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Patricia Schonstein

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

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





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