Category Archives: Jim Pascual Agustin

Langa, for the first time

October 1994 was the first time I had a glimpse of Langa. From the air, as the domestic plane which brought me from Johannesburg descended toward Cape Town International, Langa looked like a massive quilt with uneven stitching.

Each time I leave and return to Cape Town I would see that imposing landscape. Yet I never set foot there, not until last Thursday, 17 May 2018. I drove to Langa for an event organised by the Jacana Literary Foundation to meet with local aspiring poets. It was a hastily put together affair, and despite the initial awkwardness it turned out into an eye-opening impromptu performance/sharing/workshop with all participants ending up laughing together as though we’d known each other for years.

Fellow poets Moses Seletisha (First Prize winner of the 2017 Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award) and Rabbie Serumula were also there to share their thoughts and amazing words.

I read two poems by other poets and then one of my own (one of the three that was included in The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology VII).

Today I’ll share the one called “Lament for a Dead Cow” which I discovered by accident in the anthology Sunburst.

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Winning Works Aloud – my event at the 2018 Franschhoek Literary Festival

Last year I was invited to participate at the 2017 Franschhoek Literary Festival. Acclaimed poet Karin Schimke interviewed highly respected bilingual author Antjie Krog and myself. Antjie was promoting her book, Lady Anne (translated from the original Afrikaans) and I was presenting work from Wings of Smoke.

The engaging discussion was so wonderful and relaxed that we went a bit over the allotted time. Karin gave us more than enough room to read our poetry before an appreciative audience.

You may listen to the podcast on the FLF website under the title (28) I READ WHAT I LIKE.

I’m fortunate to share the news that I’ll be at the Franschhoek Literary Festival again this year!

The event, WINNING WORKS ALOUD, is sponsored by Jacana Media and will feature the three winners of the most recent Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award.

René Bohnen, Moses Shimo Seletisha and myself will be in conversation with Rabbie Serumula. It promises to be an exciting discussion as we tackle the challenges of writing in South Africa with special note of the various languages employed by the three poets.

More details to follow. Please join us! Here is the LINK to the FLF website.

banners for flf

 


How I Never Knew Winnie

How I Never Knew Winnie
version 2

 

I’d never given birth, only witnessed
the flesh of the one I love
after it had already been cut
open in a sterile room.

I’d never had to bear
the terrified eyes of my children
as strangers broke our embrace
and dragged me away.

I’d never been forced
to stay in one room
with three doors for 491 days
with a light that never went out.

I’d never slept on a cement floor
as my bed, wrapped my feeble limbs
in blankets stiffened
by someone else’s dried blood.

Certain that we’re more than the details
collected after we die, I wonder,
if we had known each other,
what she would’ve told no one but me.

-o-


This Alien

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Being an alien, as Craig Raine showed us many years ago in his book, A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, gives one a different perspective on matters earthlings see everyday. Of course, though some may claim they truly know what an actual alien might feel or think of us, we can only imagine being an alien.

There are many ways one could imagine being one by choice. And then there are ways one is made to feel like one: the various boundaries set by nation, by society at large, by smaller groups of people. To a certain extent, bullies like pointing out with their little minds those they perceive as aliens who must be exterminated, or at least be shoved to the ground and ridiculed.

I’ve had my share of being forced to feel like an alien. In a creative sense, that is what one tries to be so that what is ordinary can be turned into something to be marvelled at.

I wrote a poem in 2015 in response to what was happening in my adopted country, South Africa, under the leadership of Jacob Zuma. I sent the poem to a number of journals hoping to get it published and found no luck.

Earlier this year, following the publication of WINGS OF SMOKE, my hopes were raised. I submitted to a local publisher a poetry manuscript (currently called CROCODILES IN BELFAST), which included the poem. The reader they asked to assess the manuscript singled out that same poem. I don’t know who the reader was, but I’m quoting his/her words here.

Most striking for me are some of the political poems – “Baleka, what do you know…?”, “Fire, the King Who is Called” – poems which are daring, in our present context, critical, perhaps even scandalous, but which doesn’t contain the demeaning language that some of our slogans, memes or cartoons may contain. This doesn’t make the poems less critical or less subversive of the powerful figures they address, but they show what a non-indulgent, properly poetic treatment of powerful figures may look like. The language of “King” is remarkably restrained, yet one can feel almost something akin to literary tectonic plates shifting in terms of traditions of South African political poetry. It is as if the author knows that they are playing with fire, tries to hold their hands from the flame, but cannot resist the draw of the flames. But irrespective of the subject matter, it is the control over language that makes “King” remarkable, and it is this quality that runs throughout the collection: clarity of expression (even if resolution may escape the reader – which in itself is not a bad thing), restraint in the expression and control over language, which creates tension and torsion.

