Sunday, 30 December 2007

Return of the Druids

French surrealist author Julien Gracq dies aged 97

At the Lycée Claude Bernard in Paris during the 1950s a number of 16-year-olds were fascinated by their history and geography teacher, Monsieur Poirier. He was small, with short hair and dressed in a dark suit. Punctual and efficient, no one ever thought of playing tricks on him. When his teaching was over he gathered up his papers and went away. The reason for the particular interest in him was the discovery that Louis Poirier, who has died aged 97, was in fact Julien Gracq, the novelist, who had won (and refused) the Goncourt prize in 1951.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Author and public: prediction of the blog

"For centuries a small number of writers were confronted by many thousands of readers. This changed toward the end of the last century. With the increasing extension of the press, which kept placing new political, religious, scientific, professional, and local organs before the readers, an increasing number of readers became writers – at first, occasional ones. It began with the daily press opening to its readers space for “letters to the editor”. And today there is hardly a gainfully employed European who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to case. At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer."

Walter Benjamin, 1936

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Eating out

A collage by yours truly.

More to follow....

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Saturday, 15 December 2007

876 - Fox

A debut collection by this Johannesburg-based performance poet, aka Richard Fox aka Tshirt Terrorist. It's a beautiful production by Third Word Publishing, ISBN: 978-0-620-39440-6.
Unlike a lot of performance poetry these days, the poems (some of which first appeared in Green Dragon) work well on the page, often experimenting with form and engaging in wordplay. This guy's work is fuckin' brilliant.
Copies available at bookstores countrywide or e-mail for order details.

Sunday, 09 December 2007

Don't look at me - Cecilia Ferreira

Photography from versatile South African artist Cecilia Ferreira.

Journey - Cecilia Ferreira

Ons Klyntji 2007

The latest issue of Ons Klyntji has just been published. Totalling 148 pages of poetry, fiction, photography and graphics, just some of the contributors are Jason Bronkhorst, Linda Neethling, Samantha Reinders, Koos Kombuis, Kleinboer, Ayran Kaganof, Allan Kolski Horwitz, Salomé Silberstein, Robin Kelly, Dawn Garisch, Tania van Schalkwyk, David Chislett, Haidee Kruger, Danie Marais, Gary Cummiskey, Riana Wiechers, Zani Botes, Sandra Kruger and Syd Kitchen.
Also includes a CD of mainly Afrikaans alternative music by artists such as The Buckfever Underground and Paul Riekert (I remember walking past him in the streets in Yeoville many years ago!)

Orders can be placed by contacting Toast Coetzer at

Tuesday, 04 December 2007


A photograph by controversial Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki.
For an online interview with Araki, click here.

Sunday, 02 December 2007

New Coin Volume 43 No's 1 & 2 are out soon

"Would you believe I am a bird and the sky is wide.

"Would you believe I am a bat and my shadow is longer
than night. That during the day I am a star behind the light.

"Would you believe that my lungs were halved with fright,
that I am barely alive, that trees breathe for me, that I can
be quiet and small, that really these eyes are scabbed over
and afraid to see."
(Kelly Dyer, extract from ‘Hear me’)

"my father, i will have hunted you down
in the rubble you left behind. you will no doubt see, the scythe
i bear, to hatchet
in the gardens of your scars, your
rooms with crucified picture frames. "
(Khulile Nxumalo, extract from ‘vote of thanks’)

"…two plainclothes detectives gripped me from
behind and started dragging me to the police station, my heels leaving
When we got there, they pushed me into a chair in the charge office
and proceeded to jab me in the face"
(Graeme Feltham, extract from ‘Detainment 1’)

New Coin, Volume 43, No 1 – June 2007 Kelwyn Sole, Véronique Tadjo, Leon Satz, Gary Cummiskey, Richard Fox, Abbey Khambule, Graeme Feltham, Joop Bakkes, Daniel Browde, Tim Ngqungwana, Haidee Kruger, with translations from the Turkish by Ilyas Tunç. Interview: Sinclair Beiles (interviewed by Gary Cummiskey).

New Coin, Volume 43, No 2 – December 2007 Kelly Dyer, Kobus Moolman, Robert Berold, Khulile Nxumalo, Bernat Kruger, Wangu Ike Muila, MF Bopape, Joan Metelerkamp, Vonani Bila. Interview: Charl-Pierre Naudé.

