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Patricia Schonstein

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Last Train Across Ariat Bridge

Once, when attending the Zimbabwe Book Fair, I listened to a talk by a South Sudanese woman, Teresa Samuel Ibrahim, who was living in a refugee camp in Khartoum.
Afterwards, I mentioned to her that she should consider capturing into poetry some of the deeply moving imagery and emotions she’d expressed in her speech. In response to her lack of confidence as a writer, I pointed out that her presentation had achieved, certainly to my hearing, all that was imperative within poetry – she had moved my heart.
I offered to help ‘render’ the core of her speech into poetic form and we went up to my hotel room where she sat in an armchair. I asked her simply to close her eyes and recount the manner in which she and her children had fled South Sudan. As she spoke, I wrote down her words, using her breath and pauses as punctuation and line-changes. This ‘telling’ became her poem, THE LAST TRAIN ACROSS ARIAT BRIDGE.
And then, I asked what she longed for, what it was that she missed of her former life – a life she would probably never be able to return to. Again, she closed her eyes and I took down her words to capture her poem, LONGING.
Yesterday, I read these two poems to the Cape Jewish Seniors in Milnerton, while sharing with them how I collect poems for inclusion in the Africa! Anthologies that I curate.
We found parallels in much of the holocaust narrative and that of present-day refugees. Common to all, seems to be the train (or the unseaworthy boat; or the overland truck) crowded with distressed people. Second is the suitcase or the blanket-bundle – the paucity of belongings, grabbed in a hurry, while fleeing or being shipped out. Common too, are the archetypes of the child and soldier; and separation from family members. Running through all, is the undercurrent of fear, and the realisation that death, by any manner of foul means, is the pursuant dynamic.
What is it that one takes when one is brutally dispossesed or driven away? Yes, the few belongings. Yes, whatever food can be stuffed into bags. Yes, water. Yes, money or small things of value. But we know – we who look back on our own histories; or in front of us at the present crises faced by refugees – that those displaced people on trains and boats often have only the clothes on their back.
Yet, what is within? What is carried within? Certainly hope – or they would just lie down and die. Certainly a sense that someone, somewhere, will reach out and help them – or they would not go forth except by force. And, certainly ‘The Poem’, the inner narrative of human fortitude and resilience; the inner light which shines through the darkness of brute behaviour and towards life.
Displaced Persons’ Camp, Northern Sudan 1998
Teresa Samuel Ibrahim
As told to Patricia Schonstein
I long for the weather.
Here we live in the desert.
At home we have rain and green forests
And I feel very comfortable there.
Always I am thinking about my home.
Here we sleep on sand.
The sand is full of snakes and scorpions.
The children shout in the night.
They think the soldiers are coming at any moment.
My longing is to be back in my own home
Where I don’t beg
And because the weather there is fine.
I am used to it from childhood.
And the water at home is not salty.
Displaced Persons’ Camp, Northern Sudan 1998
Teresa Samuel Ibrahim
As told to Patricia Schonstein
Because there was an ambush in my village
and my husband was detained
I decided to flee with the children to the north.
We waited for the train, we slept on the ground.
We had no good bedding or coverings.
Rain started. I started crying
because of the small children crying of rain and hunger.
I took the last train across Ariat with my children and some belongings.
The whistle of the train blew and we had some difficulties.
Everyone was pushing especially the soldiers.
The children were crying from being crushed.
I was crying and arguing with those who were overcrowding.
But they were also helpless.
I remained with my children: Dirty. Weak. Hungry.
We had only groundnuts to eat
and as we passed over Ariat Bridge
it was broken behind us by the rebels.
That was the last train to leave southern Sudan.
It took four days on the way between Ariat and Kosti.
Two nights later we arrived in Khartoum.
There was no place for us. No one was willing to take us
because they also have their problems.
We settled with others in the desert outside Khartoum.
There was no shelter there, only some thorn trees.
The ones who could not take the train
arrived after walking two months.
Some died walking. Some drowned in the flood.
Some reached Khartoum thin with swollen legs
with rashes and cracks.
We ourselves had some blankets and very little money.
Wood was difficult to get.
The only food was okra, some salt, water
and wheat flour given to us by the Catholic Church.
We started cutting dry thorn trees to make rakuba.
This is the quickest way to make a shelter
because if you are moving
you can take it and erect it in the next place.
You cannot say if you will be forced to move again.
Africa! My Africa!
An anthology of poems selected by Patricia Schonstein
African Sun Press
ISBN 978-1-874915-20-1

Response to Ben Williams’ column RIP South African Literature

In the matter of porcupines

I own 197 porcupine quills. These have been collected one-by-one over some forty years of travelling in Africa. They are beautiful and I have them on display in a crystal vase in my museum, treasuring them as missives from these elusive, nocturnal creatures.

