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Patricia Schonstein

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Ingqanga ifile:The Bateleur is dead. Praise Poem to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela 1918-2013

Ingqanga ifile The Bateleur is dead

Yazalwa sekusaziwa ukuba iyakuphelela phi na
He was born with his destiny written for him

Nangona umzimba wayo wawuthozamile
Though his boyhood was humble

Yaba yingangamsha esebenzela ilizwe
He became a great statesman

Yayihamba njengekumkani kodwa inentobeko
He walked like a king yet was modest

Yakha yaligorha elixhobileyo
He was once an armed warrior

Kodwa yazibeka phantsi izigalo
But he put down his weapons

Yaza yangumfuziselo woxolo
And become an icon of peace

Yayingumthetheleli wabo bacinzelekileyo
He was a spokesman for the oppressed

Nabo babefumene uphum’ aphele
And for the banished

Yawaqhawula amakhamandela ocalucalulo
He broke the chains of apartheid

Yasifundisa ngoxolelwano
He taught us reconciliation

Yazamkela iintshaba zayo
He embraced his enemies

Ayizange ibenekratshi kwabo babeyivalele entolongweni
He had no hatred for those who imprisoned him

Silandela ekhondweni layo
In his flight path we follow

Iimpiko zentaka enobuqaqawuli zisikhumbuza ngendoda yamadoda
The wings of a majestic bird remind us of a great man

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela!

Ngqanga! Bateleur!

Siyakubhotisa Madiba! Hail! Madiba!

Siyakuhlonipha! We honour you!

 

 

In Xhosa bird lore, ingqanga, the bateleur eagle (terathopius ecaudatus), is held in great awe and thought to be a bird of omen.

It is now so rare and so seldom seen that its very name has a magical quality.

Should its call be heard, it is considered extremely lucky and it is believed that something good will happen.

The esteem in which the bateleur is held is echoed in the proverb ingqanga ifile ‘the bateleur is dead’, an expression used when a man of renown dies.

 

 

 Ingqanga ifile  -  The Bateleur is dead – Praise Poem to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela  1918-2013
Patricia Schonstein Pinnock

Photograph A by Eli Weinberg

Photograph B from cover of Long Walk to Freedom

Poems for imprisoned youths

On Saturday, I delivered poems to a prison.

Walking through the first set of double gates, I sensed a strange peace, as though time itself were standing still, as though all the activities of everyday life had come to a final, quiet end.

I was body-searched and relieved of my bag, escorted through an iron turn-style and led down a corridor to a metal door that was unlocked to give entrance to a common room where sat some thirty youths all dressed in blue with shiny black shoes. I say all this with minimum punctuation to capture the way I was breathing, before taking a gulp of air as the iron door was locked behind me.

Prison protocol prevents me from saying where I actually was or with whom. Suffice to say that it was a certificate-giving ceremony for young prisoners who had completed a certain programme. Their small audience comprised parents and other relatives and wardens.

The prisoners were all young men with fresh faces that belied the ghastly crimes against which they had ransomed their liberty. They did some gum-boot dancing, read poems they had written and presented short dramatic skits. Their band played loud music. Talent was palpable. Energy was vibrant. Eyes glowed. Mothers beamed. Wardens were caring, as though of their own sons.

The yellow covers of Africa! My Africa! opening in unison in the hands of these young men, were like birds flying down from a wire.

I came home and lay down on an embroidered bedcover, weakened by having been among those caged energies. The beautiful needlework wrapped me like ivy and let me weep.

 

 

 

An extract from Horison

Skyline is a novel that ‘gives voice’ to the many people who have no voice – former conscipts of the war in Angola; refugees from wars and poverty in Africa; victims of xenophobia; Bergies and the marginalized poor of Cape Town.

The novel uses a number of devices to allow these ‘voiceless’ people to express themselves.

One such device is the conclusion of all but one of the chapters with the description of a painting. There are thirty-nine paintings. Each one is a work of Naive Art. They are described as though in a catalogue or at an exhibition. One hears the voice of an exhibition curator (different to that of the teenage narrator of the novel) but, as the book unfolds, one comes to hear the deep expression of the artist who created the collection.

