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South African poetry covers a broad range of themes, forms, and styles. This article discusses the context that contemporary poets have come from and identifies the major poets of South Africa, their works and influence.

The South African literary landscape from the 19th century to present day has been fundamentally shaped by the social and political evolution of the country, particularly the trajectory from a colonial trading station to an apartheid state and finally toward a democracy. Primary forces of population growth and economic change which have propelled urban development have also impacted on what themes, forms, and styles of literature and poetry in particular have emerged from the country over time. South Africa has had a rich history of literary output. Fiction and poetry specifically has been written in all of South Africa's eleven official languages.[1]

Black Poets in the Colonial Era Edit

While it has been recorded that written literature by black South Africans emerged only in the 20th century, this is only a reflection of published works at the time, not of the reality that black South Africans were writing and reciting in oral forms. The first generation of mission-educated African writers sought to restore dignity to Africans by invoking and reconstructing a heroic African past.

Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo’s iconic works preached a "return to the source" or the wisdom of finding traditional ways of dealing with modern problems. His works included several plays and the long poem The Valley of a Thousand Hills (1941). Poets such as BW Vilakazi [2] gave new literary life to their indigenous languages, combining the traditional influence of Zulu oral praise poetry (izibongo) with that of the influence of English poets such as Keats, Shelley, Dunbar, Cotter, Thomas Gray, and Oliver Goldsmith] (some of whose poetry he translated into Zulu). Herman Charles Bosman, is best known for his Unto Dust and In the Withaak's Shade capturing a portrait of Afrikaner storytelling skills and social attitudes. Bosman also wrote poetry, with a predominantly satirical tone. [3]

Writing Against Apartheid Edit

Alan Paton’s world renowned and highly poetic novel Cry, The Beloved Country, came into publication, just four months after the separatist National Party came to power in South Africa. Although most prolific in other literary genre, poetry was a form that interested him throughout his life as documented in his biography by Peter Alexander.

Some of the most well known poets of this violently oppressive and politically turbulent period of South African history from 1948 to 1990 include Dennis Brutus, Ingrid Jonker, Mazisi Kunene, Nicolaas Petrus van Wyk (N.P.) Louw, William Ewart Gladstone (W.E.G.) Louw, James Matthews, Mzwakhe Mbuli, Oswald (Mbuyiseni) Mtshali, and Diederik Johannes (D.J) Opperman.[4]

Antjie Krog’s first volume of poetry Dogter van Jefta, published in 1970 when she was just 17 years old, caused a stir in the Afrikaans community specifically for her then controversial poem My mooi land(My beautiful land). To date she has published ten volumes of poetry as well as three volumes of children’s verse in Afrikaans, with her later works becoming increasingly politicised and gender–sensitising. [5]

Black female authors of the time, the late Bessie Head and Sindiwe Magona going into exile in Botswana and USA respectively, are better known as novelists but in fact did write poetry too. Women writing Africa: the southern region by Margaret J. Daymond embodies the poetry and writing of several black South African women poets who, as in this case, were writing and performing poetry during this struggle era but like many others were only published outside of the country or in grassroots South African literary magazines, COSAW (Congress of South African writers) publications and the Staffrider.

Many of these poets, particularly the anti-apartheid writers all suffered personally in forms ranging from exile, house arrest, detention and torture to the banning of their literature or right to public speaking. This because they questioned and opposed apartheid law, as well as raised national and international awareness of the injustices committed in the country during a long period of media censorship, state propaganda, cultural boycott, mass detentions and killings of freedoms struggle activists besides ordinary black citizens.

The Drum writers of the 1950s reflected a new generation of black writers talking about the conditions of their lives, using the popular Drum magazine as their forum to depict a vibrant urban black culture for the first time. [6] Notable poets of the period associated Drum were Peter Clarke, Richard Rive and James Matthews, an incendiary poet fittingly entitled his first published collection of poetry Cry Rage in 1972, co-authored with Gladys Thomas [7] which was banned by the Apartheid authorities.

The Afrikaans literary scene in the 1960’s also flourished with the emergence of Jan Rabie, Etienne Leroux, Andre Brink and the highly acclaimed, exiled author and poet Breyten Breytenbach. All publishing first in Afrikaans these writers were increasingly politicised by the situation in South Africa and their contrasting experiences overseas, with Breytenbach beginning as one of the most linguistically radical new poets in Afrikaans. A new generation of white South African poets writing in English in the 60’s include greats such as Douglas Livingstone, Sidney Clouts, Ruth Miller, Lionel Abrahams and Stephen Gray.[8]

Political or protest poetry with the rise of the Black Consciousness (BC) movement, lead by martyred Bantu Steve Biko and the Soweto Uprisings 1976, became a vehicles used for their their immediacy of impact. South African protest poets and poets took the platform at underground rallies, political, religious and other cultural events across the country. The most notable writers from this period are Keorapetse William Kgositsile, Mongane (Wally) Serote, Sipho Sepamla, James Matthews, Oswald Joseph Mbuyiseni Mtshali, Christopher van Wyk, Mafika Gwala and Don Mattera. These rousing works, embedded with resistance slogans and ideals were intended to mobilise the masses into action against the oppressive regime. Popular orators such as Mzwakhe Mbuli achieved celebrity status at this time even though some felt the need for ‘a move away from rhetoric and toward the depiction of ordinary’ in order to reflect a more well-rounded reflection of humanity, as expressed by academic and poet Njabulo Ndebele, in his 1986 essay, The Rediscovery of the Ordinary. Simon Lewis, in his review of Ten South African Poets [9] highlights that some of the strongest voices of the 1980’s were also ‘worker poets’, the innovative trade union praise-songs of the poets of Black Mamba Rising.