Each has been found in the wild so, at Saturday’s market, I was dismayed to see a young man selling quills. He had a large quantity and I mentioned to him that it’s not ethical to kill porcupines. He shifted responsibility away from himself, indicating that the quills were a bi-catch because his farm workers hunted the animals for food.

I told him this was ‘terrible’ and when he challenged my use of the word, I walked away, not wanting to enter an argument that would go nowhere. I joined my husband and friends to sit on hay bales, looking at the sea and a whale that happened to be there.

The quill-seller sought me out and began to rationalise his position, but I would not accept it because, to my mind, there is no rationalisation. For each porcupine killed, I pointed out, there is one less alive. It is just a matter of time before what is wild will be tallied on only five fingers. Imagine the countdown to their extinction when only five porcupines remain: ‘Five– four – three – two – one – none.’ This is not speculation. Humankind is fervently exterminating wilderness.

I positioned myself as custodian and asked him to consider removing himself from the supply chain, to stop buying & selling quills. When he said he would, I asked him to promise so, which he did. Perhaps he was just humouring me, by telling me what I wanted to hear. But I took his pledge and shook his hand to seal the commitment, accepting it as coming from his heart, from his deep self, thus making it binding and irrevocable. He cannot break it, but I can never chase up on it, though somewhere, I know, a porcupine rattled its quills as witness.




The fifth volume in the Africa! series of poetry anthologies that I curate will be on environmental and ecological matters. It should perhaps be dedicated to porcupines.


The spectacular Breyten Breytenbach Boekefees

The Breyten Breytenbach Boekefees must surely rank as one of the best literary festivals held so far this year.

It took place from 3 to 5 July in Montagu, which is situated in the embrace of the Langeberg and Riviersonderend mountain ranges and overlooked by the spectacular Bloupunt peak. The venue was the large-yet-intmate, high-ceilinged, generously-windowed lounge of the Montague Country Hotel. This is a veritable museum of Art Deco run by Gert Lubbe.

Our excellent and most appreciative audiences sat on deep, comfortable, plush couches and armchairs, under chandeliers, next to cabinets of Art Deco tea sets and collectables.

The Boekefees was meticulously organised and run by Darryl David and Helen Gooderson who brought together an interesting, extremely generous group of English and Afrikaans authors and poets. I felt most privileged to be among them as we celebrated literature in its various forms: Novel, memoir, poetry, gritty-informative-fascinating non-fiction plus some cookery and spectacular photography. It was altogether a banquet of creativity and everyone was happy. Each night we had a crisp view of the waning half moon. Mars and Venus were bright and close.

The highlight was undoubtedly the launch by Lindsay Johns of Alex La Guma: a Colossus Revisited. This features three of La Guma’s stories: A Walk in the Night; The Stone Country; and Time of the Butcherbird. Lindsay, who came out especially from England, gave a masterful resume of La Guma’s life and contribution to the South African literary canon. La Guma is often described as a ‘South African Charles Dickens’ yet he remains one of the country’s unsung literary heroes, whose books were once banned. He was a highly accomplished storyteller and an unwavering supporter of the poor, disenfranchised and oppressed, so his themes remain universal and timeless.

Terry and Barbara Bell kindly accompanied his widow, Mrs Blanche La Guma, from Cape Town and Lindsay presented her with the first copy ‘hot off the press’. It was a pleasure to share her joy. What a sweet, gracious lady!

The Festival concluded with a wonderful show by the Afrikaans singer and performer,Emile Minnie.

The Breyten Breytenbach Boekefees Literary Festival is one of the projects of the Rural Arts Development Foundation. Take a look at the work of this wonderful organisation:

Review by Terry Bell of Alex La Guma: a Colossus Revisited :


Mrs La Guma receiving first copy

Mrs La Guma receiving first copy

Reading from Africa! My Africa! at BBB

Reading from Africa! My Africa! at BBB

London Book Fair interview with Patricia Schonstein

“These [The Africa! poetry anthologies] are arguably the most important anthologies of poetry to ever come out of South Africa.”








Life as Pilgrimage

[Image: Love leading the Pilgrim by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones]


“Life as a Journey” is an often-used metaphor.

Life’s very components are metaphoric – there is a beginning and an end, both of which are heavy with the mystery of arrival and departure. And, of course, there is the road itself that must be walked.

