Edited by Grahamstown writer Paul Wessels and poet Robert Berold, 2015′s Tyhini, the annual anthology of writing created by students of the Rhodes University’s Masters in Creative Writing programme, was celebrated at the Book Lounge late last year.
Cape Town poet Kerry Hammerton and writer Jana du Plessis hosted the event, welcoming a large crowd.
Now in its fifth year, Hammerton described Tyhini, published in association with the
Institute for the Study of English in Africa, as an anthology containing writing that was marked by an experimental approach.
“The work contained in these pages explores life in a different way. You’ll find short stories, flash fiction, poetry and a whole lot of other genres in between,” she said.
Short story writer Stacy Hardy is both staff and student of the Creative Writing programme. She read an extract from Lesego Rampolokeng’s soon-to-be published work, describing him as “a long term friend, fellow teacher on the programme, fellow student of life and always, a student of writing”. She said his new work represents a departure from his previous explorations, containing smaller, short fictions that together create “a cohesive, yet absolutely uncohesive narrative”.
The next piece read aloud was a chilling excerpt by a narrator who records a dark descent into an encounter of being eaten alive. It was from Hardy’s own short story, “The Aesthetics of Rat Bites”.
“There’s something wonderful about listening to somebody read their own work,” Hammerton said, even when it is exceedingly dark.
Hammerton also shared her experience of the Creative Writing MA at Rhodes, recalling the way that her fellow students’ work grew week by week, and the encounter with the individual voices as they emerged and grew.
Next on the programme was a poem by Johannesburg poet José Claassen who Hammerton described as “the metaphor king” in her cohort.
The misbehaving thought
by José Claassen
Me and a thought decided to meet once
but it was late
it said it had got caught in traffic
but haai, you can’t trust these thoughts hey
We ere supposed to meet at KFC
I like KFC because the wi-fi’s free
I arrived early
and almost an hour later
in strolls this thought
all sauve in a suede blazer
jeans and mocassins
like it’s Sunday afternoon at the country club
It annoyed me that a thought
would be so direspectful.
Hammerton spoke of the challenge of reading her own poems aloud in the wake of a particularly difficult personal year, and opted to go vintage, reading poems about sex. She read the first poem she wrote on the programme, which was born of an exercise where the task had been to articulate what compelled her to write, to define the enemy against whom she was writing.
by Kerry Hammerton
I write against my own prude –
that crossed legged, closed mouthed
bitch. I write against my own law-
maker, the one who invents rules
for everything; the one who chafes,
not against regulations,
but against chaos. She pays the bills,
buys the condoms, makes sure
the vibrator’s batteries are charged.
I am fine thank you –
I have curled around myself
my mouth thick with a tongue
pressed down on words.
She continued with “Which Fantasy?”, “One Night Stand” and then “You Again”.
by Kerry Hammerton
I had not thought about you for weeks,
months, years and now you stand
behind my right shoulder—
a pale ghost with long dark hair—
just out of the reach of my eye.
Always at night, sometimes
at dawn, and now even
when it is day. I want to
take an axe to my head,
cleave my skull,
gouge out that part of my brain
that holds onto you
and spits out these memories.
You were never anything like a ghost.
Perhaps you are dead? And here
you are again, somewhere
you are not supposed to be.
I feel hollow in odd parts of my body
like my left ear, my right elbow
and the toe I broke before
I even knew you. I shake my head
you don’t disappear.
I made a figure out of terracotta
put him in the sun to dry.
His hair is short, like yours was.
He stands on my balcony,
smokes a clay cigarette.
Any minute he’ll come inside
ready to tell more lies.
I have written so many poems about you,
why should I write one more line?
Fundile Majola, a former student on the programme, read works in isiXhosa by Mxolisi Nyezwa, as well as his own poem, a searing explication of the misery and mirth encountered on account of a foreskin.
Knysna journalist and writer Jo-Ann Bekker read the poetry of Ayanda Billie.
by Ayanda Billie
to my wife diekestso
i found love in a storm
in my country
in streets that smell of violence
where terror rules
i lifted my arms
to catch the shooting star
my eyes are satisfied
i found myself laughing at death
and holding someone
who comforted me
without any regrets
in the morning
today i understand
why some men
jump from the van staden bridge
or hang themselves from the roof
silently i know
i could not stand emptiness
i would not survive a day
without the hiss from the kettle
you making coffee for me
your confontations and arguments
i take them as lightning flashes
and in the morning
the sky remains blue
since i married you
i have discovered
that tears can mean many things
Knysna poet Jo-Ann Bekker read from her short story, “I Was Wearing Jeans”, an account of the serial experiences of unkindnesses, sexual and otherwise, associated with wearing jeans.
The final reader of the evening was Cape Town-based writer Du Plessis, who read her short story “Snow Queen”. Du Plessis spoke in generous terms about her encounters with other students on the programme. “Every one in this collection has a unique voice, coming from dramatically different experiences of the world. These are voices of strength, and they’re very beautiful ones at that,” she said. She praised the courage and giftedness of Napo Masheane, and read her poetry.
My Address Is Blood
by Napo Masheane
Threw his seeds
Between bricks stones and mortar
Spread his roots wide
In secret these trees grew into a thicket
Then he met my mother
I was born a daughter
Though not his first
(I heard noisy whispers between family cracks)
One day I fell in love
With my father’s kind
A man who left his wife at home
To become a brother
Who made a baby with me
And just like my mother
Unclaimed seed was planted in my womb
I gave birth to a child with nameless roots
But raised him not to be a wounded man
After years of this heart-wrenching legacy
Years of fatherless children
Betrayed by my guarded fears
I walked around with a bruised heart
Choked to lick blood off scars
I paged through history
To find my unknown brothers and sisters
Tried hard to connect blood
I refuse to live like a broken mirror
Or a defeated silence
I am a grown-up woman
Commanding the past
To cut this inherited curse
Because now I know
Blood will always find
The river it belongs to
Du Plessis ended the evening by thanking the lecturers and tutors on the programme for their generosity and guidance. She also thanked The Book Lounge for hosting the evening.
The collection, which takes its name from an isiXhosa exclamation of astonishment, disbelief, sometimes skepticism, includes personal meditations, creative non-fiction, essays and excerpts from debut novels. Other contributors to the anthology include Connie Fick, Zukile Fundakubi, Maakomele R Manaka, Zongezile Matshoba, Jeannie McKeown, Kabelo Mofokeng, Thabiso Mofokeng, Mmatshilo Motsei, Moses Mtileni, Tariro Ndoro, Maruping Phepheng, Tania Terblanche, Antoinique van Staden and Daniel Whitehorn.
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