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#STBooks: Here in the South, it's the Kindest Month, by Ben Williams

By Ben Williams for The Sunday Times

Waiting for GateauGroundworkIn my home country, the USA, April is National Poetry Month.

Whether April was chosen for the honour as an ironic gesture toward TS Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’, which opens with a famous line of slander against the month, or whether it was simply down to a show of hands in some drab committee room somewhere, we’ll never know. (Unless we Google it, of course – but then the romance and mystery will die.) The point is, poetry blooms with the lilacs this time of year in America.

Which is not to give the impression that poetry is not the cruelest of all the literary professions. As any poet will tell you, it’s the least forgiving – writing a bad poem is as easy as burning supper – and offers the scantiest material rewards. You pour more sweat into a poem than any other creative effort (if you don’t, you’re doing it wrong). And the most you get, for having produced a poem that’s not immediately binnable, is the possibility of seeing it included in the thin offerings of a thin magazine.

The very existence of these thin magazines is evidence for how much we treasure poetry, of course, for publishing poetry sustainably is almost as difficult as writing it. In South Africa, to our good fortune, we’re blessed to count one of the maestros of poetry publishing among our number, Cape Town’s Gus Ferguson.

No one has laboured longer or with more care in the vineyards of verse, cultivating our best poetry, than Gus. He deserves an ode. If I were doing this column properly, it would simply be a list appreciative quotes from top writers about the man and his magazine, which goes by the moniker Carapace.

Gus might be best known for his whimsical, ironic cartoons, which appear in Carapace and many other publications, and which, in their deftness, operate on the same plateau as the drawings of that great American doodler, James Thurber. But he is stern as steel when it comes to publishing, which is why our greatest poets send their work to him. He’s published the likes of Douglas Livingstone, Tatamkulu Afrika, Ingrid de Kok, Don Maclennan, Isobel Dixon, Mteto Mzogwana and Rustum Kozain, to name a select few.

Kozain was just awarded the Olive Schreiner Prize for his most recent collection, Groundwork, which was co-published by Kwela Books and Ferguson’s other poetry imprint, Snailpress. I can’t recommend what Kozain writes, and Gus publishes, highly enough.

Some years back, South Africa’s English Academy bestowed a gold medal on Gus, its highest honour. I think that, by the time he’s done with publishing, they’re going to have to give him two. Haste thee, Academy members, to thy drab committee room, for one of the most significant milestones in South African poetry is approaching: Carapace‘s 100th issue, which will be launched next month at the Franschhoek Literary Festival.

100 issues! There can’t be many poetry magazines that can boast of such an archive. I hereby nominate May as National Carapace Month, and urge all readers to celebrate by subscribing. Details here:

You won’t regret it. It’s a joyful thing to receive poetry in the post, and, to borrow from one of Gus’s cartoons, his thin magazine is worth its weight in saffron.

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The Ache of a Distant Dusk: Ashraf Jamal Reviews Zoë Wicomb's October

By Ashraf Jamal for the Sunday Times

Zoë Wicomb (Umuzi)
Zoë Wicomb’s latest novel, October, is a slow burn. Character driven, it centres on Mercia, a South African exile who lives (like Wicomb) in Scotland. A literary scholar, Mercia chooses to reflect on “home” as idea, memory, and confection. “Home, no more than a word, its meaning hollowed out … a shell carrying only the dull ache for the substance of the past,” Mercia reflects – and yet it remains the home, a thing “dead and representable,” which she nevertheless fails to come to terms with.

On the uneventful surface October would seem a thankless read, and yet, as one upturns each sentence, slips into the cracks of the measured and seemingly remote prose, one begins to understand its quiet power. In her sister-in-law Mercia sees “a face strangely luminous, every fibre lit with sadness,” and it is this melancholy light, rather like Mercia’s experience of twilight – “the slow inching of day to darkness … that dusk-bound sadness” – which shapes October.

The novel’s title refers to the memory of a childhood poem, C Louis Leipoldt’s ‘Octobermaand’; “die mooiste, mooiste maand!” It is the sepulchral night-green of the Karoo, with its melancholic glow, that lights Wicomb’s novel.

It is a light consumed by sadness, even fatality. Any promise offered is piecemeal, a quality which is fitting given the nature of its central character. Preoccupied with having been “left” – by her life-partner, and her family in Namaqualand, which she has, in fact, withdrawn from – Mercia finds herself caught in “the thrall of placelessness.” This is no effete culture of non-belonging, no existential condition of the “been-to,” but rather, a “dull ache”, or Weltschmerz, experienced by someone whose pain far surpasses disaffection.