This metaphor is at risk of becoming a cliché. We see T-shirts proclaim: Life is a journey – are you packed? Advertisers make use of it, so we are compelled to consider: ‘Are you driving your BMW? Have you got your Johnny Walker? Are you dressed in Gucci? Are you fragranced by Dior?’

How we travel our life’s journey is largely up to us. We are given a milieu in which to live, along with a set of circumstances, but we ourselves decide how to make use of those components. We can live in the shallows, if we want to. We can live without ever seeking meaning. We can live as consumers of things that have no intrinsic value.

But we can also live with depth, electing wisdom. And, if we so choose, we can make of our lives a pilgrimage – walking from arrival to departure with sacredness; with a sense of homage; with mindfulness and respect.

The pilgrim soon learns that it’s essential to discard the heavy baggage of the small ego – its bad attitude, its weaponry, its greed, its selfishness and its potential for malice. The pilgrim learns to live in the now; to absorb the beauty of creation; to listen to the music of life; to recognise the Divine within the everyday.The pilgrim chooses to walk with an attitude of benevolence toward all living things.

We live in dark times, but among us walk light-bearers. These are the people who light our way toward good fellowship. These are the people who recognise and nurture inner light; who gather up all reflected light; who serve as guides.

Some show examples; some recite sacred words; some share their profound prayer; some create books by which they share the deeply personal components of their own life and the steps of their pilgrimage thus far.

It is up to us to become aware of Light, to absorb it and then, in turn, to hold it aloft, carrying it forward for the benefit of all humankind and life itself.



From: Sacred Darkness
Chris Ahrends

I couldn’t see where my body ended or began. Everything was connected without boundary. Blurred, yet lit up by the flashing discharges around me. I had arrived in a cosmic womb of dazzling illuminations. I emerged from the black water stunned and silent and stood on the shoreline, dripping drops of light, in awe at what I had experienced and learned anew; that everything is connected and that my life is but a particle in an unknowable wave of light flowing through the dark tide of time. And then, I am gone.


New day dawning
Chris Ahrends

Alone away from home
he looks beyond the darkness
and sees more clearly

the pale light shining
is a ray of the
new day dawning

on a field he has found
its treasure underground
for which he will sell all

to know it at last…

From: Stoep Zen

Antony Osler

And as long as I draw breath
May I be
A light for those who have lost their way,
A home for the forsaken
A backstage pass to the great unknown
When all the seats are taken






Sacred Darkness
Poems, prose and photographs over time
Chris Ahrends
Porcupine Press, Johannesburg, 2015
ISBN 978-1-928276-21-0

Stoep Zen
A Zen Life in South Africa
Antony Osler
Jacana Media, Johannesburg 2008
ISBN 978-1-77009-586-1

Image: Love leading the Pilgrim by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones
Tate Britain, London

Lucinda Jolly reviews the Africa! Poetry anthologies

One of Patricia Schonstein’s ‘Found Poems’ in the anthology Africa Ablaze!  is crafted from a question posed to a former Rhodesian soldier about poetry and war.

The poem, which takes place in Bulawayo airport’s departure lounge, is formulated around two extreme responses – the poet’s and the soldier’s – as to whether poetry has the capacity to stop war.

It’s a dark, humorous, even absurd interaction around deadly serious subject matter. It reflects the poet’s absolute belief that poetry can be transformational, alongside a total denial of this notion by the soldier.

You hear the soldier’s sarcastic bark, ‘Should we have waved Tennyson under their noses?’ followed by a dismissive brush off, ‘Give me a break, Lady!’

Schonstein, an established author of award-winning novels, considers herself a poet first. In her view, it’s often a poem which speaks to us during the dark night of the soul or within an experience of epiphany.

Her belief in the transformational qualities of poetry on the collective unconscious has given birth to three anthologies of poems ‘touched by Africa’ in the start of a proposed series of six.

Each anthology comprises a wide range of voices from Nobel Laureates to anonymous pieces, in a spread from Antiquity to the present time.  They cover an extensive landscape of love, loss, exile, journeys, landscape and war.

‘I think poetry is so healing and so good. It keeps you in touch with your deepest parts. I would like to see everyone with these anthologies,’ she says.

The philanthropic spin off of the anthologies is that a percentage of the profits are allocated to creating books for children. The first one, Maggie Mango and Scottie has already been produced.


Found poem: Do you think you can stop war with poetry?
Bulawayo airport departure lounge
Zimbabwe 2008
Former soldier of the Rhodesian Light Infantry
In response to a question posed by Patricia Schonstein


Stop war with poetry?
Oh fuck!

