Megan Hall was born and grew up in Cape Town, and studied English and Latin at the University of Cape Town. Since 1995, she has worked in the publishing industry and is currently the publishing manager for dictionaries and school literature in English at Oxford University Press, Southern Africa. She has edited poetry and short stories for New Contrast, a South African literary journal. Her first collection, Fourth Child, is a haunting, disturbing, deeply moving collection of thirty poems, many of which have been previously published in local literary magazines. The collection was recently awarded the prestigious 2008 Ingrid Jonker Prize for a debut collection published in English in 2006 and 2007.
Megan Hall’s work shines with clarity and feeling. A strong narrative flow links the poems of Fourth Child in a coherent and purposeful way, giving the collection a novelistic feel, while retaining the intensity and heightened language of poetry.
The collection begins with ‘Gunshot’, a stark and unromanticised account of the suicide of the narrator’s mother. Several love poems follow; the connection the lovers make is passionate but broken or damaged, hardly surprising as the narrator is plagued with despair and loss, emotions which are explored in two central poems, ‘Fourth Child’ and ‘Seed’.
Circling around and between these poles of concern, poems such as ‘The Disappearance of the Dead’ grapple to understand and lay to rest this inheritance from the mother. The narrator’s grandmother’s death disrupts and then clarifies the search, finally bestowing an unexpected grace and even gratitude (especially in the poem ‘Seams’).
Three joyful poems focusing on dancing and music emerge from this process, at a greater distance to the narrator and expressing the healing and resolution that is taking place. The final four poems return to the theme of love and desire, but tie them poignantly to the loss and pain explored earlier.
Readings have emphasised the moving and cathartic qualities of these poems. The tone of the collection has been described by Rustum Kozain, winner of the Ingrid Jonker and the Olive Schreiner prizes for his collection This Carting Life, as “unassuming, at times matter-of-fact”. He argues that “it both shields and deepens, and works to control what could easily be runaway emotions”.
Megan Hall participated in the Crossing Borders programme in 2005–2006, during which time she worked with a mentor to develop some of the poems included in Fourth Child. She also worked closely with her editor in finalising, selecting and ordering the poems to form the collection.
Fourth Child is the first book to be published by the new South African small press, Modjaji Books, a press that will focus on books by women that “take risks, . . . [that] are naked and unashamed to be so, books that tell secrets . . . that don’t romanticise” (Karen Rutter, Cape Times, March 2006). These books, like Megan Hall’s collection, will explore territories that are not much written about, certainly not in South Africa.
Fourth Child, Modjaji Books, Cape Town, 2007
Megan Hall's blog
Megan Hall interviewed by Michelle McGrane
Review of Fourth Child by Richard de Nooy
Review of Fourth Child by Crystal Warren
Review of Fourth Child by Fiona Zerbst