Post Apartheid Edit

The demise of Apartheid Law and the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, many observed that South African writers were confronted with the challenge of what most pertinent to write about now, even though the after-effects of this history evidently still live on in the society. The ‘new South Africa’ democratic era was characterized by what literary critic Stephane Serge Ibinga in her article Post-Apartheid Literature Beyond Race [10] describes as ‘honeymoon literature’ or ‘the literature of celebration’ epitomised by Zakes Mda, who was active as a playwright and poet long before publishing his first novel in 1995. Poets of this relatively stable transition period in South African history were also more irreverent voices like Lesego Rampolokeng, Sandile Dikeni and Lefifi Tladi, founder of the Dashiki performance poetry movement in the late 1960’s. Another prevalent theme of ‘post-apartheid’ poetry is the focus on nation-building, with many poets and other writers re-evaluating past identities and embracing notions of reconciliation in order to authentically reflect an inclusive concept of South Africa as a nation, a diverse people united in a commitment to heal the past and collectively address current imbalances.

Contemporary Poetry Edit

The genre of performance poetry in present day South Africa, encompassing the ‘pop culture’ form of the spoken word genre evidently has its roots in the indigenous praise poetry traditions of izibongo or lithoko as well as the combined influence of ‘protest poets’ of the 1970’s through to the 1990’s who often collaborated with or were musicians themselves and American hip-hop culture and rap music of coming to popularity across the country in the 1980’s. Poets such as Lesego Rampolokeng, Lebogang Mashile, Kgafela oa Magogodi, Blaq Pearl, Jessica Mbangeni and Mak Manaka are household names in the genre. A number of performance poetry collectives have come to the fore over the past decade such as WEAVE (Women's Education & Artistic Voice Expression), And The Word Was Woman Ensemble (initiated by performance poet Malika Ndlovu), Basadzi Voices and poetry quartet Feelah Sista. The staging of professional performances, exposure via national and international poetry and spoken word festivals such as Urban Voices, Poetry Africa, Badilisha Poetry X-Change and more recently badilishapoetry.com podcasting platform have cultivated an appreciation of South African poetry within the country and around the world.

The emergence of several independent publishers and self-publishing avenues, along with new literary magazines, e-zines, arts–related blogs and websites such as Poetry International - SA, Book SA, and Litnet via the internet, have all dramatically impacted on South Africa’s literary landscape. Established mainstream publishers, local and international university presses have also opened channels for new and diverse South African poetic voices, notably Random Struik’s Umuzi, NB Publishers’ Kwela Books, Jacana Media, new feminist press Modjaji Books and South Africa’s oldest literary journal New Contrast.

Some poetsEdit

The following are some poets in South Africa. The list is incomplete, and inadequately captures the breadth and vibrancy of the poetry landscape in the country. A more comprehensive list with links sits on Wikipedia at List of South African poets.

Gert Vlok NelEdit

Main article: Gert Vlok Nel

Gert Vlok Nel (1963)is a poet, singer, song writer, troubadour. He has published one collection of poems, Om te lewe is onnatuurlik (To live is unnatural), for which he received the Ingrid Jonker Prize.

Lionel AbrahamsEdit

Main article: Lionel Abrahams

Lionel Abrahams (1928 - May 30, 2004) was a poet, novelist, editor, essayist, and publisher. Abrahams's work is largely philosophical, praising integrity and compassion. His poems are characterized by free verse with emotional strength.

Tatamkulu AfrikaEdit

Main article: Tatamkulu Afrika

Although born in Egypt, Tatamkulu Afrika (December 7, 1920 - December 23, 2002) went to South Africa at an early age. His first volume of poetry, Nine Lives was published in 1991. Afrika's poetry is rich in natural imagery, and the mood of his poems differ, from simple and innocent to lonely and frightened.

Gabeba BaderoonEdit

Main article: Gabeba Baderoon

Gabeba Baderoon is the 2005 recipient of the DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Poetry.

She was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa on February 21, 1969. She currently lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa and Pennsylvania, USA.

In 1989 she received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Cape Town in English and Psychology. In 1991 she received her Honours Degree in English (awarded in the First Class) from the University of Cape Town BA Honours program. She attained her Master of Arts in English with Distinction at the University of Cape Town in Postmodernist Television (Media Studies) and in 2004 completed her doctoral studies in Media Studies at the University of Cape Town, the same year spending time at the University of Sheffield, UK, as a Visiting Scholar. She also completed her dissertation entitled, "Oblique Figures: Representations of Islam in South African Media and Culture."

