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Intimate Lightning: Sydney Clouts, poet

“”[T]he purest poetic talent to have worked in English in South Africa since Roy Campbell.” – J M Coetzee

Intimate Lightning is the first book-length study of a poet who, though still frequently anthologised, has fallen into some obscurity. Yet the Cape Town-inspired 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 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 essentially 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. 


“Dan Wylie’s book on Sydney Clouts’s poetry is one of the most perceptive studies ever written of a South African poet. Appropriately, it is a wholly illuminating reading of one of our greatest former poets by one of the very best of the present.” – Professor Emeritus Malvern van Wyk Smith

“Intimate Lightning is an exemplary study of Sydney Clouts’s poetry, and also provides a great deal of biographical and historical detail that has not hitherto been in the public domain, and never in such a synthesised and comprehensive form. The book is also superbly written and critically reliable. It is an admirable scholarly work that carries its learning lightly.” – Professor Craig Mackenzie, University of Johannesburg

“It is politically and intellectually inappropriate to publish this book” –Anonymous reviewer

UNISA Press, 2018. 280pp. ISBN 978-1-86888-977-8 ...