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Popping Corks and Scintillating Poems at Modjaji's Eighth Birthday Party

Modjaji Books Birthday Celebrations

 
Pale gold and deep red sparkling wine filled the glasses of those who gathered in the Observatory Methodist church hall last Sunday afternoon. It was not the women’s auxiliary gone to seed that set Charles Wesley spinning in his grave but the presence of the rain queen, expressing her delight at the most exciting poetry event to date this year. Sponsored by Solms Delta, this was a party celebrating the tenacity and resilience of a remarkable institution.

By the end of 2015, Modjaji Books will have published 32 poetry collections by South African women since its inception in 2007. Added to that is a raft of other fiction and non-fiction that has established this small independent publisher on the South African literary landscape – not to mention the several significant literary awards and recognition that has been afforded its titles over the years. The delicious bubbly was the perfect accompaniment to the lush, robust and resilient verse that was read aloud by some of the city’s most talented poets.

The light filtering through the high windows on the late afternoon may have been muted but as each woman took the floor there was nothing mild about the poems read aloud, nor the topics they approached: the raw edges of childbirth and mastectomy, ageing and violence, were juxtaposed in a powerful expression of wit and eros, contemplation and courage.

Flowers decked the tables. Sumptuous chocolate brownies dusted with icing sugar, heart-shaped pecan tartlets, vegetable crudites and a delicious cheesecake decorated with rose petals and birthday candles was fitting fare for the celebration of the eighth year of Modjadji Books’ existence. Another aspect of the celebration was the launch of their most recent venture, the Modjadji Poetry Fund. This new project aims to provide a wider range of services to those who read, write and engage with South African women’s poetry in all its facets. Colleen Higgs, founder of the women’s press, said the intention was to create a new poetry prize (or prizes), mentoring opportunities, workshops, and honoraria for poets.

Malika Ndlovu

 
Emceed by the multi-talented performance poet and author, Malika Ndlovu, the poets who treated guests to their work included three Ingrid Jonker Prize recipients – Karin Schimke (2014), Beverly Rycroft (2012) and Megan Hall (2008). They were joined by Margaret Clough, Khadija Heeger, Helen Moffet, Christine Coates, Dawn Garisch, Colleen Higgs, Jenna Mervis and Kerry Hammerton.

These are the Lies I Told YouFourth ChildMissingLava Lamp PoemsHomegrown
Invisible EarthquakeBare and BreakingAt Least the Duck SurvivedStrange FruitBeyond the Delivery RoomDifficult Gifts

 

Each poet touched the audience with her remarkable offering.

In particular, these new works, as yet unpublished, struck a deep resonanace: Megan Hall’s reflections on her daughter at three weeks of age, and Helen Moffett’s chilling recollection of discovering armed men in her bedroom.

Margaret Clough’s hilarious account of an elderly woman’s driving skills, performed as a two-part rendition of a hair-raising car trip and Colleen Higgs’ observation of her young daughter’s antipathy to a house guest sharing her bedroom counterbalanced the more anguished verses, bringing a lighter note to the performance.

Here are some of the remarkable poems shared on the evening:

everything in our house

Kate thinks the lava lamp I bought her father for Christmas two years ago is
hers. She thinks everything in our house is hers.

Last night her great aunt, Tessa, from London, slept in her room. Kate doesn’t
want Tessa in her room.
“She’s not my friend,” she says.
“Not yet,” I say.
“She must go. When is she going Mama?”
“In a week or so.”
“But it’s my room.”
“Yes it is. But please let her use it.”
“Why can’t she sleep in your room with you and Daddy?”
“That’s a thought.”
And so on, until she concedes, “She can sleep in my room but she mustn’t
look at my toys. She must look at the wall.”
“OK, I will tell her,” I say.

Kate loves the lava lamp. It takes a while for the yellow wax to heat up and
fl oat languidly to the top where it falls again in bubbles and loops.
Sometimes we sit on the couch and watch the lava lamp in the dark.
It’s not like watching TV.
We’re not watching it exactly, we talk in that slowed down, profound,
goofball way.
Our eyes on the lava lamp.

- Colleen Higgs

What Life is Really Like

You need to toughen up
my father would complain
when I was small
I ought to take you to see
chickens having their heads
chopped off.
That’d teach you
what life is really like.

He’d seek me out
when one of his pigeons
-crazed for home or
mad with terror from a
roaming hawk-
would tumble into
the loft
mutilated by
wire or beak.

I was the one made to
clench my palms round
its pumping chest,
to keep it still while
my father’s hairy fingers stitched
its garotted throat
angrily to rights again.

You see life is a fight for survival
he’d shout, forgetting
he was not lecturing his students
or giving his inaugural address
You gotta roll with the punches.