Skyline is an iconic South African novel. Set in Cape Town’s Long Street, it portrays all the troubles and tribulations of an emergent democracy. It tackles the big issues of war, xenophobia and urban life, while holding hope at its core and never letting go of an underlying innocence.

The recently published Afrikaans translation was eloquently rendered by Carié Maas. It is a new voice for the novel’s unflinching look at the emotional carnage caused by war, and its portrayal of the colourful and violent streets of Cape Town.

I’m pleased to present the first chapter and its painting.

Hoofstuk 1

Dit is hoe ons pa die huis verlaat. Hy doen dit sommer net, sonder enige verduideliking. Een Vrydagaand kom hy net nie huis toe nie. Ek besef hy gaan nie weer terugkom nie, want daar’s ’n leegheid in die lug wat nie voorheen daar was nie. Die bakleiery sal nou end kry, en die argumente wat deur die woonstel woed, sal stil raak.

Dit is hoe ons sit: ek op die bank, bewus van die verkeer daar buite, soos altyd. My sussie, Mossie, sit op die vloer. Sy speel poker met twee denkbeeldige vriende. Ons ma sit op ’n hopie oor die foon gebuk. Die wind roer nie en die maan is nie sigbaar in die naghemel nie.

Sy bel al van tienuur af, toe sy besef het hy gaan nie terugkom nie. Eers het sy die Kimberley Hotel gebel, toe die Stag’s Head Bar en Club Georgia. Sy’t gehoop hy hang iewers dronk aan ’n kroegtoonbank. Nou bel sy hospitale en polisiekantore ingeval hy in ’n ongeluk was.

Ek wonder hoekom sy die moeite doen. Hulle is nie vriende nie en alles tussen hulle is stukkend en lelik. Daar is geen teerheid nie.

Ek trek die patrone op die armleuning van die bank met my vinger na: Voël. Tak. Druiwe. Verstrengelde blare. Die materiaal is dun geskaaf en ek pluk aan ’n rafel. Uiteindelik raak ek geïrriteerd en spel dit vir haar uit: Kan Ma nie sien hy’s weg nie? Hy was nie in ’n ongeluk nie. Hy’s nie gehijack nie. Hy het net nie huis toe gekom nie. Hy’t vir Ma gelos. Vir ons. Hy’s weg.

Ek sê dit nie op ’n mooi manier nie. Ek sê dit om haar seer te maak, want sy het hom weggejaag. Maar sy luister nie en hou vol met haar belaglike soektog na hom.

Sy steek ’n sigaret aan, al brand daar reeds een in ’n piering. Haar hare staan die wêreld vol. Sy is so ’n wrak, ek kan nie na haar kyk nie. Buite skree die verkeer. Dit skree nie altyd nie. Soms gil dit. Soms vloei dit. Soms klink dit soos ’n vrou wat sing. Vanaand skree die verkeer en vul die woonstel met haas en paniek.

Sy trek aan haar sigaret en hou die rook binne. Die verkeer huil nou en die hartseer spoel oor die balkon en by die vensters in en die trane spat alles nat. Die verkeer is die weeklag van ’n madonna, naak en bloeiend.

Ek stap deur en gaan lê op my bed sonder om die lig aan te skakel. Ek kyk hoe die stadsligte oor die plafon beweeg en die donker versplinter. Dis nooit regtig donker in ons kamer nie. Selfs as die lig af is, is daar altyd die gloed van motor- en neon- en straatligte in die kamer. Die stad stroom na binne, spoel oor alles en vlek dit soos verf wat teen ’n muur gegooi word, afloop en ineenvloei.

Mossie kruip tot op my bed. Haar gesig is nat. Hoekom huil jy, Mossie? Daar’s niks om oor te huil nie. Ek droog haar trane af. Sy hou my vas en maak in die dowwe lig haar geluid vir Pappa. Ek sit regop en stamp haar so hard dat sy van die bed afval. Moet nooit weer daardie naam sê nie! Hoor jy my? Hy’s weg! Weg! Ek gil op haar. Ek gryp haar aan die skouers, skud haar en stamp haar weg sodat sy agteroor teen die muur val. Jy sê nooit weer die woord Pappa nie! Hoor jy my? Dis ’n dooie woord!