Despite the high recommendation from that reader, the publisher got back to me, after they asked for a few revisions, with a final rejection. They cited “economic realities” as the reason. I cannot hide my disappointment. But I have to move on.

That poem has finally found a home online. The Johannesburg Review of Books, free for all to enjoy, features my poem “Fire, the King Who is Called,” alongside some fantastic poetry and short stories from leading SA authors. I am deeply honoured.

Although the poem has been slightly edited for South African readers, which I don’t really mind, I do need to point out something for those unfamiliar with local politics. The main word removed that some might find important was “Gedleyihlekisa” – the middle name of Jacob Zuma. That name’s definition is the poem’s epigram which I quoted from an SA history website.

It might also help non-SA readers to search online for stories that mention the following: firepool, ANC Women’s League, Khwezi, kanga, Nkandla, Zapiro versus Zuma, rape trial, The Spear painting, and The President’s Keepers.

Tomorrow, 16 December, the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party of South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994, holds its 54th national conference to elect new leaders. Some people might see it as the beginning of the end of Zuma’s reign.

This alien will be watching.


Don’t be tricked into following the herd

Sometimes free means free. No strings attached. Here’s an early Christmas gift.

Fixional has made available my special trilogy of poems based on Krzystof Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy of films.

While I’m at it, I’d like to thank the editors of the following websites and journals for publishing my work in the past. I have posted links to some of them previously.

Modern Poetry in Translation

 Aerodrome

Canopic Jar 

Houseboat

Black Friday Sales are being promoted extensively even here in South Africa. If you pause and think, it’s nothing but a way for shops and online retailers to offload old stock before the Christmas rush of new products to entice consumers. But really, they’re just material things you already have, perhaps newer versions with a few new bells and whistles. How soon after the feelgood rush of the purchase will you be made to crave for the next new iteration?

I don’t see the same when it comes to books, good books that aren’t designed to be replaced in a season. Or at least that’s the hope. So forgive my little sales pitch.

If you are outside of the Philippines, please consider ordering my new book, WINGS OF SMOKE, online via the following (or other decent retailers):

The Onslaught Press

The Book Depository

Amazon

But if you are in Manila, you’re in luck as https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FUSTPublishingHouse%2Fposts%2F1683897564963264&width=500” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>UST Publishing House has a sale of all my books they’ve published. Get all of them at a great discount!

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An interview with Fixional: forget me, read my work instead

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I don’t like talking about myself. I prefer sharing thoughts about other things – literary, or otherwise. You can chat to me about movies, music, the ant climbing up the side of a wall, or just about anything else.

Don’t ask me how to read my writing. Unless we’re in a workshop environment, don’t ask me to explain what I’m trying to say in my writing at all.

But every now and again I get asked to respond to particular questions for an interview that will be made public. I only agree to interviews if I think they would help me find more readers. Please don’t see it as a marketing ploy. I would hate that.

Read the interview, consider giving my work a chance to be discovered by new readers. Tell your friends about the interview. Tell them that you read my blog regularly – or have just discovered it today. I want people to adopt my paper children. They need warm homes.

So… here’s the link to Fixional where my latest interview appears.

Fixional recently published my trilogy of poems that were based on the cinematic masterpiece trilogy by Krzysztof Kieslowski, Three Colors: Blue, White, Red.

Forget me. Read my work. Please. Maraming salamat.

PS – I haven’t read he final version of the interview, was too excited to. If you find typos or errors, please tell me. Fixional used to be NoiseMedium, which awarded my poem “To be an Orc” the Grand Prize last year.


Brief Bio for an Anthology

I stare at it like the beginning of a flatline,
that dash next to my year of birth.
Two lines down, a paragraph with nothing
but blurry snapshots of a life
unwillingly summarised for imagined readers,
strangers, for posterity.

Then that uncontrollable laughter kicks in.
It is shrill, like the wailing of an ambulance,
and drowns out all dramatic gestures
I have conjured for myself
on that page. Delusions of grandeur
stripped naked on a stretcher.

Sometimes oneself can be the cruelest critic,
the first to hold the blade
against such tender skin.

June 2008
-o-

(from Alien to Any Skin, UST Publishing House, Manila 2011)

This poem came to mind when a good friend, SA poet Raphael d’Abdon shared his bionote poem with his friends on Facebook. I hope I haven’t posted this before here. The book where this poem first appeared, Alien to Any Skin, was published around August six years ago (if memory serves me right).

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