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Ari Sitas Answers 5 Questions about From Around the World in Eighty Days (Plus: His Favourite Poem)

From Around the World in Eighty DaysAri Sitas’ latest poetry collection, From Around the World in Eighty Days: The Indian Section, was published by Unisa Press earlier this year and forms part of the prestigious Unisa Press Flame Series for interdisciplinary works.

Interdisciplinary, because the volume not only includes full colour original Kerala art work by Aami Atmaja but also an audio CD with the author reading some parts of the poetry to music composed for the book.

The poet and Head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Cape Town recently answered five questions about his book, and shared an excerpt from his favourite poem in the collection.

Read the interview:

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1. What inspired this collection of poetry and where does the title come from?

It is my desperate attempt to bring into language the impact India has had on my experience and creativity. At first I thought I could do a vivid and audacious re-run of Jules Verne’s classic as a tale of “globalisation and its crazinesses”. But my long stays in India got me stuck there. Imagining myself as a latter day (South African) Mr Fogg with a Passepartout in tow, allowed me to play with my role as an outsider and deal with my intensive encounters. I followed the topography of the novel as close to the original as possible but “my” India is different. I had been going there since 1995 but my first long stay was in 2003 and I remember how overwhelmed I was by the visceral encounters with people and places that I felt wow, what is going on there? I sat down in one of my solitary moments (yes there are little nooks without people) and listed 64 books and 28 pieces of music I had imbibed on this place by then and still felt that I knew nothing. Slowly your sociological imagination starts ordering things, what holds this energy together, what greed, what need, what is said, what is unsaid, who worships whom, who kills whom. In the end it was like a poetic scrapbook, like a traveller’s notepad and I did start sketching things and all of a sudden Aami Atmaja this young and outrageously talented Kerala-based artist started sketching things as if she were me and by the end, I/we had a piece of art.

Spending 27 years in Durban prepares you somewhat, but nothing prepares you for your arrival on Holi in Mumbai in 1995 and coming to observe a march of the supporters of Shiv Sena and clutching a copy of Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh that you have just read. People have called it my Love Song to India. I like that!

2. What is From Around the World in Eighty Days: The Indian Section about?

It is the journey, Betty Govinded called it a new “holy grail”, undertaken by the author and his Senegalese sidekick through 21st century India, across the Arabian sea with Oil rigs on fire and Rimbaud-like seas to Mumbai and from there by the great Railway system to Pune and there inland, finding an elephant, getting to Delhi and from there after saving Aouda from Satee/Sati making it through Varanasi, Patna, Kolkata and trying to leave without being able to and to top it all Aouda ain’t going to London etc. In the poems you find allusions to a trip already taken from London at the time of the bomb-blasts, through France, Germany etc. Ahead is the Pacific with its mythical and fictional islands, but there is no home!

On the way, the landscape is pock-marked by poets, musicians, rioters, Dalits, movements, Tagores, Gandhis, Nehrus, cricket score experts and zillions of wild spirits.

3. In a nutshell, who is Ari Sitas the poet?

I’m South African socialist thinker and creative person of Cypriot descent who has written a few volumes of poetry starting with Tropical Scars in 1989 which was very much about Durban during some cruel and violent years. Then I worked on a series published by COSAW titled, Songs Piano and Shoeshine, that played a lot with musical form. I did a lot in between until Slave Trades (2000) which took seven years of research which deals with Rimbaud in his Ethiopian years, or Ethiopia during the Rimbaud years. Then in 2004 I put together my RDP Poems, all about the transition and its woes. I did a whole range of other poems and lyrics until an ensemble of South African and Indian composers started putting much of my work to music as part of the Insurrections project. Deep South put together a selected works edition of my work in 2013 and then came this one a few months later. I am completing my current poetry effort, the Vespa Diaries, which is a poetic transcription of every South African square inch of landscape. It includes Wonderkop in Marikana. I am a public poet. I work on living rights: the right not to be bombed, killed, raped or chattelled.

I cut fences.

4. How did you create this anthology and what is it that makes it unique?

I spoke about the sketches and the art. What is also included is an audio of me reading with a range of South African and Indian musicians helping along. Key here was Dean Henning’s idea of a soundscape that is not about trying to be Indian but playing with some of the forms from our Indian friends but within a tonal landscape of local loops. All these embellishments and intricacies do not make it unique. The thing that tickles me wonderfully is that I managed to create an environment that allows for Indian and African readers to feel at home in, despite my critical tongue about life’s conditions.

