ALFRED Schaffer jokes that he left Holland in 1996 as a student, but that the experience of returning home as an acclaimed and award-winning poet is an odd and disconcerting one.
Registered for his PhD with the UCT Department of Afrikaans and Netherlandic Studies, Schaffer made a two-week trip to the Netherlands in early May to launch a second volume of poetry, and to pick up the inaugural Jo Peters Poetry Prize for his first collection. The award, honouring poets who have published either one or two volumes, was made to him in his absence at the prestigious "Day of Poetry" in Landgraaf at the end of April.
Schaffer took top honours for his 2000 debut collection, Zijn opkomst in de voorstad ("his rise in the suburb"), which also earned him a nomination for best poetic debut in Dutch last year. One of 37 books nominated for the new prize, Opkomst was adjudged the best by a distinguished panel of poets and publishers at the poetry festival.
The laurel came as a big surprise to Schaffer, who received the good tidings from his agent in Holland. He initially thought that he had won it for his latest collection, Dwaalgasten ("wandering guest"), which had not yet been launched at the time.
The award not only comes with a generous cheque, but also a publishing contract for a special volume of work, which will be Schaffer's third. Talking about his second tome, he notes that he was far more critical with this book, looking carefully at how each poem formed part of a whole.
While loving South Africa – he plans to return once he finishes his PhD at the end of this year – he says that he feels somewhat isolated from the busy literary scene in Holland. "I don't write in any South African language, so there is a sort of vacuum I work in."
In Holland, however, things have changed as well, his Dutch friends looking at him differently, he jokes. "It's fairly strange. You leave home as a student, and then you come back as a writer."