To order copies or to subscribe, Please write to Carol Leff ( at the Institute for the Study of English in Africa for details.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

A Day at the Races

Sinclair Beiles and I go to Turffontein Racecourse for the day; he wants to check out the local fillies, he tells me.
We’re waiting at the starting post but none of the horses seem in the mood for racing; it’s been raining the day before and the ground is muddy and water-logged in patches.
“Do you think they’ll call it off?” Sinclair asks. Then, suddenly waving his arms in the air, he yells: “I can’t find any decent heroin in this place!”
We start walking down the track and encounter a heap of arms – young children’s arms – freshly amputated.
“It’s like Kurtz’s memory of the village in Apocalypse Now,” says Sinclair, but I already have the theme music from Twin Peaks in my head.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Botsotso 14

Botsotso 14 has just been published and includes poetry and prose by writers such as Mike Alfred, Vonani Bila, Motjidibane Bapela, Ike Mboneni Muila, Joop Bersee, Anton Kruger, Allan Kolski Horwitz, Liesl Jobson, Lionel Murcott, Mark Espin, Arja Salafranca, Anna Varney, Muthal Naidoo, Kobus Moolman and Haidee Kruger.
Botsotso is published by Botsotso Publishing.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

New publication from Dye Hard Press: Full Circle by Kobus Moolman

Full Circle

a play

by Kobus Moolman

ISBN: 978-0-620-39270-9

The year is 1994. Seven years before, Meisie and Boetie's father was killed when his car was hijacked. Meisie was with her father in the car but, being blind, she did not see the hijacker's face. However, she never forgot the voice that laughed as her father was shot.

Meisie and Boetie now live with their uncle on a farm in the former northern Transvaal. With other Afrikaner extremists, they plan to bring about the downfall of the new government.

One day, though, a black police inspector arrives at the farm and to Meisie his voice is strangely familiar...
Full Circle is a hard-hitting drama about power, identity and transition. The play combines elements of the thriller and of film noir in an iconoclastic display of ethnic nationalism and religious fundamentalism.

It premiered at the Grahamstown Arts Festival in 2005, and was performed at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg and the Oval House Theatre in London in 2006.

“A work of luminous beauty . . . a topographical map of pain, revenge and justice working through, despite human intention.” – Robert Greig, The Sunday Independent

“A gripping, perceptive and totally absorbing play.” – Margaret von Klemperer, The Witness

Full Circle is available from bookstores countrywide at an estimated retail price of R125 per copy. If ordered directly from the publisher, the price is R80 per copy, including postage. E-mail for order details.

Kobus Moolman teaches creative writing at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is the author of four collections of poetry; his most recent being Separating the Seas, published by University of KwaZulu-Natal Press. He is also the author of Blind Voices, a collection of radio plays recently published by Botsotso Publishing.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Monument Square, Budapest - Bruno Sourdin

An example of mail art from French collagist and poet Bruno Sourdin.

Friday, 09 November 2007

Print explosion a good omen for SA authors

The past few years have seen a surge in South African publishing and the industry has never been so active and vibrant. New titles by local authors are published regularly and new imprints are, in the words of author Finuala Dowling, “breeding like lilies”.

For newly established or emerging writers, this explosion in local publishing is an exciting time, especially with the opportunities it provides for wider exposure to readers, both locally and internationally.

Dowling, the author of two collections of poetry and two novels – the latest being Flyleaf, published by Penguin - says: “I’d sum up publishing in SA today with the word ‘fecund’. Starting off as a poet and short story writer, I was naturally off the radar. Novels bully their way into the literary limelight. I’ve overcome that by writing a couple of my own bullies.”

This enthusiasm is shared by Dawn Garisch, author of the novel Once, Two Islands, published by Kwela: “I am excited to part of what feels like a whole new era in South African publishing. Since 1994 it feels that the lid has come off … More authors and publishers are taking risks with what can be said and how it is said, and I am continually astonished by the profusion of new releases … There was a time, not long ago, when a certain snobbery meant that few South African authors were thought good enough, and I must confess I was one of them. Nowadays, I read a South African book ahead of one by a foreigner.”

Margie Orford, author of two novels, Like Clockwork and Blood Rose, both published by Oshun, is likewise excited by the current publishing activity, although in her case overseas publishing looks set to prove more lucrative: “I was thrilled when Oshun took Like Clockwork. My agent Isobel Dixon of Blake Friedman Literary and Film Agency in London subsequently sold the rights for Like Clockwork and Blood Rose to Blanvalet, an imprint of Random House in Germany for a substantial amount of money. I also have a very generous book deal with a Dutch publisher. Like Clockwork has also been sold to small publishers in Russia and the Czech Republic. So I am making a living from writing fiction but not in SA. Here my royalties have been relatively small... I must say though it is wonderful to be published in one’s home market.”

But there is a difference in being an author of a novel and an author of a collection of poems, says Mark Espin, whose debut collection of poems, Falling from Sleep, has been published by Botsotso. “This is of course not a uniquely South African situation. The readership for poetry generally, and certain kinds of poetry particularly, is just so marginal that being a newly published poet in SA really does not make an earth-shattering difference to one’s existence.”

Haidee Kruger, who debut poetry collection Lush: Poems for Four Voices was recently published by Protea Books, says the experience of being published is “a little bit like winning the lottery, though perhaps not totally as random as that. I feel very lucky, very privileged to be published. And there is an element of chance in it – so many other factors play a role apart from the merit of the book itself.”

The publishing market in SA is also becoming quite diverse, and there has been a rise in the number of dedicated and innovative independent publishers popping up alongside the bigger, more financially equipped commercial publishers.

“Mainstream, commercial publishing, by its nature, has to cater for very specific markets with very particular tastes,” says Kruger. “This is one of the factors influencing what and who gets published. Moreover, a book is not only a book – as with everything else, the buyer buys into a package, an image, a lifestyle even. This is the case everywhere, but perhaps in the relatively small South African publishing industry this is exacerbated.

“Independent publishers play a crucial role. Although they too obviously have particular markets and financial motivations and constraints, their markets are often (though not always) different to the markets catered for by mainstream publishers. Independent publishers provide a space in which difference, oddity, otherness, idiosyncrasy may find expression and dissemination. That is important.”

Megan Hall, whose debut poetry collection Fourth Child has been published by Modjaji Books, says: “I am delighted that independent publishers seem to be making a comeback after a period in the doldrums. They broaden and deepen the reach of publishing in SA and keep bigger publishers on their toes.”

Garisch agrees: “Independent publishers must be commended for holding a particular door open. Even though they may reach a small audience, I believe they nourish and deepen the culture for us all.”

“There are several really interesting developments,” says Espin. "The Community Publishing Project at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town has certainly given many people the opportunity and encouragement to do their writing. Mainstream publishers are doing some wonderful books in an environment that is challenging at best. Independent publishers will, however, always give the publishing arena the energy and the edge which is so fundamental to keeping things lively and interesting.”

The success of a book – and thus sales revenue to the publisher – is also very much dependent on a receptive reading public who are influenced by finances, accessibility to books, cultural preference (and sometimes prejudice) as well as competitive attractions.

“It’s a complex issue,” says Espin. “I am convinced that reading is something that we all want to do. There are though many questions about the access of many in our society have to reading material. The state of our public libraries, the prohibitive pricing of books and the location of bookshops are all contributing factors to the sad state of reading in SA. The seduction of hi-tech alternatives for leisure time is a major challenge to reading. There is therefore the vast chasm between two extremes: the absence of books in the deprived rural space and the neglect of books in the privileged urban space.”

“Relatively few people buy books, especially poetry books, on a regular basis,” says Kruger. “Of course, if you have to chosen between food and books, you’ll chose food. But even people who can afford books would rather buy a DVD, a Playstation game or a pair of jeans.”

Other writers, however, are optimistic, such as Dowling: “SA readers seem really keen to try out new, local writing. You only have to look at the crowds passing through the Cape Town Book Fair to get a sense of their passion. It’s mostly for novels and nonfiction, but there’s a definite audience for poetry and literary essays.”

But Dowling agrees that the state of reading of book buying in SA could be improved and this could be assisted by SA having “more properly remunerated professional book reviewers. The Afrikaans press is way ahead when it comes to flagging good new writing.”

Orford feels it is important to expand the book buying and reading public beyond the suburban ambit of Exclusive Books and Wordsworth (in Western Cape). One way is through libraries, she suggests.

Espin agrees that in SA we should start with developing public library and school library facilities. “The grant by the arts and culture minister is a wonderful start, but it remains merely a start. If libraries are in a position to purchase locally purchased books more extensively, it will provide a useful impetus to the publishing industry,” he says.

“I look forward to the effect that the government’s increased library spending will have in different ways,” says Hall. “The influence of government policy, that is education policy, on South African publishing, cannot be underrated. I look forward to a resurgence in publishing in African languages, and hope that publishing in Afrikaans continues to be well-supported and reasonably well-supplied.”

But Kruger feels that publishers themselves could contribute to encouraging book buying by making books look more appealing. Books “need to awake the buyer’s desire to posses it, as an object,” she says. “This is a bit sad, but true. I think that possibly, for a person who is interested in buying books, a great cover may sometimes be a clincher. But I don’t think this will push somebody who isn’t interested in books to buy them.”

Overall, though, there is general optimism about the future of publishing in SA, although the issue of reaching audiences and widening readership remain challenges.

“Growing the reading public would be a great thing,” says Hall, “but generally I am not gloomy about publishing in SA. There are many dedicated and creative people involved in the industry.”

Orford sees the future of publishing in SA as being “dominated by schools publishing, where most of the money is. But the energy is good. I do sometimes think it might be an overtraded market but I think publishers are focusing more on quality and not so much on filing lists. I was interested to see that the Afrikaans translation of Like Clockwork sold well and quickly, much more quickly than the English version. Maybe that is where the future lies?”

“The publishing industry in SA seems to be alive and well,” says Kruger. “It is growing and maturing, testing itself. There are many established and newer publishers, both commercial and independent, focusing on interesting South African, African or global stories. They are exploring many different voices, expanding genres, moving away from singular focuses on politics or personals – exploring the interfaces between these, exploring other dimensions too. There are so many possibilities, still. That’s pretty exciting.”

Dowling, however, is slightly cynical: “I think publishers will continue to bring out large volumes of books, not necessarily all books that they completely believe in. They’ll let market forces decide on the fate of the book (and the author). For big publishers, it probably makes sense to work this way, reasoning that somewhere along the line you’ll happen upon a Spud or a Harry Potter or a Da Vinci Code.”

(First published in Business Day's Books and Publishing supplement, November 2007)

Independents give a voice to the voiceless

They are passionate about being able to make sure that strange,odd, misunderstood, peculiar, yet important, voices don't get overlooked

Since 1994, a number of independent publishing initiatives have started up in SA, often operating on small budgets but with immense dedication and energy from their founders. Technological advancements in digital publishing have also often helped them to produce quality books at lower cost, plus – as poet Karen Press pointed out in the literary journal New Coin - the feeling of freedom experienced after the first democratic elections also no doubt contributed to this burst of creativity.

Independent publishers are, however often referred to and regarded as small publishers, though this is a label several of them, for good reasons, dislike.

Vonani Bila, of Elim Hospital, Limpopo-based Timbila Poetry Project, says: “Independent, like the term ‘alternative’, should not suggest shoddy work. I go through all the necessary stages of publishing a quality book with the involvement of the author. I give voice to writers whose work wouldn’t necessarily be published by big, corporate and so-called mainstream and commercial publishers. These are the poets who are not afraid to challenge the rot they live or witness in society.”

This view is echoed by Goodenough Mashego, from Shatale, Mpumalanga. Mashego recently started up Ten Workers Media and sees an independent publisher as one “who is independent of the market forces that determine who should be published instead of who deserves to be published…They are independent because they can afford to think without pressure from greedy shareholders but are instead driven by their commitment to literary development.”

Robert Berold of Deep South in Grahamstown shares the same preference for literary quality over profit: “It’s like independent record labels – small, not corporate, doing the publishing mainly for art’s sake. It’s more flexible, more risk-taking, more anarchistic. The term ‘small publisher’ is okay, though it has a dimension of insignificance.”

Johannesburg-based Botsotso Publishing’s Allan Kolski Horwitz says “the term ‘independent’ connotes freedom from restraints, both ideological and commercial. We should reject the term small because it reflects on scale and, perhaps, ambition.”

An exception to the preference for “independent” is Cape Town’s Modjaji Books, recently launched by Colleen Higgs, who says: “I prefer the term ‘small’. It is a matter of small staff – myself – and few books.”

For Johannesburg’s Pineslopes Publications’ Aryan Kaganof, however, the labels are unimportant: “I’m concerned with publishing books that I believe in.”

Over and over the above the commitment that these publishers have about the work that they produce, there are also clear views about their role, which sometimes has a wider socioeconomic and politically context as opposed to a more limited literary context.

Bila says: “We must publish books that matter…We must not promote mediocrity, the stuff that is ceaselessly churned out by commercial publishers chasing cash, topical stories and often exploiting vulnerability.
“We also need to promote writing and publishing in all South African languages, and give voice to excluded black, rural and women writers, as well as those writers and poets who says things that annoy those that wield power – be it government or business.”

Mashego also takes a strong stance of giving a voice to the voiceless: “SA has got lots of stories that need to be told. They are hidden between the uncombed beards of street vagrants and the dreadlocks of Rastafarians…Our role as independent publishers is to go out into the villages, streets and prisons and unearth those stories that the mainstream finds too unattractive because the storytellers are unattractive members of our society.”

Berold and Higgs take a somewhat cooler view of an independent publisher’s role, which is “to print work that has real literary value but little market potential because the writer is unknown or the work to challenging, either politically or intellectually,” says Berold. “In a cultural desert like SA, independent publishers have a huge role.”

For Higgs it is a matter of “taking risks - publishing good work by writers who may not as yet have the recognition they deserve. It is also about publishing genres – such as poetry or drama – that the mainstream publishers may not want to tackle. To be at the cutting edge, seeking out new talent, creating more space for new voices”.

Kaganof, however, is cynical about the role of independent publishers: “It is to allow us to pretend there is an audience for anything outside of the mainstream.”

Considering that independent publishers are playing a marginal role in an overwhelmingly commercialised book market, it is not surprising that they sometimes view commercial publishers with ambivalence.

“Independent publishers don’t have a huge voice in shaping SA’s publishing direction,” says Bila. “It is the big publishers who are represented in book-related councils set up by the state. Their participation through the Publishing Association of SA, or as individual big publishers, gives them more access to government opportunities, especially to supply schools.”

To Mashego, “the situation is simple: book fairs, like the Cape Town one, are meant for commercial publishers have no space for independent publishers. Book retailers are not kind to independent publishers because we can’t provide them with the same benefits and perks that commercial publishers can. The attitude should be that the literary world created by commercial publishers is not the ultimate one…we have the right to create our own. We are entitled to our own book fair without the commercial publishers, we are entitled to our own awards where we don’t compete with writers whose publishers have the ability to befriend the judges. We need to establish our own distribution and marketing networks.”

Kaganof views the work of commercial and independent publishers are different: “I don’t think they are concerned with us and I certainly don’t think we should be concerned with them.”

Berold says he “doesn’t mind” commercial publishers “though it would be nice if they could acknowledge the importance of independent publishers”.

For Higgs there is no conflict: “I don’t see us as incompatible. They are working in different parts of the same field. They are also doing important work and they do it professionally. We can learn much from engaging with them and taking advice.”

Thus for independent publishers it is not simply a matter of publishing books – that is, being focused on making a profit – but rather of playing an active role in contributing to the ongoing development of South African writing and introducing that writing to local readers.

As Bila says: “We make quality books. We are germinating ground for some of SA’s successful poets. Few big publishers run literary journals. It is often the independents who are prepared to create outlets for new and established authors. Independents also run writing workshops.”

Mashego highlights that independent publishers “are addressing pertinent issues that need to be voiced. I think the contribution of independent publishers must be weighed against our own democracy that requires plurality of opinions. We have own mainstream writers who are praise singing and telling us about the intelligence of people in authority. We need a balanced picture… those that tell the other picture, the less rosy picture, are the independents.”

“The work of the most lasting significance is published by the small publishers,” says Kaganof, and Berold points out that almost every new poet’s first book is published by an independent. “Fiction is a bit different, though, there seems to be a commercial market,” he adds.

Independents can also play a role in niche publishing. “It can make sure that strange, odd, misunderstood, peculiar, yet important, voices don’t get overlooked,” says Higgs.

But from a financial point of view, as well as in wider aspects of recognition, independent publishers face substantial challenges. Many independents, such as Botsotso, Deep South and Timbila, are reliant on public funding from bodies such as the National Arts Council or the Arts and Culture Trust.

“Financial constraints are always the bane of producing art,” says Horwitz, “and dependence on public funding is not always a guarantee of quality or of intellectual vitality. Public funding can also cushion mediocrity and crudeness.”

Berold stresses the need for more diversity of public funding, while Bila says the government needs to take independent publishers seriously: “We constitute the core of authentic South African publishing. Unlike the multinational publishers, we are committed to what we produce, even though we do it in small quantities and with limited resources. The government must buy books from us, as they do with big publishers, and get those books into public spaces such as schools and libraries.”

Apart from finances, however, another problem is reader apathy, says Mashego, and Horwitz points out that “the laziness of writers to support the literary journals that support them is peculiar but actually quite reflective of the egoism that much art making generates”.

Media recognition, of lack thereof, is an issue for many independent publishers. While Berold feels Deep South does receive some attention in the media, it is “a little, not enough”. Bila says that most newspapers do not value book reviews and as a result “little is known about new South African writing”.

Mashego is more direct: “The media are gunning for free review copies and champagne at book launches while very few or any of them can write a review. Especially black journalists - very few of them can write a review. The black media is obsessed with gossip journalism to that extent that book reviewing is not their forte.”

Despite all the obstacles, though, independent publishers in SA remain committed to their work and, most importantly, believe in what they are doing.

“You can publish what you like,” Higgs says, “what you are passionate about, what moves you, what interests you. You don’t have to publish things that are politically correct or you feel compelled to by external market forces.”

For Kaganof a key benefit to authors involves “not having to deal with useless people who ‘staff’ the larger publishers”, while for Horwitz a benefit resides in the freedom to select, design and market in a manner which is “consistent with one’s world view and values”.

Bila likewise values the freedom from being guided by the dictates of a commercial market, and Berold says a key benefit is being accountable to nobody but his authors and his instincts.

“ I can do as I please,” says Mashego, “and mingle with readers without the stigma of being a CEO or publisher. It also helps me to think out of the box…the opportunity to innovate is what I see as the ultimate benefit. I wouldn’t trade it for the mainstream.”

(First published in Business Day's Books and Publishing supplement, November 2007)

Tuesday, 06 November 2007

Notice me - Cecilia Ferreira

An audacious painting by South African artist Cecilia Ferreira.

Monday, 05 November 2007

War Kills - Ralph Steadman

"The wearing of uniforms brings out tribal aspects of our personalities and gives licence to fear of self. Beneath the veil of defiance beats the throbbing process of decay."
Ralph Steadman, Gonzo: The Art

Thursday, 01 November 2007

Before the Mirror: surrealism in the 21st century

In 2001, the Tate Modern Art Gallery in London hosted the exhibition Surrealism - Desire Unbound. Focusing on the premise that desire was central to the surrealist vision of love, poetry and liberty, the exhibition displayed a comprehensive range of almost 300 paintings, sculptures, objects and documents stemming from the early pre-surrealist dada period through to relatively recent works of the 1970s.

While passing through the successive 13 rooms/domains of surrealist desire, one was initially introduced to works by Marcel Duchamp, Georgio di Chirico, Man Ray and Francis Picabia before plunging into the delirious surreality of artists such as René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, André Masson, Joan Miró, Aschille Gorky, Hans Bellmer, Meret Oppenheim, Toyen, Paul Delvaux, Roland Penrose, Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst. Also on exhibit were works by artists loosely associated with the movement such as Frida Kahlo and Leonor Fini.

The exhibition also displayed the recently rediscovered photographs of Claude Cahun, whose work was not exhibited during her lifetime.

Some of the works on display explicitly revealed the physical side of the surrealists' obsession with sexual desire: highly erotic collages from the Czech surrealist group plus the phallic costume created by Jean Bênoit for The execution of the will of the Marquis de Sade in 1959. Journeying deeper still into the 'darker side' of eroticism was Alberto Giacometti's sculpture Woman with her Throat Cut and Hans Bellmer's photographs of his artificial doll, some of which resembled a mutilated woman's body in erotically suggestive positions - and all this while recordings of gasps and sighs of women having sex were issued from speakers in the walls.

Documents on display included manuscript pages from André Breton's Nadja, as well as first editions of books by Breton, Paul Éluard, Valentine Penrose, Leonora Carrington, Benjamin Péret and René Char. There was a copy of the surrealist journal Medium from the 1950s. There were books of pornographic poetry by the poets illustrated with pornographic drawings by the artists.

Among documents from various 'ancestors' of surrealism was a letter in minute handwriting on blue paper from the Marquis de Sade to his wife. Sade's will was also on display alongside Bênoit's costume piece. There was also continuous screenings of Luis Buñuel's movie classics Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or, followed by Maya Deren's beautiful Meshes of the Afternoon.

Overhead projectors threw photographic images onto a large blank wall, punctuated by texts of poems by Louis Aragon or André Breton:

They tell me over there the beaches are black
With lava that's gone down to the sea
And stretch out at the foot of a huge peak smoking with snow
Under a second sun of wild canaries…
(André Breton, They tell me over there)

Walking away from the exhibition, though, I couldn't help being struck by some ironies. Firstly, that an exhibition devoted to one of the great revolutionary movements of the 20th century should be sponsored by a major international financial group, Morgan Stanley. Also that the exhibition should be swamped by overwhelming hoards of pretentious middle-class art farts that Breton and Co would have despised (or at least according to the myths). Another irony was that the organisers of the exhibition stated that surrealism was an art and literary movement that started in the 1920s and ended in the 1960s, when surrealism, or at least the surrealist spirit, is still alive and all around us.

But these ironies, I suppose, are inevitable. Over the decades corporate capitalism has made a point of being a 'patron of the arts', all in the cause of marketing. Whether the art is comprehensible to them is probably irrelevant. Morgan Stanley's funding of this exhibition is certainly rendered absurd by declaring in its sponsorship statement that surrealism challenged traditional approaches to art in the same manner that the financial group encourages its clients to challenge traditional approaches to managing their finances!

Much art - particularly modern art - has found its way into the corporate world of banking halls, offices and boardrooms. Around Johannesburg, for example, Rothko, Miro and Kandinsky appear to be favourites. If this develops into a widened exposure or appreciation of the artist, excellent, but generally the response is either one of ignorance or ridicule. Often such artworks are not even selected on their artistic merits, but on whether they fit into the colour schemes of the building. I once managed to get a reproduction of Miro's Blue II hanging in my office. It was accepted on the grounds that my employer's predominate corporate colour was blue. Staring at the painting often sent me into some beautiful reveries (which I considered more important than the work at hand), but the response of my colleagues was one of ridicule - you know, 'my five-year-old daughter could have done that!'

Morgan Stanley apparently owns many of the paintings on display in the exhibition, but whether this is a result of genuine art appreciation could be subject to debate. Some capitalist art collections have been created out of art appreciation, others out of appreciation of their current (and future) financial worth. And in these instances the revolutionary and subversive spirit of surrealism - surrealism as a means of liberation - is probably ignored. It is not surprising that the surrealist commitment to political revolution - and in particular the Paris group's (albeit temporary) alignment with the French Communist Party - was not referred to at the exhibition.

Then again, capitalism had been courting surrealism almost since the beginning - the collections of Peggy Guggenheim and Edward James, for example, started back in the 1930s. Dalí became capitalism's pet and he revelled in the opportunity to make mega dollars, hence Breton's dubbing him 'Avida Dollars' (an anagram on 'Salvador Dalí'). But it wasn't just the 'charlatan' Dalí. Man Ray hobnobbed with French aristocracy and Hollywood stars and made no bones about it. The US surrealist poet Charles Henri Ford also made a point of keeping in with the rich, mixing with the likes of Cecil Beaton and Edith Sitwell. Breton himself hung around Guggenheim's salon. And there was Aragon's love affair with the wealthy Nancy Cunard…

The surrealists were - and still are - mainly products of a bourgeois culture, so in a way it is hardly surprising that it is from this culture - against which they were/are rebelling - that they receive the most (however misunderstood) appreciation.

Yet surrealism has never been an art or literary movement (or worse still, a form of escapism). To my mind it is a permanent revolution aimed at the transformation of life, its principal weapons being magic, poetry (visual, verbal or written), eroticism and revolt. Backed up with an unyielding belief in the omnipotence of liberty, dreams and desire, surrealism supports the victory of the pleasure principle over the reality principle and wages an uncompromising war against a paltry existence based on enslavement, bigotry and sham, as well as the abuse of money and power by corporate capitalism, religion, military and state.

So when surrealism finds itself in the hands of the very establishment whose values it seeks to sweep away, it's like a joke gone wrong.

South African poet Sinclair Beiles, commenting on contemporary surrealist poetry, wrote: 'Most surrealist poetry became mannered and its quest for unusual relationships between words, and ideas, were set down at the expense of feelings and motives. The poems became beautiful seashells devoid of life.'

Surrealism looks into the mirror of the 21st century and sees - what? A marketing director signing off a sponsorship cheque?

(first published online on donga in 2002)

I never wanted to be a poet...

"I never wanted to be a poet.
I just wanted to be a human being.
Anyone who wants to be a poet is out of his mind.
Either you are one or you are not.
Most poets are not poets.
To be a real artist is a unique and valuable asset to this planet."

Jack Micheline, Sad for an unbrave world

Monday, 29 October 2007

Poetry and anarchy

“There is in all poetry an essential contradiction. Poetry is pulverised multiplicity and it produces flames. And poetry, which restores order, first revives disorder, disorder with semblances ablaze; it causes appearances to clash in restoring them to a singular point: fire, gesture, blood, cry.

“To restore poetry and order to a world whose very existence is a threat to order, is to bring back war and the permanence of war; it is to bring in an enforced state of cruelty, to arouse a nameless anarchy, anarchy of things and appearances which awaken before sinking anew and melting into unity.”

Antonin Artaud, Heliogabalus or, The Anarchist Crowned

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Handsome Jita

Handsome Jita is the latest collection of poems by Vonani Bila, editor of Timbila poetry journal and of the Timbila Poetry Project. A selection from his previous collections, its 100 pages contain works by one of the most powerful voices in contemporary South African poetry. An uncompromising social and political critic, Bila takes up the cause of the poor and downtrodden against the rich and the powerful. He speaks out against corruption and abuse of power and courageously exposes "the inconventient truths" of the "new South Africa".
Vonani's previous collections of poetry include No Free Sleeping (with Donald Parenzee and Alan Finlay), In the Name of Amandla and Magicstan Fires.

Handsome Jita is published by University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, ISBN: 978-1-86914-126-4

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Little Prajna

One day, little Prajna rolled her parents' drum down the garden path. When the drum came to a stop, it changed into a pagoda. The fact that she was Indian and a pagoda was Japanese did not disturb Prajna; she was determined to make it her home.

When her parents came home that night, Prajna could not be found. The drum that they had forbidden her to roll had disappeared.

At the bottom of the garden was a pagoda.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

An encounter with Wopko Jensma

It was late 1991 when a friend drew my attention to an article in Penthouse about white tramps in South Africa. Among the list of outies was “a promising young poet”, whom I was astonished to discover was Wopko Jensma. According to the article, Jensma had walked out on society, become a tramp, and was living in the Salvation Army Men’s Home in Johannesburg.

That evening, I telephoned the Salvation Army and made an appointment to see Wopko the next Saturday morning. Visiting the Men’s Home was an experience in itself. Outside the gates, a red-faced outie stood clutching a radio: the expression on his face was one of dissolution and loss. Inside, another outie sat on the steps, his head in his hands.

I went in by the side-entrance, and found myself in the kitchen. I introduced myself to the kitchen supervisor who, after shaking hands, said: “Oh yes, we told Wopko to expect you.” He suggested I wait in the TV room. After about five minutes the supervisor returned with a tall, grey-haired man, in an orange shirt, with a blue jacket and trousers. Despite his height, the man seemed unassuming, an anonymous face in the crowd. The supervisor introduced us: “Here’s your visitor, Wopko!”

As we shook hands I noticed his hands were large but soft. His eyes also had a soft, moist expression. When I started telling Wopko that I admired his poetry, he looked frightened for a moment, and rubbed his hands nervously. He started talking about how he had just returned from Swaziland, where he had been working as a mechanic. At first I thought there had been a mix-up, and that this wasn’t Wopko. Before I could say anything, however, he had taken items out of a plastic bag: a Bosal Africa catalogue, an empty coffee tin, some old magazines. He pointed to the bar code on the coffee tin and said: “That’s a good poem.”