Should we have waved Tennyson under their noses?
Said: Okay you fuckers!
Just put those AKs down a wee-moment
While I read you this, this … these few rhyming couplets.

Give me a break, Lady.
Go away for Chris’sake.

Africa! My Africa! An anthology of poems
ISBN 978-1-874915-20-1
“Reading this collection I feel that I’m there, in Africa.”
– Birgitta Wallin, Editor, Karavan, Sweden

Africa Ablaze! Poems & prose pieces of war & civil conflict
ISBN 978-1-874915-19-5
“A greatly admirable collection of wide-ranging, hard-hitting writing.”
– Jay Heale, Bookchat

Heart of Africa! Poems of love, loss & longing
ISBN 978-0-620-60850-3
“This is an impressive and amazing anthology.”
– Gorry Bowes Taylor, Fine Music Radio

Available from African Sun Press

Image: The Soldier Drinks by Marc Chagall

Reading love poems at Chandler House

CHANDLERREADING 2 (2)“Excuse me, random stranger… may I read you a love poem?”

This is how I welcomed people into the intimate Poetry Corner of  Chandler House in Cape Town.

The excellent Michael Chandler was blending fine art and poetry, love and beauty, Bukharas and erotica on last night’s First Thursday in Cape Town.

“I’m not going to seduce you,” I’d say to those who looked hesitant or wary. “I mean only to share some expressions of love.”

People were enchanted, listening to me read the words of Justin Fox, Romaney Pinnock, James Ambrose Brown, Takawira Dururu, Walter Andries Oliphant, Micere Githae Mugo, Siyabonga Sibiya and numerous others, as I sat at a small antique table, surrounded by ceramics, fabrics and embroideries.

A newly married couple on honeymoon listened to “Love poem to my husband of forty-one years”, looking into each other’s eyes and their future.

A handsome French gentleman mentioned that he found the English language had a sensual lilt to it.

A German tourist was so touched by David Friedland’s “Always” that I wrote it out for her and she in turn later translated into German my poem ‘Africa’.

A young man filmed me reading the words of a former Rhodesian soldier in “Found Poem: Was that poetry?”  to send to his girlfriend in London.

Two students shared how much meaning they derived from poetry, especially performance poetry. One told of how he had recently responded to a challenge and written a poem every day over a number of weeks.

A young woman closed her eyes while I read Carol Leff’s “We were” and I noted her dark, serene beauty.

The gallery was full and at times it was difficult to hear me, but people caught single words as they rose into the air: “Lips. Tender. Kissed. Held. Thigh. Privacy of flesh. Consummation. Beloved. Cinnamon. Secret.”

The word “buttery” from Kerry Hammerton’s poem “Lovers” drew people in and I was asked to re-read it a number of times.

I closed the evening with Chris Mann’s “Night Flying”. People left Chandler House taking the poem’s final lines with them:

“Love lifts and joins the embodiments of desire
and sends us both flying, flying through the night.”


Poems were read from:
Heart of Africa! Poems of love, loss and longing
ISBN 978-0-620-60850-3
Africa! My Africa! An anthology of poems
ISBN 978-1-874915-20-1
Published by African Sun Press

Chandler House
Church Street Cape Town


David Friedland

Now at this moment of ripeness
A time for culling or falling
Bruised fruit poised for ploughing and renewal
For me at seventy
It is a vow more easily honoured than in my twenties
So let diffidence end here
This is my daring confession
I will love you always


Patricia Schonstein
Translated from the English by Elisabeth Fenner

Wie werde ich von dir gehen?

Es wird Nacht sein
ich treibe auf den Wassern der Kanäle
nahe dem Stammsitz meiner Ahnen
in einer mit blauem Samt ausgeschlagenen Gondel
mit einem Bündel von musasa Samen
und getrockneten Blättern von mopane.

Es wird unter der Seufzerbrücke sein.
Meine Handflächen halten ocker und eidechse.
Meine Seele spiegelt deine Sterne
und die Flamme des Tages.

Dort werde ich dahintreiben
und mich nach dir sehnen.













Jay Heale of Bookchat reviews Heart of Africa!


Heart of Africa! opens with King Solomon’s Song of Songs – one of the most voluptuous love poems in the world. How it ever got into the Bible, heaven knows! But perhaps love and heaven are side by side.

It is possible to love without understanding fully. So I love … glowing splendours painted by William Turner, the sheer drama of Masada, the intricate Islamic tracery in the Alhambra in Granada, the subtle delicate flavour of Japanese cuisine, layers of scent and flavour in a great red wine. I taught a class of 10-year-olds who fell in love with Coleridge’s In Xanadu, did Kublai Khan … “Did you understand it?” “No, but it sounds wonderful!”