Al is dit halfdonker sien ek in die gloed van die verkeer en die straatligte sy is hartseer en verward. Ek hou haar vas en sus haar en neurie so ’n bietjie. Die verkeer is ’n swerm voëls wat krys terwyl hulle in die aandlug huis toe vlieg. Moenie huil nie, Mossie. Moenie huil nie.

Sy verstaan nie. Jy weet hoe sy is. Maar ek dwing haar om te verstaan. Pappa is weg en ons sê sy naam nooit weer nie.

 ☼

 Die eerste skildery, met die titel Dit is Kaapstad lyk na Umberto Boccioni se Straatgeluide dring die huis binne.

Vinnige, soms driftige kwashale vang die dinamiek van ’n gejaagde stad vol beweging, verskrikking en verwagting vas.

’n Meisie kyk van ’n woonstelgebou se balkon af na die straat onder haar. Die omringende geboue hel na haar oor en maak haar die fokus van die prent.

Kleur voer ’n orkestrasie van Afrika-stadsgeluide na die middelpunt van die skildery. Hemelblou, plumbagoblou en vlamgeel vleg deur verkeersrefreine op die maat van bokveltromme en kwaitoritmes. ’n Kakofonie van motors en haastige mense vloei ineen in ’n uitbarsting van kleur: grenadella-oranje, plasentarooi, koggelmanderblou en die kleure van Kalahari-sand.

Ons kan ons verbeel dat ons, te midde van die mengelmoes van goudgeel en pers, die sagte gerinkel van koperarmbande hoor.

 

Horison
© 2011 Patricia Schonstein-Pinnock
Uit Engels vertaal deur Carié Maas
ISBN 978-1-874915-17-1
Uitgegee deur African Sun Press
Posbus 16415 Vlaeberg
Kaapstad 8018
afpress@iafrica.com
www.patriciaschonstein.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

’n Skitterende boek oor die menslike gees.
Cape Times

’n Epiese verhaal. Die karakters lewe soos brandende kerse in ’n donker begraafplaas.
Expressen Sweden

Wenner: Percy Fitzpatrick-prys 2002
Wenner: Prix du Marais 2005 vir die Franse uitgawe
Tweede prys: Sunday Times Fiction Award 2001
Nominasie op die langlys:  The International Impac Dublin Award 2002
Erenominasie: SACBF 2000
Gekeur: En bok för alla (Swede) 2006

Street Noises Invade the House (La Strada Entra Nella Casa) by Umberto Boccioni (1982-1916) is located in the Sprengel Museum, Hanover, Germany.

Reading poems at Frankfurt Book Fair

My paternal grandparents were victims of the Holocaust. My grandmother was transported through Theresienstadt to a concentration camp, probably Bergen Belsen, where she died of typhus.

Her remains might lie tangled in a Bergen Belsen mass grave, though she may have been incinerated. Those details remain unknown.

When I visited the Frankfurt Book Fair earlier this month, I brought with me two fat volumes of African poetry – hundreds of poems spanning all sorts of human emotions. One of the volumes focuses entirely on war and civil conflict.

I came to Frankfurt looking to exchange these poems from Africa with those I might find in Germany. I found poems in the old buildings that had survived the aerial bombings of World War 2; and in old doorways that had witnessed the rounding up of people destined for death in concentration camps.

One night a woman ran past me and I found a terrifying poem in the ringing panic of her shoes as they struck the pavement.

I found a defiant poem when I looked up and saw a single light burning in a single window of an otherwise darkened edifice.

I heard poems clickity-clack on the commuter railway tracks that surely still remembered transporting doomed human cargoes.

Looking up at the sky, I watched clouds moving steadily in, I think from the North Sea, but I’m not sure, and read poems to them.

I read poems to the buildings and the doorways and the railway tracks. There was no revenge in the poems, no sense of retribution and no call for pay-back. They were presented in homage to my father, who remained haunted his whole life in not knowing where his mother’s remains lay.

I read poems to Frankfurt itself, the first German city I have ever walked through, and made of this a ritual, a gesture of goodwill.

I believe that poetry can be used as a tool for peace. It can be used as a shaft of light to pierce the darkness of the warring human heart.

Disarmament is a poem.

Embracing the perceived enemy is a poem.

Unconditional forgiveness is a poem.

