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This is the LitNet archive (2006–2012)
Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Boeke | Books > Nuwe boeke | New books > English

David Nicoll – KwaZulu-Natal's modern-day bard

Janet van Eeden - 2011-07-14

Untitled Document

Review by Janet van Eeden

A well-known personality in KwaZulu-Natal is David Nicoll. With his unique blend of rhyming poetry this Scotsman has built up a reputation of entertaining poetry groups, Splashy Fen audiences and anyone keen to listen. He usually accompanies his poems with drumming or guitar. The Live Poets Society in Durban has had many lively evenings due to his performances. Nicoll has now compiled two collections: one of poems and reflections, and the other of pokes – poetic jokes with a saucy edge. In fact, a friend and I named him “the Hard Bard” after listening to a particularly racy recitation one night.

Nicoll has always reminded me of the travelling players of Medieval times, driven to tell his story through words and music and happy to keep crowds entertained in the way he knows best. Draughtsman by day, travelling bard by night, Nicoll has lived a colourful life, to say the least. His poems have been recited in many fora – most notably, one in honour of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday was heard on Radio 2000.

Now he has published Thoughts and Reflections, which includes a CD of his poems put to music, and a collection of poetic jokes, Pokes, which will keep many people laughing around firesides. I decided to ask Nicoll a little bit about how he came to be KZN’s most Scottish troubadour.  

David Nicoll standing outside his tree house in Kenya

Q&A with David Nicoll

David, when did you first start putting your thoughts into words in the way that you do now?

About twenty-five years ago.

You've been in South Africa for many years, but you've told me before about living in a tree in Kenya. Please tell the readers of LitNet about that experience?

I built a tree-house in Niaberi overland campsite near Eldoret in the Kenyan highlands when I was working there in 1994/5. It was built on top of three-metre poles next to a river and was so peaceful and close to nature. I built it using old packing-case wood and scrap split poles from the job I was working on and had a makuti (coconut palm) roof on top of clear plastic sheeting which was supported by branches.

Do you see yourself as a poet or a musician, or both?

I see myself as a poet first and foremost, although I love using music and djembe drumming to accompany the poetry, as it adds another dimension. It adds to the content of the poetry and gets the words out to a much larger audience.

What is the joy for you of getting your feelings down into words?

It is a blessing for me to be able to convert thoughts into poetry and in turn recite and perform it for others. In certain cases I also take matching photographs to go with the poetry. I also love writing POetic joKES – POKES – and making people laugh.

Could you tell the readers of LitNet a little bit about the black house you've built in Shongweni?

It was built by doing a cut and fill on the side of a hill, creating flat platforms and then using the excavated rock and earth to build a home utilising ancient Scottish building techniques and incorporating modern technology. The back of the cut became the back wall of the house and the walls were constructed from loose rock on the outside and inside about one metre thick at the base, with the largest rocks at the bottom and then filled with hard-packed earth. This is the building technique that my ancestors used to build on the Isle of Lewis, my birthplace. On the inside, a reinforced cage was constructed, drilled into the rock, shelves formed and covered with chicken mesh. Waste insulation sheeting was broken and placed behind the mesh and then plastered over with water-repellant cement. The framework for the roof was built using trees cut down from the land. It has been shaped in a manner to imitate nature and as a natural contour to minimise wind resistance. Trees and bushes have been planted on the outside of the platforms to try to break down the power of the wind in storm conditions. A sink, small shower, double bed and antique wood-fired stove were fitted inside, along with an electrical supply for all modern electrical conveniences. Aloes and vygies were planted on the outside to make them living walls. The land has been shaped in such a manner as to capture all the storm water for use in growing fruit and vegetables.

Do you plan to write until your dying day?

Hopefully, as long as the muse is still with me.

How would you like to be remembered when you are gone?

As an environmentalist, conservationist, designer, radical thinker and bard.