Just when one assumes the writer of this “memoir” to be a tiresome figure of miserabilism, we are lifted into Leipoldt’s shimmering night-green. The world which Wicomb conjures – it should not be mistaken as the author’s own – is no easy manufacture of “bucolic innocence”, nor a crude dystopian account of the “rainbowland.” For Wicomb, there is no vision of South Africa that is wholly explicable. Wicomb is well-known for her obsession with light; and it is dusk which permeates each and every insight.

I cannot of course reveal the shocker at the novel’s core, only perhaps to add that it is the after-shock of the revelation that counts the more. “All happy families are alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” wrote Tolstoy. I wonder.

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RIP Peter Clarke (1929-2014)

Peter Clarke, one of South Africa’s most versatile and talented artists, has died.

Clarke was born in Simon’s Town in Cape Town in 1929, and passed away yesterday, 13 April, aged 84.

He worked as a dockworker before becoming a professional artist in the mid-1950s, and was best known for his printmaking and woodcuts, although he more recently worked with collage. He also wrote essays, short stories and poetry. In an interview with Artthrob in 2003, Clarke joked: “Had I been triplets, it would have made it much easier because each could have his own job. There are times when I go through a writing phase and there are times for phases of picture-making but there is never a dull moment.”

Watch a video of Clarke talking about his work at the Institute of International Visual Arts in London last year:

YouTube Preview Image
In 2007, Issue 64 of Carapace was dedicated to Clarke, to mark his 78th birthday on 1 June 2007. “Knowledge”, a woodcutting, featured on the cover:


The same issue contained his poem “Self Portrait: Aged 14″:

Self Portrait: Aged 14

Journalist and writer Herman Lategan published this tribute on Facebook:

He was also mourned by many on Twitter:

Image courtesy of NLA Design and Visual Arts

Book Bites: 13 April 2014

The Fall of the ANCThe Fall of the ANC: What Next?
Prince Mashele & Mzukisi Qobo (Picador Africa)
Book buff
The authors mount one of the most ferocious critiques of the African National Congress. For them, the ANC is ‘technically dead and incapable of renewing itself’. The first chapter clears the ground before the slaughter, then the authors churn out an array of colourful insults positing the a scenario of a future without the ANC. ‘Turning our backs on the ANC would be an affirmation of faith in our ability to drive change,’ they write. Their book reads more like an super-sized opinion piece than a scholarly work. – Tinyiko Maluleke @ProfTinyiko

Jonathan Kellerman (Headline)
Book thrill
Recalls some of Kellerman’s earlier novels, notably When The Bough Breaks. Alex Delaware’s court work as a child psychologist makes a return as a plot anchor, but this time the scope’s cross-hairs are trained on Delaware himself. When an unbalanced pathologist seeking custody of her niece threatens his life, he is unwittingly drawn into a complex ecosystem of LA crazies. And for the first time, one gets the sense that all is not glowing in Delaware’s highly homosocial relationship with gay detective Milo Sturgis. One for the fans. – Russell Clarke @russrussy

To Catch A CopTo Catch a Cop: The Paul O’Sullivan Story
Marianne Thamm (Jacana)
Book buff
Two things become clear while reading this book. One: don’t mess with Paul O’ Sullivan. Two: if you have a complicated story to tell, get Marianne Thamm to do it. The Irish-born detective doggedly pursued Jackie Selebi for eight years, was nearly killed twice and believes that his and his family’s lives are still under threat. His motivation? Thamm: “O’Sullivan hates criminals and low-lifes like dogs hate flies”. Thamm pieces all the scumbag players and their numerous crooked dealings together in a easy-to-follow narrative. Riveting – and quite chilling – reading. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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Fiction Friday: Download Pandemonium to Read a New Story by SA Partridge

A new short story by SA Partridge is available to download for free, as part of the Pandemonium: The Rite of Spring anthology.

Partridge won the SABC/You Magazine I am a writer Competition in 2007, and the MER Prize for 2008 Best Youth Novel for her debut novel The Goblet Club. Her second novel, Fuse, was shortlisted for the 2010 Percy Fitzpatrick Prize, and her third, Dark Poppy’s Demise won the MER Prize for Best Youth Novel in 2012.

