understand that I can successfully write genres other than poetry and non-fiction. The #WriterPrompt looked like a fun way to extend my writing repertoire. The 200 word limit is very constraining but makes you think about how to get a story across in as few words as possible. The idea of getting feedback was also attractive.
Lastly, what are your future writing goals and hopes?
KERRY: I am currently completing my MA thesis – a collection of poetry. I also have a few other ideas meandering around in my head but they will have to restrain themselves until the thesis is complete. I would like to go on a writers retreat / residency sometime in the next two years. To have dedicated writing time and the luxury of support sounds like heaven!
On Kerry's Bedside Table
Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli. One of the books recommended during the August #ReadWomen initiative. A story about a women writer living in Mexico who reflects back on her life in New York when she was single and childless. It also reveals her obsession with another poet. It is a spare, delightful and complex read.
Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution edited by Alix Olson. If you want to understand what women (and who the women are) in the hip-hop and spoken word field are writing this is the collection to read. It is funny, feminist and very insightful.
My non-fiction read has been Masha Gessin’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. A scary look at how Russia started on the path of democracy and how it was destroyed by Putin. Sobering. It has made me very thankful for the democratic and judicial processes in South Africa.
Kerry Hammerton lives in Cape Town, South Africa. She has published poetry in various South African and UK literary journals and anthologies, most recently Hallelujah for 50ft Women (Bloodaxe Books 2015). Her debut poetry collection These are the lies I told you (Modjaji) was published in 2010 and her second collection The Weather Report in 2014. She is also the co-author of the self-help book Sugar Free (Jonathan Ball 2015). www.kerryhammerton.com
Participate in #WriterPrompt by following Short Story Day Africa on Facebook.
Interview by Tiah Beautement