Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Patricia Schonstein

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

Patricia Schonstein Poetry in McGregor Award

It has been my privilege, since 2013, to curate the Poetry in McGregor Festival’s annual anthology. These anthologies honour the presenting poets; grant longevity to the Festival of that year; and capture at least some of the magic for people unable to attend.

Curating the anthologies has brought me into close contact with the poets who’ve read on the main programme of each year; and at the Open Mic sessions. What I always experience, in working with them, is their sincerity and generosity as they give to us of their creative selves.

I am often asked why I publish poetry, a genre which ‘does not sell’ and which has no financial-backbone.

We live in dark times. The Apocalypse is not ‘coming’– it is here already. We are within it and we should respond accordingly. We should live restoratively; cutting down on our debris; living through love; turning our weapons into ploughshares; expunging tyranny from the human narrative. We should cease in our destruction of the natural world, which is not ours to rape and loot, as we believe it to be. We should acknowledge that the whole of Creation is sacred. Above all, we should be seeking Light over Darkness. It is late in the day and the sweet-oil of our lamps will soon be consumed, if we do not take heed.

The question arises: But how does an individual mobilise Light so as to overcome the Darkness of Apocalypse? Well, Light can be done in small measure. Poetry is such small measure. Think of it as glitter – tiny-tiny shards of Light – all of which come from the soul; all of which come from the creative fountain of human nature.

The Poet works with creativity; with the opposite of destruction. So it is a pleasure to work in their milieu; and it is with a sense of honour that I place my name on a new poetry prize: “The Patricia Schonstein Poetry in McGregor Award”.

All poets published in the Poetry in McGregor Anthologies of 2013 to 2016 were considered for the Award, which was granted ‘retrospectively’ and presented at the recent Poetry in McGregor 2017 Festival.

Winner 2013: Graham Dukas
Winner 2014: Justin Fox
Winner 2015: Margaret Clough
Winner 2016: Gaireyah Fredericks
Acclaim 2016: Hugh Hodge for his Service to Poetry through his Off-the-Wall events
Acclaim 2016: James Matthews for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry
Acclaim 2016: Anne Schuster for her Service to Poetry through mentorship

Photo: Graham Dukas reads at Poetry in McGregor 2017 Festival

» read article

Reading Poetry at Jacob van Schalkwyk’s Exhibition SUNSETS

My first assignment as Poet in Residence at David Krut Projects Cape Town was to accompany Jaco van Schalkwyk on the Walkabout at his exhibition, SUNSETS.
This comprises a series of six drawings on paper in lithographic ink. The paintings are landscape-influenced and carry a sense of turbulence, fire-destruction, decay and rebirth. The heavily-layered and contoured colours are reminiscent of Table Mountain in all seasons, particularly the Silvermine area.
The 13 poems I chose are not literal descriptions of the art-works although two do relate directly to the painting REGROWTH. Quite by chance the poets, Margaret Clough and Adre Marshall, as well as the artist, all independent of each other, captured the rebirth of flowers after recent, devastating fires on the slopes of the mountain. All three express orange-red resurrection on a terrain rendered black by conflagration.
I followed these with a poem by Don Pinnock, set in Cederberg, which captures ochre and other versions of red. The fourth poem, by Yewande Omotsoto, took us to the cooling colours of sea.
The next were a series of love poems mirroring the turmoil of longing and love that envelope the six paintings. My final reading, by Anton Breton, summed up an erotic undercurrent.
I should just mention, that not all the colours captured in the art, are named in the poems. Even so, one ‘heard’ the same layered silver-blues of the sea; white of stars; mauve of heartache; and the erogenous exploding-red of life in Jaco’s work.
If you are in Cape Town, don’t miss the exhibition.
These are the poems I read:
From Stanzas Four, a poetry quarterly:
Silvermine, April 2005 by Margaret Clough
Sugarbush by Adre Marshall
From Africa! My Africa! An anthology of poems:
Alone in Riemvasmaak by Don Pinnock
Letter to Njabulo Africa! Lucas Delisa Zulu
Mashiya by Siyabonga Sibiya
The bridge Allan Kolski Horwitz
This Life by Andries Walter Oliphant
From Heart of Africa! Poems of love, loss and longing:
The sea has two mouths Yewande Omotoso
Let them know by Yewande Omotoso
The old couple by Jeremy Gordin
Blue eyed boy by Pam Newham
Dining with Neruda by Cornelia Rohde
From 99 Poems in Translation
Freedom of love by André Breton translated from the French by Edouard Roditi
Stanzas; Africa! My Africa! and Heart of Africa! are available from
Photo by Hannele TulkkiReading at JvS Exhibition 2

» read article

Jacob van Schalkwyk’s Art with Poetry

Tomorrow, Saturday 17 September at 11am, is the opening of Sunsets – Jacob van Schalkwyk’s solo exhibition at David Krut Projects Cape Town.
He will have a WALKABOUT on Saturday 1 October, at 11am where it will be my privilege to read certain poems that the art works (lithographic ink on paper) cause me to reflect upon. To tantalise you, I mention Jacob’s work titled Regrowth, and the poem, Silvermine April 2005, by Margaret Clough. Both the artist and the poet were inspired by the resurrection of fire lilies after the devastating SIlvermine fires which rendered the landscape black and from which blossomed magnificent reds to remind us of the miracle of life.


» read article

McGregor Poetry Festival 2016

The McGregor Poetry Festival 2017 was graced by the most glorious early-spring weather, with crisp nights and bright blue days. On the early evening of the opening first night, Friday 27, Venus and Jupiter were visible in the western sky, in apparent close embrace, so close that they might have been lovers leaning in towards each other at the start of an erotic-and-real tango, and leaving us Earthlings gasping at this visual poem in the sky.
Over the three days of the Festival, more than a hundred poets fashioned, between them, an atmosphere rich in meaning and beauty. What was immediately apparent was a profound honesty as they each peeled away the garments of reserve or emotional self-censorship, to share with us their ‘deep places’. They were talking soul, vision, love, fear, triumph, prayer, betrayal, mystery and revelation all potentised by extraordinary, personal creative energy.
It is no mean feat to organise a festival. To organise one entirely focused on poetry and to raise funds for it, hovers on the impossible. Poetry, in commercial and monetary terms, offers zero returns but, oh, in real terms, in heart-and-soul terms, it weighs more than gold and silver. Its red is deeper than ruby and its green beyond that of emerald. Those who attended the McGregor Festival to listen were enriched beyond measure by some of the finest attributes of the human condition, which were handed out, heart-to-heart, by our wonderful poets, amplifying the collective good. Bravo the Brave Ones who organised the Festival! Bravo the Poets!


» read article

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

» read article

Response to Ben Williams’ column RIP South African Literature

» read article

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.


» read article

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

» read article

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.”








» read article

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

» read article