I have approached Patricia Schonstein’s three collections of poetry in much the same way. I don’t pretend to understand everything, but that doesn’t prevent me finding immense pleasure and fulfilment from their pages. Africa! My Africa! was about the great continent and its people, what else? Africa Ablaze! concentrated on war and conflict, full of impact, not pretty at times.

Heart of Africa! is about love – is there any topic which has been eulogised more than love?

Oh, how we all need this book! To tempt us to pause, and think, and smile, and remember love and maybe understand it a little more. In this new-old Africa, we need love more than ever. In this momentous collection, Africa is reaching out towards more tenderness, more precious memories, more joy in a single moment, more seething African hot compassion. As its title claims, it is writing from the Heart of Africa – which is the heart of mankind.

Whoever we are, this is writing that we need to consider, day after day. To reach for that understanding  and so salute the sadness of love lost. Because – love hurts.

Here are just a few extracts from pieces which sing to me:

You’ll find us where the great winds have blown,
Laughing in joy upon the sun-drenched hill.
– Henry G Barnby

In short:
you gave me back
the bloom and grace
of the Karoo –
a lonely,
oft’ forsaken
– Carel Anthonissen

shy one, elusive as the Namib cloud,
where will you run to, my love?
How will you leap to life in the long grass?
– Dorian Haarhoff

But my love for you’s not over,
And these lines will always sing.
– Mike Kantey

Here are such varied pieces as a prose love poem from a ‘Troep’ conscripted in 1982; Ingrid de Kok saluting the noble memory of William Kamanga; “Love amongst the middle-aged” by Gus Ferguson; Colleen Higgs on Divorcing; even Mandela’s touching diary entry on his first contact with his wife in twenty-one years.

In one “An exchange between an anthologist and a gentleman” Patricia herself describes how she sent out a call for love poems – and all seemed to celebrate “the female landscape” of breasts, thighs, that gentle curve of the armpit, the down-below area … Where were the male six-packs, the smooth skin, the male nipples?

As I have said before of her previous collections, she challenges us to redefine poetry. These are not all poems, though I’m sure they are all poetry. Patricia invites us to accept snatches of prose, “Found Poems” as she calls them. Here’s part of a recalled conversation on a beach:

 They married as virgins, both of them
So knew only that ‘something happened’ on wedding nights
But had no idea of the pleasure.
– Pat Wilson-Pinnock

On a more prosaic note, you – the reader – will have no idea of the pleasure to be discovered (for it is a browsing book) inside Heart of Africa!


Heart of Africa! Poems of love, loss and longing
African Sun Press
ISBN 978-0-620-60850-3

Order from:

Jay Heale is the editor of BOOKCHAT.
The original printed Bookchat newsletter-magazine was published quarterly and ran from 1976 to 1997, achieving 132 issues.

 BOOKCHAT is now published online: /articles/article.html


Painting: The Lovers by Marc Chagall




The Unshod Child

I grew up in colonial Rhodesia.

While still very young, I noticed that African children generally walked barefoot, while I did not, and that their little feet were rough and calloused. It was through this simple indicator that I first became aware of dire poverty.

As an adult, I use this image of the unshod child as a yard-stick for measuring whether the basic needs of childhood are properly addressed.

These are not simply the needs for shoes and clothing, but also for nutrition, health and education.

“If the child is unshod
and dressed in rags

If the child is hungry
and left to scavenge

If the child is abandoned
to shelter wherever

If the child falls ill
but is uncared for

Then Government is failing

If the child’s sense of wonder
is not nurtured

If a love of earth and life
are not awakened

If story books
are lacking

If the school room
is a dark hollow place
that does not inspire learning

Then Government is failing”


The South African Department of Education is proposing to do away with the national catalogue of eight books per subject per grade and to approve only one book, per subject per grade.

Perhaps, before such a restrictive “dumbing down” policy is approved, we should reflect on the “shoes” that all children need in order to walk competently through life.

These “shoes” are a diverse, broad and enriching education, one which makes children ever curious; that does not prevent the development of critical understanding; and that does not deny access to the wealth of knowledge that rightfully belongs to everyone.

If this proposed policy is put in place, then children will be failed, they will be robbed of a future. They will walk unshod.


See William Barker’s excellent: Don’t dumb down teaching. Cape Times 13 November 2014


Mail & Guardian:

Kate McCallum:

Arthur Attwell: