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Patricia Schonstein

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Can you stop war with poetry?

I’ve just completed compilation of an anthology of war poems and prose pieces, titled Africa Ablaze!

 The contents glance across a mere handful of Africa’s wars, ranging from the words of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II through to poems of contemporary struggles, without being at all inclusive of the continent’s conflicts.

The anthology draws us into an eerie confidence, allowing for participation in the cold-dread of kill-or-be-killed as it conveys the horror of invasion, battle and killing fields.

We witness the terror of scorched earth policies and the atrocious treatment of perceived enemies, even when these are clearly innocent civilians. The shame of child soldiery is highlighted against the pathos and despair of combatants trapped in doomed engagements. The cries of the wounded and the death-rattle of those left behind in the scurry of retreat are plaited through with calls for their mothers, as each fighter faces his own mortality.

The Angels of Death reap steadily and their barking rises above the valour-rich and triumphant rhetoric of politicians and generals. Former soldiers, spiritually broken or physically maimed, wash up into dereliction at the edges of society, sharing life-long nightmares and their muscle-memory of emotional trauma. Through it all is revealed courage, brilliant strategy, self-sacrifice, compassion, gallantry and a brotherhood forged in battle as nowhere else.

Here and there, from a martial tableau underpinned by arms-dealers and oligarchs, a plaintive plea for the end of hostilities rises up from the roaring; and now and then something symbolizing peace, like a lone, tattered, exhausted bird flapping across a blazing battleground, reminds us of an inert longing for the opposite of war.


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.


Found poem: When he came out on a pass
Harare, Zimbabwe 1989
Widow of former conscripted soldier
As told to Patricia Schonstein


When he came out on a pass
He used to sleep in the lounge
On the couch
He would make me lock myself in the bedroom
Because he was afraid to hurt me
Because he would have nightmares
And wake up with his teeth clenched
And he’d be burning

In the morning I’d find him naked
And with blood on him
Because there’d be broken bottles
Or he’d bitten his mouth
And everything would be all over the place
And I’d lift his face
And he’d cry like a baby and say sorry I’m so sorry.


Africa Ablaze! Poems & prose pieces of war & civil conflict
Selected by Patricia Schonstein
African Sun Press
Cape Town
ISBN 978-1-874915-19-5

Due for publication December 2013
Please contact to place your order


Photograph: https://www. Rhodesian-Bush-War-phototographs


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