 

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

Africa! My Africa! An anthology of poems
Selected by Patricia Schonstein
ISBN 978-1-874915-20-1

Order from African Sun Press: afpress@iafrica.com

 

 

 

 

Horison

It is with great pleasure that I announce the publication of the Afrikaans edition of Skyline. It is titled Horison and was translated by Carie Maas.

I introduce Horison on this blog, with warm thoughts towards a certain group of English-speaking, Afrikaans women. These ladies helped my mother, newly arrived in Rhodesia from Italy in 1950, to negotiate a way through her new environment.

They all lived in Queenspark, in Bulawayo. This was a small suburb of prefabricated houses inhabited by English and Afrikaans families, most of whose men worked on the railways. My parents stayed there until I was about two years old.

Each building accommodated at least two families, perhaps four, with all rooms opening onto a wrap-around, front stoep. A row of low, desiccated, olive-green aloes alone survived the heat of outdoors. I think we had one room, maybe two, and shared a communal bathroom. There must have been a kitchen, but I can’t recall it. I don’t remember the neighbouring dwellings – the mental picture I have is just of the one building, surrounded by wide, flat, open veld.

From these Afrikaans mothers, my own mother, aged in her early twenties, learnt certain primary, formative information necessary for raising children in Africa.

They told her to give her babies biltong and rusks to chew to ease the pain of emerging teeth. From them she learnt to iron all laundry that had dried outside in the sun, even underwear, in case putzi flies had laid eggs on the fabric. They identified for her the ferocious Matabele ants, which marched in tight columns, devouring everything in their path. They advised her to check inside shoes for scorpions before putting them on and to check under beds, and even under the bedspread itself, for snakes that might have slithered indoors, unnoticed. They taught her to spray Flit against mosquitoes harbouring under the beds and behind curtains, and told her that if she moved away into malarial areas, she should rub quinine into the elbows of her children who would absorb it and resist the disease. Her Flit pump – an actual hand-pump, not an aerosol can – would have contained DDT and it accompanied us through all our households, delivering horrible deaths not only to mosquitoes and flies, but spiders too. She called it La Pompa. La Pompetta was the little devise she used to administer soapy enemas – prepared from grated green-bar Sunlight soap – also on instruction from these ladies, who told her to keep her children ‘regular’ and to de-worm them now and then. Another of their lessons, was to burn one’s cut hair, or the hair retrieved from a hairbrush, as well as cut fingernails, because they were used in witchcraft by Africans. The unbreachable social barrier between races needed no explaining.

All this information, my mother conveyed to me as soon as I could understand and take heed.  When I was much older, she told me that all those women had lost family in the concentration camps of the Boer War. They were people who carried a lot of suffering. Their experiences had made them tough and uncompromising, yet they had befriended her, a stranger from a far-off land, without prejudice, but with warmth and generosity. They had given her important first lessons for her life in Africa.

Now, as I post news of Horison, I look back and pay homage to their goodwill.

This is an extract from a work-in-progress On Writing – An annotated African Memoir by Patricia Schonstein

 

Horison
Translated by Carie Maas
African Sun Press
ISBN 978-1-874915-17-1
Fiction: Novel
Afrikaans edition
Paperback
204 pages

 

 

 

 

 

A discarded Christ-figure

There is no dignity to mass graves.

They are neither marked nor noted on maps. The bush is expected to reclaim these brutal sites and collude in the disgrace of it all, by casting seeds and letting runner-roots conceal the nasty cache that lies buried.

When they are unearthed, they reveal a fearful tangle of knotted bones, bloodied fabric and suffocation. They speak of what is obnoxious in human nature.

I reflect upon untangling communities of the mass-buried-dead and of finding there something poetic: Perhaps a wedding ring. Perhaps a photograph. Perhaps a protective talisman given by a mother. Perhaps the very sighs of the dead rising up in a dirge as the weight of ground is removed. Perhaps the words of a prophet – simple and directive – telling us to empower ourselves with love and not with hate.

 

 

 

Found dirge: The crucifixion
Commentary on photograph taken by John Liebenberg
Patricia Hayes

The bodies of 133 PLAN combatants killed during a contact with Koevoet at Oshimbimbi are buried at Uupindi, west of Oshakati, Saturday 8 April 1989

The truck is parked right
at the edge
of the open mass grave where
its tangle of occupants
are thrown
unidentified
unprepared
naked and without cover of coffin or cloth
nor laid out individually
unmourned
unclaimed
unrecognised
lacking ritual
lacking dirge and lament

A man is thrown from the truck to join his comrades.
He is held up by the arms
by two local administration employees

His body seems not inert
unlike those of his fellows.
It is held open with arms raised
His is a death that moves
that falls
with all the weight of despair
and metaphor
of martydom
into an anonymous hole
of discarded lives
like an iconic nailed-Christ into a hole
horribly visible
before everything is covered up.

