Sol Plaatjie

Inspired by Volume IV of The Sol Plaatje European Union (Multilingual) Poetry Anthology (published in 2002) after the first three which were published, I wrote this foreword to it and selected the first, second and third winners, after a submitted short list by Ingrid de Kok, Johann de Lange and Goodenough Mashego for that year and I have done so since then to date…

The cover pages of the Anthologies after that one, are also included in the Hub website, to hopefully prime curiosity about this large work of creativity by young and elder poets of our country-of this indeed, extremely poetic land of ours.

South Africa is an old poetic country. In her being a poetic country, she is as old as life, language and fire. Life is 4 billion years old, and its beginning in Barberton, a small town in Mpumalanga- the place of the rising sun – is a great miracle, found as a singular cell in a rock. But life cannot do in isolation, it can burst like a bubble, if it is without language – another miracle – how does language form, articulate, express consciousness and eventually lead to all kinds of actions: some actions which sustain life, some which destroy it? It is also strange, it is incomprehensible at times, and more of a mind-boggling truth that actually, if there was no heat, no warmth, no fire, life would just shrivel like a cover of a seed, turn to dust, just be there to incubate other seeds, and their coverings.

Every one of them – life, language and fire -are so fragile yet so present! Fire starts with two sticks and grass and bursts into life or death. It was first started into life, science tells us, in Wonderwerk Cave which is in Northern Cape near Kuruman, where the great Sanusi, Credo Mutwa and Virginia his wife now live.

This country, our country is a poet, the original poet, she speaks and sings and dances, as if forever and she asks, do the poets hear, see, feel, taste and do they touch me? The poets do – relentlessly in this Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IV: They rivet their spiritual eye on her, trying to hold her rivers, oceans, breeze, sunlight, trees, grass, soil, landscapes and everything – they hold on to them firmly so that they can, with all their senses understand the country, its people, landscapes and things which one cannot see with the eye. There is pain galore of mothers especially and fathers whose pain is misunderstood; there is the pain of children who do not understand why it is that they were brought here to earth, to do what?

The scanning inner eye of the poets miss nothing – fowls, birds, zebras, elders life- are caught in this bird’s-eye-view vision, which freezes them forever for the coming generations which may not know, but will have to know because, even as the information technology is now referred to in poems, the best of the record, about the best and the worst, is still the domain of the human creation, the experience and interpretation – the spirit of the creation of the creator.

How does a marriage die?

mine died slowly

first the teeth fall out

by Justin Joseph (How does a marriage die?)

A good example of someone

who sleeps very well

after doing inappropriate things

all day every day

Is grandma’s rooster

Casually climbing down

off a fowl: as if releasing himself

from a handshake

gone longer

than necessary ….

by-Thabo Jijane (grandma’s People)

What can he mean? And who is he?

What does he want? Why does he care?

He never speaks; he only follows me

and when I turn there’s nothing I can see.

by-Margaret Clough (The Companion)

Is the question, by Justin Joseph, does she know something about who he is… “always following…” her; they know each other, they know about the breeze, the grass, the sea, as do ghosts or spirits.

No one listens, you might as well follow Ingrid into the

ocean at Three Anchor Bay, whispers one voice.

The voice subsides-

The white table courses through your veins

by -Fadwah Booley (The Clown Lady)

Something has snapped, something has gone wrong in with ‘The Clown Lady’; Ingrid Jonker one of the greatest South African poets, when things were not correct for her she walked into the sea and vanished. Maybe there were no white tablets then, or, if there were, Ingrid felt she didn’t need them.

The myriad tapestries in this collection of poems, by South African and other Southern African poets, is splashed in our minds and spirits. Reading them is a great revelation of the South African diversity of landscape, people, beliefs, religion, culture- as  always the poets have never found these to be quite threatening – at worst the poets wonder at this diversity; at best, they allow diversity to reveal its voices to us and we hear it speaking in tongues.

We must also remember as we read these poems, which are in harmony with the diverseness of the landscape of this most beautiful country, that at times, most times, these poems are also performed.

The new generation of South African poets write in one language, translate the poem into another language, write and perform it, at times sing the poems.

The poets have also captured the unease, the relentlessness, the disquiet, the search of climate, if that exists or takes place manifesting changes.  this it seems to allow the seasons to go around- change temperatures, attitudes and manners of nature, it is alleged.

Read ‘The Clown Lady’ by Fadwah Booley and be told about how the distance we have travelled now articulates itself to us. Hear Ayanda Billie’s ‘Horn screaming ‘and then also, the poets write emails to the ancestors.

Ask Suzan-Jane Kathleen Bell how it is that South Africa with its myriad religious denominations, is also a spiritual country, so also says Bamjee, ask Mawela too!

The poems in this collection are full of life. They do not let life goof it, they hold onto it knowing that all the miracles of being are in it; and the lessons to know oneself are in it; as it is, this life, it is  for being lived and  living.

Life is the best place for education to educate consciousness, which educates expression, which educates actions – read ‘Zebra Express’, when life in beauty also expresses the dangers of life.

 Mongane Wally Serote.

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