I waited and waited for that bitter
roughness to spy me and circle
in to land
years and years
of flinching anticipation until
the day I came home from hospital

and my father dressed my wound.

Easing with practiced hands
the drip from my bulldozed chest
he renewed the plaster in breathing silence
never speaking never
once saying

Life’s a bastard
Toughen up.

- Beverly Rycroft

Sterkfontein Bones

The cave holds the bones
the cave and also the hospital
Sterkfontein, dust as old as stone.
She wondered if it had changed,
if there was concrete or
wooden walkways, a shop
that sold resin skulls for lamps.

The narrow opening still
concealed by kiepersol and wild olive,
she saw the bright bones –
a toe and a tooth.
It’s called The Cradle now
but it’s really a trapdoor –
animals fell in to die
on a heap of bones.

The other Sterkfontein
they called Groendakkies;
she sat with him on a bench there
under yellow apples of a syringa tree.
What men don’t understand, they
call madness,
she’d read it somewhere.
He wanted her to pick up the apples
that had fallen;
the silver apples of the moon
the golden apples of the sun,
but she would not.
Even if she did
she’d only have bones –
a tooth and a toe.

- Christine Coates

On Realising I am in Love with You

I wanted a man with a tall stride and
berry brown legs.
An adventurer.

A long haired surfer with an earing
and a six-pack.
A self-made man.

A millionaire. A bespectacled genius.
I am sure my ad said:
‘must love dogs’.

And I got you.

- Kerry Hammerton

Winter Interlude

Through wind, rain and hail
two daughters fly in to visit,
bringing laughter, wine and
an alpaca knee rug.
I’m told this is the worst weather
in Cape Town for decades.
But for me,
wrapped up in joy,
drenched in love,
it’s sparkling
Summer.

- Margaret Clough

Two Gifts

I’ve lived in my body in this city all my life
yet have not known this simple pleasure:
you took me to a lake on a fynbos berg.
I entered like a dream, plunging.

We sat on white sand playing
with shoals of meaning that shift
when you lift the lid off words.
You chose to sit alone while I went in.

The mountain offers up this cup
for gulls and clouds to drink; I, mere fly,
baptised my life within its living liquid,
emerging blessed. I heard you say

women want more than you can give; a man
was drowning in your eye. We walked back,
caressed by sensuous air. Your mouth
was tense. I shook your hand goodbye.

- Dawn Garisch

This article will be updated with more contributions, including Ndlovu’s moving tribute to Modjaji Books; and poems by Karin Schimke and Helen Moffett

 

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event:


 

 
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On 29 March Modjaji Books celebrated her 8th birthday with a poetry reading and party at the Methodist Church Hall in…

Posted by Books LIVE on Tuesday, 31 March 2015

 

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An Initiation Ceremony Gone Wrong: Read an Excerpt from The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga

The ReactiveIn Masande Ntshanga’s debut novel The Reactive the young author uses “rhythmic prose” and “striking lyricism” to deliver the gut-punching narrative of secrets, memory, drug abuse and family.

Aerodrome has shared an excerpt from this novel, in which Lindanathi, the protagonist, remembers a pivotal moment in his life: the day his brother died, an event he had a hand in. “Ten years ago, I helped a handful of men take my little brother’s life. I wasn’t there when it happened, but I told Luthando where to find them,” Lindanathi recalls.

Read the excerpt to understand what happened when an initiation ceremony went the wrong way and how it haunts the older sibling to this day:

Ten years ago, I helped a handful of men take my little brother’s life. I wasn’t there when it happened, but I told Luthando where to find them. Earlier that year, my brother and I had made a pact to combine our initiation ceremonies.

This was back in 1993.

 
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"A Blazing Voice", "Absolutely Astonishing" - Man Booker International Judges on Marlene van Niekerk

Marlene van Niekerk was announced as a 2015 Man Booker International Award finalist yesterday.

The other nine finalists are César Aira, Hoda Barakat, Maryse Condé, Mia Couto, Amitav Ghosh, Fanny Howe, Ibrahim al-Koni, László Krasznahorkai and Alain Mabanckou.

Marlene van NiekerkAgaatTriomfThe Man Booker International Prize has honoured two African writers in its time: Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, who was shortlisted in 2005, the prize’s debut year, and Chinua Achebe from Nigeria, who won in 2007.

Out of a total of 60 nominees for the prize since its inception, only six have been from Africa – four being from this year’s shortlist: Couto, Al-Koni, Mabanckou and Van Niekerk.

The Agaat author is also the only South African to have been nominated.

Professor Marina Warner, chair of the panel of judges, explained that the judges were not thinking in terms of nation states and geography: “We were looking for terrific writing.”

“They are so different, those four writers who happen to be geographically born on this continent, from Egypt down to South Africa,” Warner continued. “They are utterly different. There is no resemblance between Van Niekerk and Al-Koni. They really are so so generous and such blazing voices each in their own right.”

