The travelling poet

17 June 2014

Afrikaans poetry is thriving at UCT, with new poets and titles emerging from the Master's in Creative Writing course offered by the School of Languages. But to reach broader audiences at a time when poetry sales are dwindling worldwide, the Afrikaans poet must travel in translation, says Professor Joan Hambidge.

The names of a new crop of young Afrikaans poets mentored by Joan Hambidge roll off the tongue: Carina Stander, Fourie Botha, Aniel Botha, Martina Klopper; and Hennie Nortjé, winner of the Ingrid Jonker Prize 2013 and the Eugène Marais Prize 2013 for his debut anthology, In Die Skadu Van Soveel Bome.

"He writes smashing poems," Hambidge says of Nortjé.

But audiences, even for prize-winning poets, are dwindling; selling 800 copies of a poetry volume puts it in the 'bestseller' category. How much more difficult, then, for the Afrikaans poet?

Part of a global tradition, translation is making poetic works in vernacular languages increasingly accessible to international audiences. And more and more Afrikaans poets are spreading the word in this way.

"Poems travel in translation, particularly via the internet," Hambidge confirms. "We can't survive without translations. Anthologies are something else; we also know that poetry travels through anthologies."

In her journal while on sabbatical in 2012, Hambidge quotes Ruth Padel: "Poets travel the dark roads." In Padel's The Poem and the Journey: 60 poems for the journey of life, based on columns she wrote for The Guardian, she analyses poetry for the ordinary reader - maintaining that it should travel to people, and open their minds.

Hambidge agrees. "Good poetry is an international language; it is less about theme than about good language and the ability to write something that will change something inside you, or open your vision of the world."

Story by Helen Swingler. Photo by Michael Hammond.

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Monday Monthly

Volume 33 Edition 05

17 Jun 2014

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