5. Please share your favourite poem from the collection, as well as the story behind it.

My favourite poems change. Here is one that plays with two traditions, the more reflective/lyrical poetry of Faiz in prison, and you must listen to Iqbal Bano singing some of such poems and with Urdu romantic poetry gifting the beloved items of beauty for her beauty. They are not responsible for what I did with such raw materials to adorn Aouda. I come to them from far, from the 21st century from a ruthless country.

Learning to Love
(after Faiz)

Some beads for the wave of your tresses
Bead them in hard, shiny against the jetblack of your greying hair
Slaves were traded for them, fingers bled to thread them
They shine – little colourful skulls
Of the day of the dead from Mexico
I come from far, here: the beads
Plait them in the jetblack of your graying hair
So I can learn to love you

Some tears for the dimple of your cheek
Run them slow, shiny against the narrow of your chin
Infants were killed for them, palms were leathered to collect them
They shine- sun-struck crystals
From the saltpans and the pampas
I come from far, here: the tears
Rain them softly against the narrow of your chin
So I can learn to love you

Some soot for your brow and lashes
Texture it in deep, a dark henna against your haunting eyes
Outcasts were starved for them, joints were cracked to scoop them
They haunt- tiny mirages of the desert
From the pit bogs and the crags of the equator
I come from far, here: the soot
Craft it in against your haunting eyes
So I can learn to love you

Some red pearls for your ears
Hang them low, crimson treasures from your softest lobes
Naked divers lost lungs for them, eardrums exploded to collect them
They pulse- little ripe pomegranate-seeds
From the reefs and the swells of the Red Sea
I come from far, here: the pearls
Pierce them through and hang them from your softest lobes
So I can learn to love you
Here is the soft pink for your lips
Smooth it over, soft and aromatic scent for a future kiss
Jews and pigs were boiled for them, chemists lost their skin for them
They entice- the madness between a heart and flower
From the vats and cauldrons of the subcontracted East
I come from far, here: the soft pink
Caress it on softly, an aromatic scent for a future kiss
So I can learn to love you
Leave your breasts bare
There is no mindless youth or loot to hide there
Leave them just there
Just there
So I can learn to love you

Also read:


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Image courtesy of UCT

Joan Hambidge vra: Is daar iets soos "die Afrikaanse leser"?

MatriksDie ballade van Robbie de Wee en ander verhaleDonker stroomHartstoriesMeditasies

“Hoe lyk die Afrikaanse leser? Ons praat alte dikwels van die leser asof ons weet hoe hy/sy daar uitsien.”

Só skryf digter, akademikus en resensent Joan Hambidge op haar blog Woorde Wat Weeg.

Hambidge besin oor hierdie vraag en wonder of, wanneer daar gepraat word van “die Afrikaanse leser”, enige iemand enigsins seker kan wees oor wat bedoel word. Sy verwys na verskeie onlangse publikasies, onder meer Die ballade van Robbie de Wee en ander verhale deur Deon Meyer, Donker stroom: Eugène Marais en die Anglo-Boereoorlog deur Carel van der Merwe en Hartstories: Huis toe met ‘n ligter tred deur Amore Bekker.

“Skep die mark die leser of werk dit andersom? Met ander woorde, word die leser se behoeftes “geskep” deur die mark en die bemarkingstrategieë rondom ‘n boek?” vra Hambidge.

Lees die artikel en laat weet ons wat jou antwoord is op haar vraag:

Kan ons empiries bepaal of ‘n boek deur ‘n leser gelees word? Is dit biblioteekstempels voorin ‘n boek of verkope wat ‘n boek se sukses bepaal? Leeskringe koop boeke aan wat deur meer lesers gelees word as die aankope getuig, omdat dit onder mekaar gesirkuleer word.

Soos skrywers verdwyn, verdwyn lesers ook. Skep die mark die leser of werk dit andersom? Met ander woorde, word die leser se behoeftes “geskep” deur die mark en die bemarkingstrategieë rondom ‘n boek?

Die Afrikaanse mark het die suksesverhaal van ‘n Deon Meyer. En Deon Meyer het al vele avatare en afskynsels opgelewer soos Chris Karsten en Rudi van Rensburg.

Is daar iets soos Die Afrikaanse Leser? As gereelde en aktiewe boekeresensent is die bemarking van boeke uiters opvallend.


"The Country and Its People Must Come First" - Mathews Phosa Responds to Jacob Zuma's "ANC Comes First" Remark

Chants of FreedomPresident Jacob Zuma caused a national uproar earlier this month when he made the controversial statement that the “ANC comes before South Africa”.

Last week, poet, struggle stalwart and businessman Mathews Phosa reacted to Zuma’s remark, saying that “the country and its people must come first”. Speaking at the 13th Annual Business Awards in Kempton Park, Phosa explained that no person or political party should come before the wellbeing of the people of South Africa.

