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.
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.
How I Never Knew Winnie
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.
A new South African website for poetry went up a few months ago called AVBOB POETRY. I wasn’t quite sold to the idea, but in the end I submitted 26 poems (I think) and a handful got accepted. Not sure if that’s a good rate or not, but a foot in the door is better than being completely shut out, right?
The poems had to deal with themes of love, birth, death and hope.
I’m still finding it tricky navigating the site, but my poems are up and free to read.
You have to search by title. So here they are (I can’t give links to each poem, you need to enter the title in the search box):
Window of Days
My Brother Lives on the Other Side
Falling in Reverse
Would You Hate Birds for Crossing Borders?
Song for Liesl
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
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
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!
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.
(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).
I’m always thankful for every reader who spends some time with my work – whether it’s a haiku attempt, an essay, a story, a poem. Then there’s that completely different kind of high when someone not only reads a whole book, but writes a review to share what s/he feels about it.
Wings of Smoke received very warm reviews from Aerodrome and The FilAm. And now this one from Ecletica Magazine! Lovers of poetry will find Jennifer Finstrom’s review engaging and, I hope, make readers consider getting a copy of the book.