Photograph: John Liebenberg
Poem: Found dirge: The crucifixion by Patricia Hayes
Source: Bush of Ghosts: Life and War in Namibia 1986-1990 by John Liebenberg and Patricia Hayes. Umuzi, Cape Town, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4152-0100-8:

Patricia Hayes is professor of History at the University of the Western Cape where she runs the Visual History Research Project. She has published and co-authored numerous books on the history of colonial Namibia, gender and visuality. She has been short-listed for the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award.

John Liebenberg was conscripted to the military in 1976 and served at the Ondangwa Air Force Base near the border with Angola. He is an established news photographer whose work has been widely published and exhibited.

Africa Ablaze! Poems & prose pieces of war & civil conflict
Selected by Patricia Schonstein
African Sun Press, Cape Town
ISBN 978-1-874915-19-5
Order through: afpress@iafrica.com

 

 

Shooting from the hip

 

The manuscript Africa Ablaze! is now spread out upon the drawing table, under the careful hand of my designer.

Each poem is a mosaic piece, portent and potent. We read each one again, noticing the colours. There are the many shades of blood: simple reds, arterial-reds, venal-reds, carmine, scarlet, crimson, clotted and browning-red.

There are the gun-metal greys, with lead and coppers and irons and blacks. There are the smoke-blues of scorched earth and the bitter-black of burning villages. I see before me, in this extraordinary collaboration of voices, all the components of an African Guernica, as painful as that painted by Pablo Picasso.

Here is war in its full process: The pre-meditation, the engineering, the rhetoric and the killing. There is no beauty to it at all. There is only the profound and lasting damage done to the human heart. I am ashamed of it, ashamed to admit that: ‘Yes, this is how we behave toward one another. This is intrinsic to us.’

Superficially, in compiling this anthology, my role has been that of editor and curator. But, at a deeper level, it has been an attempt to inspire us away from the pitiful, recurring horror of war and toward a lasting peace.

 

Found poem: Shooting from the hip
Cape Town 1979
Former Rhodesian conscripted soldier
As told to Patricia Schonstein over a cup of rooibos

Entering the kraal
Dead still and quiet
But we knew they were in there hiding
It was too dead quiet.

So with the first movement you just shoot
From the hip
And your weapon moves from left to right
And back left again and back right
Back and forth steady, even, careful
So everything is killed
And it’s all screaming chickens suddenly
and mangy dogs
and then you see it’s just women and kids
But you had to shoot
It could have been terrs in there hiding
They could have shot you first.

I hate mangy dogs.
I killed lots of mangy dogs.

 

Africa Ablaze! Poems & prose pieces of war & civil conflict
Selected by Patricia Schonstein
African Sun Press, Cape Town
ISBN 978-1-874915-19-5
Order through: afpress@iafrica.com

 

 

Pablo Picasso painted Guernica in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain, by German and Italian warplanes, at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces, on 26 April 1937. The painting has gained monumental status and is a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading Aubade by Jeremy Gordin

Compilation of Africa Ablaze!  has been a moving experience.

I worked with the words of military strategists, commanding officers, warriors, conscripted youngsters and seasoned combatants. These were brought together from myriad and diverse battle landscapes to give voice to the horror and pathos of war.

Around them, in a haunting chorus, were placed the laments of war-widows, survivors and those who bury the dead or gather up bones.

I dealt with each poem or prose piece stoically, one-by-one. Each of them touched me, but the full impact of the collection did not affect me until the final proof-reading.

A  friend, Leone Oram, read the texts out aloud while I checked them on screen. She reads eloquently, so the exercise, which took a number of days, brought the poems to life. We commented on each one, shared our feelings about them and expressed the emotions that they had evoked.

But it was only afterwards, when I read the manuscript through on my own, from beginning to end, to ensure that the collection ‘worked’, that my stoicism lifted and the anthology released its overall power. With each poem, I found myself gasping, or sighing. When I reached Aubade, I started to cry.

