top of page

Praise and Press

A WISHING SHELF BOOK REVIEW of A Betabestiary by Derek Kannemeyer


‘A fascinating insight into animals of yesterday, today, and of the imagination. Lots of fun!’

The Wishing Shelf

I always find it fun when I find a book that ́s totally different. And, if I ́m lucky, it ́ll be a bit of an eye-opener too. Well, that ́s what I got from the author, Derek Kannemeyer, with his Betabestiary. First, I ́d better tell you what it is. Simply put, it ́s a compilation of all sorts of animals, insects, birds and – this is the best bit – mythical monsters of every kind. On every page, there ́s a little info on the ́subject ́ plus a short poem which adds insight and humour to the listing.

As I worked my way through the book, I discovered a lot of animals I didn ́t know. For example, a Zoril, which it seems are common in the southern half of Africa and are very good at using stink bombs for self-defence. I also got to know a little about the Grackle (a North American Blackbird), and the Incubus which is a male demon who preys sexually on a sleeping woman. And then there ́s the poetry which is simple and often amusing. I particularly enjoyed the poem about the Pantomime Horse – yes, there ́s even a Pantomime Horse in there!

I generally thought this book was super-fun! The only thing I ́d suggest is artwork. The right artist could add a lot to this work, particularly for the extinct and fantasy animals.

I ́m very happy to recommend this labour of love to anybody who ́s interested in the natural world – and the unnatural! There ́s not a lot of depth to the descriptions, but there ́s a chatty feel to them, and the poetry is often highly amusing. I would think this might go down well in secondary schools offering young readers a glimpse into the planet ́s history and possibly sparking discussion.

A ‘Wishing Shelf’ Book Review

7th March 2023

December 19, 2022

Kirkus Reviews has named Unsay Their Names one of their “100 Best Indie Books of 2022.”

Here’s a link to the alphabetical list:


And go here for the Unsay Their Names Kirkus review (or read it where it’s copied out below), plus a link to other Kirkus articles about me and about Unsay: a PERSPECTIVES column with the title “3 Indie Books That Honor Black Lives” and a PROFILE entitled “A Casual Photographer Captures A Moment In History.” There’s also a link to the Kirkus review of The Memory Addicts:

September 2022

For reviews of THE MEMORY ADDICTS, go here:

The April 2022 issue of KIRKUS REVIEWS features an interview with Derek about Unsay Their Names. It's the very first article in the issue, so click on the link, and it won't be hard to find!

UNSAY THEIR NAMES, the starred review from Kirkus:


A powerful photographic testament to a series of inspiring protests.


Poet, playwright, and photographer Kannemeyer’s book opens with a compelling preface on the “great American rift” after the 2020 murder of George Floyd and goes on to present six months’ worth of images of the author’s home city of Richmond, Virginia, from June to November 2020, as well as two appendices following up on events in 2021. Across eight chronological chapters, anchored with expansive notes throughout, Kannemeyer presents an astounding photographic catalog of changes that were happening in Richmond, centering on statues of Confederates and other historical figures. The book opens with an image of the Robert E. Lee monument, Richmond’s statuary centerpiece, and readers see its marble facade covered in inspirational art and messages that offer celebrations of Black Lives Matter and criticisms of policing. Kannemeyer’s eye is also drawn to many people who stand up against monuments to White supremacy, showing them protesting the statue’s “Lost Cause” legacy. Kannemeyer intersperses notes throughout that give the collection a diarylike feel—noting, for example, how daytime gatherings were peaceful but that ones at night “hardened the tone.” He also includes historical commentary, such as a passage dispelling the oft-cited myth that Robert E. Lee was opposed to slavery. Later chapters include powerful photos of a toppled edifice of Christopher Columbus as it was fished out of water; the removal, by crane, of a statue of Stonewall Jackson as people look on in a blustery rainstorm; and the Jefferson Davis Memorial, covered in graffiti condemning his racist legacy. In closing appendices, Kannemeyer offers thoughtful reflections on ongoing questions about how Americans memorialize their history; he writes of his hope to find “other ways, and other places, to pay tribute.”


A stirring record of anti-racism in a Southern city. —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)





As Derek Kannemeyer writes in the poem that gives his ambitious, wide-ranging collection its title, “[when] our little mutt spirituals rise to the choir lofts of the seraphim, / how may they be heard, ragged as they are, except as prayer?” Mutt Spirituals manages to connect, with elegance and insight, the ragged, earthbound qualities of our messy lives to all that is transcendent. This is writing that travels across history and geography—from South Africa to England, from France to the United States, and literally into outer space. Though Kannemeyer looks at the hard topics of racist and ethnic discrimination, he never loses sight of the beauty that is at hand, praising, in one poem, “the fierce, sweet grace-made-flesh of oranges.”  Many of these poems and prose pieces are autobiographical, but Kannemeyer writes with such generosity that his personal history connects with our own, making us realize that like him, we need “To tell our stories over till we matter.” I will return to this book again and again, always grateful that Kannemeyer is “alive, telling the tale.” Margaret Mackinnon, author of The Invented Child



Here comes Derek Kannemeyer, “aiming [his] kapows like kisses,” aware that love can injure, but temperamentally incapable of emphasizing pain over the joys of love—perhaps especially love of language and of the transfixing textures of the physical world. Not many poets can grasp and then depict “the pullulating slither / of tentworms in their see-through creels.”

            As a mixed-race kid from South Africa and London, Kannemeyer documents the bewildering complexities of insult and oppression (“Old Moon in whiteface fingers his inventory”). Still, in this carnival of language, Kannemeyer’s entertaining pieces often prefer to click consonants like castanets and unfold suspenseful progressions of delicious vowels. In these poems, yes, black pulls against white, as does pensive remembrance against the urgent here-and-now. Like children tussling gleefully, fact also pulls against fantasy, quotation against creation, narrative against lyric. Thus, tussle becomes frolic, conflict becomes concord. In Kannemeyer’s poems we find a “redolence of memory . . . / and a succulence of lust / for the fierce, sweet grace-made-flesh” of the word and the world.  Ron Smith, Poet Laureate of Virginia 2014-2016, author of Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery and The Humility of the Brutes



In Mutt Spirituals, this long-awaited wonder book of rhapsodic poems by Derek Kannemeyer, the poet lives in language as if it were a country, a province, “a polychrome of world."

            In “White Noise and Hiss”, we feel his early ache of having to leave his birthplace, Cape Town: “In a corner I’ve begun to stack what I don’t want shut away just yet… / In the corner park, I lie and watch the sky. / Light’s threading through like film. Remember by the swings, / how I’d take off my sandals and forget them… / Now it’s morning… / Dew pearls on the thongs. / At my wrist, my chest, my neck, rising like a voice, I feel the sun.”

            From poems of joyful play in which childhood is fully inhabited, to poems of self-conscious race embrace, we watch as the maturing poet immigrates to a London suburb and then eventually to Virginia, making over and over the request with which he ends the sonnet "For My Book Of Hours":  "Grant me what I have. / Teach me to have it." This is a poet to remember. Susan Hankla, author of Clinch River.

bottom of page