Robert BeroldEdit

Main article: Robert Berold

Michael CopeEdit

Main article: Michael Cope

The son of writer Jack Cope, Michael Cope (1952 - ) is a jeweller and novelist as well as a poet. Cope's first volume of poetry, Scenes and Visions, was published in 1990. His works detail people, their stories, and environmental imagery. Much of his poetry also quietly offers Cope's views on world-wide issues, such as business and poverty. Cope's second volume, GHAAP: Sonnets from the Northern Cape (Kwela and Snailpress) deals with human origins. His poetry is available online at http://www.cope.co.za/poetry.htm

Also by Michael Cope: Goldin: A Tale - iUniverse (2005) - A literary novel dealing with the mythic and Intricacy: A Meditation on Memory - Double Storey (2005) - A memoir investigating memory.

Patrick CullinanEdit

Main article: Patrick Cullinan

Patrick Cullinan (1932 - ) has published 50000 volumes of poetry, an anthology on the work of Lionel Abrahams, a biography of Robert Jacob Gordon, and a novel, Matrix. Born in Pretoria, he was educated in Johannesburg and Europe. Cullinan's poetic style is dreamy and full of imagery, with a recurring theme of love. He was given the title cavaliere in 2003 by the government of Italy for his work translating much of his poetry into Italian.

Ingrid de KokEdit

Main article: Ingrid de Kok

Gail DendyEdit

Main article: Gail Dendy

Gail Dendy (1957 - ) has published six collections of poetry, with a seventh due to appear in 2011 from Dye Hard Press. Her work appears in journals and anthologies in her native South Africa and overseas. First published by Harold Pinter in 1993 (Assault and the Moth (Greville, 1993)), and paired with Norman Corwin (The Poetry of Norman Corwin and Gail Dendy (California: Shirim, 2002)), her work displays immense originality, meticulous craftsmanship and, despite focusing primarily on relationships, a large variety of themes.[1] She has attained recognition as a writer with the Herman Charles Bosman Award (2008) and in being shortlisted for the Thomas Pringle Award (2010).

Born in Durban she later moved to Johannesburg where for many years she performed Contemporary Dance with Robyn Orlin, being nominated for the inaugural AA Vita Award for Best Performer. She holds various university degrees and currently works as a researcher, archivist and librarian for a large international corporate-law firm.

Isobel DixonEdit

Main article: Isobel Dixon

Finuala DowlingEdit

Main article: Finuala Dowling

Keith GottschalkEdit

Main article: Keith Gottschalk

Peter HornEdit

Main article: Peter Horn


Keorapetse KgositsileEdit

Main article: Keorapetse Kgositsile

Ronelda KamferEdit

Main article: Ronelda Kamfer (FR Wikipedia)

Antjie KrogEdit

Main article: Antjie Krog

Mzi MaholaEdit

Main article: Mzi Mahola Mzi Mahola was born on 12 February 1949 as Mzikayise Winston Mahola. Mzi Mahola is his nom de plume. He started writing while he was at school. The Special Branch confiscated his first poetry manuscript in 1976 and he lost interest in writing for twelve years. After this period he started writing again, submitting work successfully to national and international journals, magazines and publications. His work has been published in more than eight anthologies.

Kobus MoolmanEdit

Main article: Kobus Moolman

Seitlhamo MotsapiEdit

Main article: Seitlhamo Motsapi the wind doemklmtgeombadbmoekb,bmlm omppokoopkppkopkklpog l lp opjk0 ok o opk ok

Charle-Pierre NaudéEdit

Main article: Charle-Pierre Naudé Charl-Pierre Naudé has had two volumes of Afrikaans poetry published: Die Nomadiese Oomblik (Tafelberg, 1995) and In die geheim van die dag (2005, Protea). The first received the Ingrid Jonker Prize in 1997. The second was awarded the M-Net Prize for Afrikaans Poetry in 2005 and the recently instituted Protea Prize, in the same year.

In 1999 the then Dutch poet laureate, Gerrit Komrij, invited him along with four other Afrikaans poets to do a reading tour of The Netherlands and Belgium. Translations of his poems have since appeared in numerous Dutch and Belgian literary magazines. In 2000 Poetry International (Rotterdam) presented a translation project of his work.

Recently the Turkish poet/translator Ilyas Tunc published some of Naudé's poems in a Turkish translation.

Naudé's English poetry volume, Against the light, is due out early in 2007. He grew up in East London. Being a useless dreamer, he is the Africa correspondent for Middle Earth and has served other mythical locations as well, based in Johannesburg. (Source: Southern Rain Poetry, used with permission.)

Mxolisi NyezwaEdit

Main article: Mxolisi Nyezwa

Karen PressEdit

Main article: Karen Press

OthersEdit

See alsoEdit

References Edit

External linksEdit


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