Phosa’s collection of poetry, Chants of Freedom: Poems Written in Exile, was published by Penguin this year and provides raw, powerful and unprecedented insight into the consciousness of a freedom fighter.

Read the article:

Phosa’s comments come as Zuma was at pains to explain and justify his comments at the ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial conference earlier this month. His utterances also took centre stage when Zuma appeared in parliament for this year’s last presidential question and answer session.

Phosa said leaders should not compromise ethics and democracy. He said South Africa’s path to success was through the Bill of Rights.

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Andrew McMillan Becomes the First Poet to Win the 2015 Guardian First Book Award

Andrew McMillan Becomes the First Poet to Win the 2015 Guardian First Book Award

PhysicalAlert! The 2015 Guardian First Book Award has been won by Andrew McMillan, for his collection of poems, Physical.

Only two poets have ever made the shortlist for the £10 000 (about R215 000) prize in its 17-year history, and McMillan becomes the first poet to win it.

In the announcement, The Guardian calls Physical an “elegantly poised and intimate collection of poems”, and books editor Claire Armitstead said:

“It’s a thrilling development for us as poetry so rarely breaks through in generalist prizes,” she said. She cited Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1821 Defence of Poetry, in which he argued that “poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight”. Shelley’s assertion that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” might seem “a bit optimistic in our prosaic times”, Armitstead said, “but Andrew McMillan’s breathtaking collection shows that good poetry can and does still enlarge, replenish and delight”.

“It is wonderful that a collection so tightly focused on masculinity and gay love could have such a wide appeal, across age and gender,” she continued. “It surprised us all with the best sort of ambush, emerging from an extremely strong and vibrant shortlist as the unanimously agreed winner.”

McMillan is the son of Ian McMillan, one of the United Kingdom’s best known contemporary poets, although The Guardian points out that this is a connection he “kept quiet about”, apart from dedicating the book to his parents.

Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen was also nominated for the prize, one of many award lists the Nigerian author’s debut novel has appeared on.

Obioma won the inaugural FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Fiction Award for last month and was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and the 2015 Centre For Fiction First Novel Prize, among others. The Man Booker went to Marlon James in the end, while the Centre for Fiction winner will be announced on 8 December this year.

The 2015 Guardian First Book Award shortlist was:

Man V. NaturePhysicalThe FishermenNothing Is True and Everything Is PossibleGrief is the Thing with FeathersThe Shore


  • Physical by Andrew McMillan (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Shore by Sara Taylor (William Heinemann)

The McMillans junior and senior tweeted their delight:

Watch a video of McMillan reading his work:

YouTube Preview Image

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Don't Miss the Badilisha Poetry X-Change Pan-African Event at The Beautiful Life Building in Cape Town

Invitation to Badilisha Poetry X-Change Pan-African Event

If I Could Sing: Selected PoemsThe Badilisha Poetry X-change is holding a poetry event to celebrate the end of their Badilisha Road Trip through Africa, which is dedicated to meeting and recording the work of poets.

The Pan-African event will feature a number of award-winning poets, including our Poet Laureate Keorapatse Willie Kgositsile and TJ Dema. There will be voices from South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia and more.

The event will take place on Friday, 4 December, from 7 PM at the Beautiful Life Building.

See you there!

Event Details

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Join Toast Coetzer, Erns Grundling and a Host of Writers for the Launch of Ons Klyntji 2015 at The Book Lounge

Invitation to the launch of Ons Klyntji 2015

Ons KlynjiThe Book Lounge and the team behind Ons Klyntji would like to invite you to the launch of the 2015 edition of “the first ever Afrikaans magazine”.

Ons Klyntji was established in 1896, resurrected in the 1990s, and is currently edited by Toast Coetzer and Erns Grundling. It comes out once a year, and features left of centre poetry, short fiction and non-fiction in both English and Afrikaans as well as photography and graphic art.

The event will take place at The Book Lounge on Thursday, 3 December, at 5:30 for 6 PM. There will be readings by Coetzer and Grundling, as well as Danie Marais, Rosa Lyster, Le Roux Schoeman, Nick Mulgrew, Churchhil Naudé, Sindi Busuku-Mathese, Hanru Niemand, Alice Inggs, Mick Raubenheimer, James Honnibal, Andries de Beer, Louis Roux, Luan Serfontein, Liebet Jooste and more.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 3 December 2015
  • Time: 5:30 for 6 PM
  • Venue: The Book Lounge
    71 Roeland Street
    Cape Town | Map
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine
  • RSVP:, 021 462 2425

Check out these books featuring writing by Ons Klyntji contributors:

South AfricaNaweekPruimtwak en skaduboksersAdults OnlyThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology

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