Man Booker International Cape TownThe panel was invited to elaborate on Van Niekerk’s inclusion on the list of nominees. South African UK-based judge Elleke Boehmer said: “The richness of the language play. Absolutely astonishing. And the depth of her palimpsestic imagination, the way in which she sees history as layered and textured, and that is reflected in the way in which she uses the Afrikaans language in multiple different intersecting levels.”

Warner added that she felt that one of the great powers of fiction is that it can “represent darkness and damage, and that it can do so in extraordinary frank and implied and uncompromising ways”.

“I mean I don’t want to use a word like ‘redemptive’,” she said, “but I think Edwin’s comment, which was that ‘fiction consoles strangely’, really has great wisdom in it.

“The representation of the society in Van Niekerk’s vision is a very, very troubling and very, very dark but the general effect of reading her books is one of where you are extended into sympathy. Your knowledge and your common feeling of humanity grows.”

The conversation continues tonight at The Book Lounge and tomorrow, again at UCT.

The ConversationsThe Tiller of WatersSegu

A River Called TimeThe Shadow LinesSecond ChildhoodThe Seven Veils of SethSeiobo There BelowAfrican Psycho

 
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The finalists for the Man Booker International Prize were announced in Cape Town on 24 March by judges Marina Warner…

Posted by Books LIVE on Tuesday, 24 March 2015

 

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the celebrations that evening:


 

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Pitika Ntuli on the Rhodes Statue at UCT: There is No Decolonisation on our Campuses

Pitika Ntuli: The poetryScent of Invisible FootprintsPitika Ntuli says students are well within their rights to demand that the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town be taken down.

The presence of the statue of Rhodes on the UCT campus has been the centre of protests and debates around the country this month, and Ntuli, poet, writer, artist and Professor Extraordinaire at Tshwane University of Technology, says the problem began when the universities in South Africa were merged.

Read the article:

Historian Professor Pitika Ntuli said South African universities need to be re-invented.

He believed students are well within their rights to demand symbols of colonialism be taken down.

He said, “There is absolutely no decolonisation of the higher education sector in South Africa.

“We missed a golden opportunity when we were merging the universities and when you are merging the universities you have an opportunity to re-invent the university.We were unable to do that. As a result, we have universities in Africa but we don’t have African universities.”

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Video: Storytelling Icon Gcina Mhlophe Reveals Planned Oral History Museum in Durban

21 IconsGcina Mhlophe chatted to News24 at the recent 21 Icons gala dinner.

Mhlophe said she hopes to see the 21 Icons who have passed away since the project began, Nadine Gordimer and Nelson Mandela, remembered, but also the South Africans pick up the baton and move forward.

Storyteller, poet and a freedom fighter Mhlophe revealed her plans to start a project called Khumbulani Memory House, a planned oral history museum in Durban.

“It is about ordinary people telling their own stories,” she says. “It is great for big museums with big names behind them, but ordinary South Africans have got stories to tell, and for me, if that’s the last thing I do before I die, that’s what I want to do. I want to see the Khumbulani Memory House overflowing with the stories of my people.”

Watch the video:

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Easter Weekend Getaways: Seven Great Ideas for Fun Family Camping Trips

The Easter weekend is the best time to break away from the city and be at one with nature one more time before winter is upon us. Traveller24 has compiled a list of seven awesome camping spots for a fun family getaway this Easter.

Picturesque DrakensbergNational Parks and Nature ReservesWeekends AwayPaths to PubsHiking Trails of South AfricaOffbeat South Africa

 
Traveller24 recommends you pack the car and take the kids to the Breede River Goose in Bonnievale, Mahai in the Drakensberg or Buffelspoort in Gauteng, among others.

For more creative ideas on where to spend your April break, page through the following Struik Travel and Heritage titles: Picturesque Drakensberg by Sue Derwent, National Parks and Nature Reserves: A South African Field Guide by Chris and Mathilde Stuart, Weekends Away: In and Around Gauteng by Diane Coetzer, Paths to Pubs: A Guide to Hikes and Pints in the Cape Peninsula by Tony Burton, Hiking Trails of South Africa by Willie Olivier and Offbeat South Africa: The Travel Guide to the Weird and Wonderful by Denise Slabbert, Richard George and Kim Wildman.

Read the article for more epic travel destinations:

Glen Reenen, Golden Gate

Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains of the north eastern Free State lies the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The park derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the park’s sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock, keeping vigil over the main rest camp.

Although there are rondavels a-plenty, get in touch with the honest soil of the Free State by pitching your tent in the stunning, shady Glen Reenen Campsite. There are braaing facilities, well maintained bathrooms and a variety of activities to indulge in.

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