Tag Archives: Jim Pascual Agustin

Botsotso 18 launches on the 19th

I finally got a foot in the door, so to speak, of Botsotso, one of the longest running literary journals in South Africa! Three poems have been included in Botsotso 18 which will be launched on 19 July 2018 at the Book Lounge in Cape Town.

If you’re in the area, please do join us!

botsotso 18

The Book Lounge Invite to Launch – 19 July 2018


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.

Words are not personal possessions – reimagining what rupi kaur stitched together

Most books ere made from murdered trees. One way of seeing things we take for granted.

Just One Reader

I’m no academic. Just one reader.” That’s what I always say when someone shows me their work. If this post goes well I might start a series of “engagements” with books – or sets of books by the same author, if I have more time. Not reviews. I’ll pretend the author of a poetry book has asked me for my thoughts. Isn’t that why someone usually publishes a book, to “speak” to a stranger who might be ready to listen?


Youth, that joyful, troubled time

It is both brave and foolish to put your words out into the world. You open yourself to readers. Your work could be seen as a sample if not a summary of your very self, even when it’s mostly . It isn’t easy to distance yourself from the work, particularly if it is your very first book. But once the work is out, and a reader finds it, it becomes part of that reader somehow. Of course the assumption is that the reader will bother to respond in a certain way.

At least that’s how I see a piece of literary work, something for a reader to engage with.

To be a young poet at the same time is a dangerous thing. Your mind and body are in constant flux, which could make your output somewhat unpredictable. You might think you are mighty and invincible one moment, and then suddenly smaller than the legs of a flea the next.

I’m trying to make some room here for the possibility of growth.


Why bother with this?

I just finished reading rupi kaur’s first book, milk and honey. [The lower case is intentional, as the book cover had her name and book title like that – not quite original as ee cummings did it in the last century] I first saw her name on an online article. I decided to ignore the article – told myself to try and forget it actually – and went about looking for the book. I caught sight of one in a local bookshop.

Now books in South Africa are not cheap, and there isn’t a convenient secondhand distributor. The price was R250, too steep for my budget at the moment, so I thought I should try the library. But since I had it in my hands right there and then, I browsed the book. I nearly tipped over. A few pages were all I could take.

Later on I had an online discussion with friends about what I read, and it got more interesting. I wasn’t alone with my impressions. The library turned up with a copy for me, luckily, and less than 24 hours after starting it, I finished the entire book of nearly 200 pages.

I started writing the draft for this post last month, Poetry Month, when I should have been trying to write a poem a day. I only managed a few, it turned out. I’ve been planning to post this matter of milk and honey ever since, but other things kept cropping up. Still, I had committed myself to responding to the work as fairly as I can.

Before I go on, I’d like to point out a few things. I’m normally a slow reader. I fall asleep when what I’m reading either feels boring, or perhaps when I feel I’m just not the right reader for it at that time. milk and honey was a quick read for entirely different reasons.

I promised – to myself and among friends – to read the book from cover to cover before deciding what I thought of kaur’s work. I wanted to ignore as much as possible what everyone else had so far said.

I have to confess, there were many thoughts swirling in my head as I forged on page after page. The following are but some I remember now.

– Just listen to Alanis Morrissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” again instead.

– Madonna’s “She’s not Me” is in there in so many ways, just never as good or even danceable.

– Anne Sexton is a goddess who knew her craft and I’m lucky I read her when I was still at university, on my own and not as part of anyone’s reading list. kaur should at least read her to learn something.

– This writer sounds genuinely sincere at least. But this is not poetry. It’s self-induced vomiting.

– My reading might be read as anti-feminist, but then what a tragedy if those who call themselves feminists cannot go past their version of feminism and assess what claims to be poetry accordingly.

– Am I just not the target reader? How could so many see that this book is worth reading at all? Even pay for it?

– There are so many good young poets out there, also non-white, far more deserving to be read by a greater audience, as well as “not-so-young” poets who should be more recognised for continuing to publish truly formidable work that often gets ignored by so-called critics and apparent supporters of poetry.

– I’ve heard it before, and it comes back to me, the line “People love to celebrate mediocrity.”

Then I thought, those might be seen as rather mean. There are many views of what counts as poetry. It could also be argued that one person’s handful of strawberries could be a last killer meal for another.

When I engage with a piece – whether it is a bit of news, a piece of art, or something else that challenges my imagination – I often end up writing something about it. The best way I felt I could respond to my experience of reading milk and honey is by using her own words (or most of them, in some cases) and reconstructing or reconfiguring them to come up with entirely new pieces. Call it reconstruction. Remix. Searching for the pulse in what looks like a dead vein.

Where I decided not to use certain words, I’ve listed and crossed them out at the bottom of each reworked piece. I am reprinting only the words kaur used in her pieces and have not attempted to replicate special formats or illustrations. The online sources I used were either on rupi kaur’s own Instagram pages or from the following:


(ASIDE: A few years ago there was an anthology of flash fiction, Fast Food Fiction Delivery, that was released in Manila. I was among the long list of contributors. Soon after its publication, controversial poet and critic, Adam David, created a stir when he used something called a “Randomiser” that churned out “new” pieces from the original works. I tried to read the “Randomised” pieces and found them mostly incoherent blabber, so I could not fully comprehend how the publisher and editors felt that their original output had been violated so much that they then made use of corporate legal muscle to shut down David’s creative engagement.)

 rupi kaur remixed 3rupi kaur remixed 2rupi kaur remixed 1

PDF version for a clearer view


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.


Another chance to be read by a wider audience: “Birds will have Dominion When I Take Swallow Form” is a finalist at Goodreads.com


I’ve said it before somewhere, if not here. Your place of birth is not for you to choose. And then, even when you’ve found your footing, there may be reasons to leave what you’ve known as home for another land where the people may not know a thing about you, or care. You may have to learn to negotiate new social mazes, get lost in them, in search of a new home.

Political border policies add another layer of branding you a stranger.

I wrote a poem years ago about this, “Birds will have Dominion When I Take Swallow Form.” It found a home in my book Sound Before Water. Now it has another chance of being read more widely through the Goodreads.com Newsletter (January 2018) should it win the current voting cycle. Yes, it’s basically a popularity contest. They also don’t give voters a lot of time as the deadline is 19 December.

Please go read the poems in competition and decide for yourself if my poem is worth your support.

If you’re still looking for a gift, my most recent book, WINGS OF SMOKE, is available online. It would be nice to hear from readers.

Maraming salamat po.

This Alien


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.