Connor Cogill

Born in Cape Town at the turn of the century, Connor Cogill is a queer poet, journalist and student of colour. Connor graduated from Stellenbosch University, a highway and a few farmroads from home, majoring in English and philosophy while scribbling poetry in his notebooks. Connor spent much of his suburban childhood climbing and running into things head-first – he now uses poetry to do just the same, scaling ideas of memory, identity, isolation and geography as bound by the strangeness of fresh adulthood and a prospective future in or out of Africa. Connor has previously been shortlisted for the New Contrast National Poetry Prize and longlisted for the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award, and more of his work can be found in The Johannesburg Review of Books, New Contrast and Jack Journal, while Connor himself can usually be found in his backyard, tweeting inappropriately or ranting about reality television.

Judges’ Comments

Connor Cogill has a very fine eye for the narrative of a poem, seen, for instance, in Continent without a Name He brings a finely structured and almost delicate poetic sense to large, often tragic themes, such as the aftermath of colonialism and abandonment in love, as well as an almost redemptive attention to the ordinary.

Continent Without a Name

Today, as we flit by
the graveyard on our way home, I see
the grey headstones dyed canary-yellow
by sunset, and think of the grandmother
who I have never met, my father’s mother,
who stands poised in greyscale on the wall,
and warm in Father’s memories. I think how
lucky you are, whose ancestors are buried
in the family plot. You whose lineage is
exact, century-old family portraits which
hang lopsided in the family home. Say, This
is my Great Great Great Grandfather, who
fought in a war. Say, This home has been
in our family for generations. I will not ask
whose war. I will not ask whose land. I will
tell a charming story, how I was born in
the backseat of a car, because the nurses
didn’t know shit, and sent my bursting mother
home. This car seat I bless, call my capital,
my country. These polyesters my hospital.
Mother’s fingers the midwife, guiding me
from womb to winter, the cold of August
night which blew heavy at the window.
And as I think this, the graveyard passing
in a yolky ribbon of colour, I recall how
Grandma has no headstone, no one place to
mark her resting bones, or highlight golden
at dusk, or leave carnations atop. How she
worked her fingers rough, but
could not afford the final chunk of stone.
Photograph in lieu of headstone. My parents,
station-wagon in lieu of hospi-plan. I ask
if you know what it means, you whose wars
hang on the wall rather than flow through
your veins. To call a car your continent. Or
be buried without a name.

Revisionist History

There are wounds I do not press
like the question of my dead uncles.
My mother only tells me her brother
liked to play with her lipstick sometimes;
I wonder if in her gentle way there is something
she is trying to say / My father only tells me
his brother loved spanspek split in half
and devoured straight out the rind –
I imagine that’s how you would eat the sun.
I do not ask anything more not only
because I am selfless
but because I am selfish, because I do not want
to know which doors have been locked to me /
Because in some version of history I am
the dead uncle, my life a question

Boy Meets Stairs

So he’s beautiful, but he’s late;
late to the party and late to your life.

He throws back a shot of vodka
and your eyes dance round
his Adam’s apple, bobbing
up and down his throat, like

an elevator between levels
up to his irises, the flecks of green and gold
in them. Now you’re in the backseat of his car
and he’s beautiful, but he’s early.

Early, because you’re not ready for boys
with elevator throats and wanderlust hands,
searching your body
for something that just isn’t there;

but you will offer it up anyway, because
you’re tired of nothing being on time.

Three shots later and night falls.
He drops you off on the sidewalk,
greets you the same way you do
a passerby in the street.

“Just another stranger at the ball.
Just another night out on the town.”

His car is a carriage turned to pumpkin.
Your mind is a glass slipper on a staircase.

The emptiness is on time.