Unlike many of the other poems, Aubade does not give graphic detail of blood and battlefield. It is a poem of nightmare.

 

Aubade
For Jake and Nina
Jeremy Gordin

When I arrived, the building where I work
was a stripped shell, graffiti on the walls.
In corners the remains of old fires, turds.

Yet sun flooded the ground floor
where a group of urchins indicated wordlessly
they wanted to ascend with me in the lift,

transformed from steel box to sideless
wooden hoist. Using ropes that were thick
and greasy as steel cables, a man promised

to haul the kids and me up by hand
but on the fourteenth floor let go. We
rocketed down to death. Yet, swivelling

my hips, I swayed the hurtling platform
to one side, snagging it against a floor,
and we jumped to safety. You understand

daddy’s dream, don’t you, children? That
the world at any moment becomes a war zone;
that some adults are always plotting calumny;

that, though tiring and stiff, your old man
will always rock ’n roll, waltz, soft-shoe shuffle,
or dance any dance he must to save you.

 

Jeremy Gordin (1952- ) is a multi-award winning journalist and author. He is the Publisher of the Daily Sun and Sunday Sun. Born in Pretoria, he studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and UNISA.

Photograph from: http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?134312-Rhodesian-Bush-War-Phtotographs/page21

Africa Ablaze! Poems & prose pieces of war & civil conflict
Selected by Patricia Schonstein
African Sun Press, Cape Town
ISBN 978-1-874915-19-5
Order through: afpress@iafrica.com

 

 

 

 

The Iliad of Homer in Africa

War is an enduring component of our lives. It repeats and repeats – methodically, systematically and predictably, giving the grim sense of an irrevocable branding upon the human heart.

My new compilation, Africa Ablaze! opens and closes with extracts from Homer’s epic, The Iliad. These are included because of the Iliad’s tragic vision and evocation of war’s devastating relentlessness.

I drew the extracts from Richard Whitaker’s outstanding ‘African’ translation of the Iliad because it is rich in African idiom and language. It uses words like assegai, mkonto and impi. There is a sense of this epic war unfolding right here within our own landscape, the very dust of which, with its ochre and rust-red colours, amplifies the sense of carnage on Homeric battlefields.

I have long wondered what it means to be a peace-maker, and have questioned whether poetry, with its great ability to touch the human heart, might stand against the weaponry we so deftly design and make. Could a sonnet halt a marching army? Could a haiku hold back an armoured tank? Could something as utterly beautiful as Solomon’s Song of Songs sway a military decision against seeding landmines on paths and fields?

Perhaps so. Perhaps all that is needed to reverse the awful, universal ethos of war, in the thrall of which humankind seems to be held, is for our hearts to receive poetic beauty and then to pass it on to another. Or perhaps it is the Iliad that should be put to work to engender peace, for it hides none of the dark truths of war.

 

From: The Iliad of Homer – The earth was soaked with blood
Translated from the Ancient Greek by Richard Whitaker

When they met on level ground, they clashed assegai on assegai, hide on hide,
man on bronze-armoured man, bossed shield
shoved against shield, a great uproar arose.
Screams could be heard, shouts of triumph, from men
killing and being killed; the earth was soaked with blood.
When torrents swollen by winter rains rush down
and meet in the groin of a mountain kloof,
the thunder of their waters can be heard
in the distance by a shepherd in the hills;
such was the uproar as the armies clashed.

 

 The Iliad of Homer: A Southern African translation
By Richard Whitaker
New Voices Publishing, Cape Town
ISBN: 978 1 920411 97 8
Order through:  http://southernafricaniliad.com/

Richard Whitaker is Emeritus Professor of Classics at the University of Cape Town. He has published translations from Latin, French and Ancient Greek, as well as academic articles and books on Classical literature and oral poetry. He has also published travel writing on South Africa.

Africa Ablaze! Poems & prose pieces of war & civil conflict
Selected by Patricia Schonstein
African Sun Press, Cape Town
ISBN 978-1-874915-19-5
Order through: afpress@iafrica.com

Photograph from: http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?134312-Rhodesian-Bush-War-Phtotographs/page21

 

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 afpress@iafrica.com to place your order

 

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