The Goblet ClubFuseDark Poppy's DemiseHome Away

Pandemonium: The Rite of Spring is a ebook collection of stories by Partridge, Rose Biggin, William Curnow, Martin Petto, Esther Saxey, Jared Shurin and Jennie Gyllblad, and is available to download from Amazon and Goodreads.

1913 was a year of violent change – revolutions, strikes, assassinations and civil war. The Rite of Spring features five stories set in a world that’s coming of age – entering a tumultuous adolescence on the way to its terrifying maturity.

From Russia to South Africa, London to Vienna, these are five short tales of alternate history, mixing the history we know with the monsters we fear.

Contains new stories from Rose Biggin, William Curnow, SA Partridge, Martin Petto and Esther Saxey. With a cover by Jennie Gyllblad.

The Rite of Spring is part of the Pandemonium series – a shared world alternate history created by some of the best and brightest authors in SF, fantasy and horror. This volume can be (and is intended to be) read as a standalone introduction.

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Karina M Szczurek, Deon Opperman, Lindie Koorts en ander skrywers genomineer vir WOORDtroFEES 2014

Vanjaar se US Woordfees-program het ‘n groot verskeidenheid bekende name ingesluit, met gevestigde sowel as debuutskrywers wat by die Boektent en kykNET Erfurthuis gesels het oor hul publikasies. Die fees word tradisioneel opgevolg met die aankondiging van die gesogte WOORDtroFEES – toekennings aan diegene wat verantwoordelik was vir hoogtepunte op die program.

Ek het gemartelDF Malan en die opkoms van Afrikaner-nasionalismeInvisible OthersDonkerlandVuurklipSpoorvat

Lindie Koorts, Elaine Bing en Karina M Szczurek ding mee om die Woordtrofee vir beste debuutskrywer terwyl Deon Opperman, Marié Heese en Riana Scheepers en Leti Kleyn genomineer is as kandidate vir die Woordtrofee vir ‘n gevestigde skrywer. Wenners word volgende week tydens ‘n spoggeleentheid op Stellenbosch aangekondig.

Die WOORDtroFEES word moontlik gemaak deur die ATKV.


Ná die sukses van die vyftiende Universiteit van Stellenbosch (US) Woordfees, wat vanaf 6 tot 16 Maart 2014 op Stellenbosch plaasgevind het, word die topproduksies van die fees by ’n spoggeleentheid aangewys.

Die WOORDtroFEES, moontlik gemaak deur die ATKV, word op Maandag, 14 April 2014 vir ‘n vyfde keer aangebied. Vanjaar word dit by L’Avenir buite Stellenbosch gehou.

Genomineerdes is onafhanklik deur ’n kundige paneel beoordelaars bepaal. Die kategorieë en nominasies (in alfabetiese volgorde volgens naam) is as volg:

WOW-skool: Uitsonderlike bydrae tot die bevordering van Afrikaans

  • Scottsdene Sekondêr in Kraaifontein

WOW individuele prys: Die bevordering van Afrikaans in die gemeenskap

  • Sabina Dumas van New Orleans Sekondêr in die Paarl

Beste kunsuitstalling

  • Lilly Friedlaender Gallery (Kurator: Lilly Friedlaender)
  • Magicus in D-Street (Kurator: D-Street Galery – Elizabeth Miller-Vermeulen samewerking)
  • P.J. Olivier Kunsmuseum (Kurator: Nelis Koegelenberg)

Beste klassieke musiekproduksie

  • Land in klank (met Marietjie Pauw, Suzanne Martens en Roelien Grobler)
  • Liebrecht Vanbeckevoort
  • Stellenbosch University Camerata (met konsertmeester Suzanne Martens)

Beste kontemporêre musiekproduksie

  • David Kramer – Stokoud & Splinternuut
  • Laurika en Orkes
  • Stef Bos en Koos Kombuis
  • Weetstil (met Pieter van Helslandt, Richard Onraet en Renate Riedemann)

Uitskieter drama

  • André Terblanche vir spel in Lykgeskil en Mits dese wil ek vir jou sê
  • Christiaan Olwagen vir inkleding (stel-, kostuum- en beligtingsontwerp) van Waterpas
  • Stephanie Gericke vir spel in Melusine van Arcadia

Beste dramaproduksie

  • Na-Aap
  • Waterpas
  • Wie’s Bang vir Virginia Woolf

Woordtrofee vir beste debuutskrywer

Woordtrofee vir ’n gevestigde skrywer