I decided to press for some biographical information. He was born in Middelburg, in the Cape, wasn’t he?

Yes, he had spent his childhood there.

And he studied at the University of Potchefstroom?

Only for a year, and then he decided to study Fine Arts at the Pretoria Technikon. The only thing he remembered about Potch was taking a trip to Durban and buying a large tin of pineapples, which he sent back to his parents. When his father opened the tin, the fruit was rotten.

Hadn’t he lived in Mozambique for a spell?

Yes, but only for a very short while, but that was long ago, back in the sixties.

And his work in Botswana?

Yes, he worked as an artist for the department of information.

And what sort of writing did he do in Botswana?

It was here that Wopko made another illogical statement. In answer, he spoke about a little boy who used to siphon petrol from cars and then sell it in order to get money to go to bioscope.

He had published only three collections of poetry, was that correct?

Yes, there were only three. His job kept him so busy that he was unable to produce much work.

I asked him which jazz musicians he liked.

“Don’t speak to me about poetry,” he replied. “Speak to Lionel Abrahams.”

Next Wopko took up the Bosal catalogue and started leafing through it. He pointed to a key diagram of some implement: this, he told me, was a wonderful poem.

Then he pointed to a photograph of a pulley: this was an instrument used to drop crates on people walking the street. Looking at another photograph, of a high-powered drill, Wopko said it was a torture machine designed by Hitler.

By this time I was beginning to feel uneasy, when Wopko himself broke the spell by saying that he had to go now, or else he would miss tea. As he started walking off, I said it had been a privilege to meet him, and asked if I could visit him again.

No, he said, he didn’t like visitors. Then he laughed, and walked back to his room.

i don’t want that suburban house
i don’t want a second car
a swimming pool a lawn a boring Sunday
no, none of that

i am tired, so very tired
tired of the hate stare
tired of broken telephones
tired of non-white entrances
tired of being a burden
i am tired, tired of hating

i don’t want the soothing colours
Of tv. the news and drink some more
to wash me clean
no, please none of that

(Wopko Jensma, from I Must Show You My Clippings, 1977, Raven Press)

Note: Wopko Jensma disappeared from the Men’s Home in 1994. Nobody has heard of him since.

Originally published in Imprint, Summer 1995

Wednesday, 10 October 2007


My registration plate is Voodoo
The parking attendant is Voodoo
The sun is Voodoo
McDonald's is supersized Voodoo
Harry Potter stoned on tik is Voodoo
Sweating it out at gym is Voodoo
The newspapers are Voodoo
Radio screaming at dawn is Voodoo

My sleep is Voodoo

Saturday, 06 October 2007

Scratching at the door

"At the clinic, at five o'clock, the old bull-dog who is dying is given a fatal injection of morphine. One hour later he is playing in the garden, jumping and rolling about. The following day, at five, he scratched at the doctor's door and asked for his injection."
Jean Cocteau, Opium

Thursday, 04 October 2007

Real poetry doesn't say anything...

"Real poetry doesn't say anything, it just ticks off the possibilities. Opens all doors. You can walk through any one that suits you ... If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it's to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel." - Jim Morrison, Wilderness

Wednesday, 03 October 2007

What's on today's menu?

This is a poem of mine that was published in the most recent issue of New Coin. I thought I would share it with you on here.

What's on today's menu?

A cold-storage plant filled with naked underwear
A pocketful of razors

A pecan-nut pie found on a sewage heap
A half-burned steak gone rotten with global atrocities

A fish stunned into silence

A DVD played backwards on the neck of an astrologer
A cherry farm riddled with last year's crack cocaine
A loaf of bread rejected by a slaughtered seal
A scrambled egg fried on the remains of Lorca
A can of baked beans farting its way to the White House

A frigate of onions marked HIV-positive
A bowl of soup seasoned with sinister suspects
A lasagne sold out in the name of petty politics
A pizza topped with the succulent massacre of penguins

A half-burned steak gone rotten with global atrocities
A fish stunned into silence

Tuesday, 02 October 2007

Taste of my Vomit

Taste of my Vomit is Goodenough Mashego's second collection of poetry (his first was Journey with Me, published by Timbila). To quote Mashego's own words: "Taste of my Vomit meditates between the bible & koran. Sixty-seven foul moods hiding behind four chapters and laid out in 116 pages of raw venom spiked with bile. Taste of my Vomit is more than just a puke session but glorified revulsion."

Taste of my Vomit is published by Ten Workers Media. Grab yourself a copy by e-mailing Cost is R149 including postage. ISBN: 978-0-620-37569-6.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

New kid on the block

Modjaji Books is the latest independent press in South Africa and kicks off with Megan Hall's first collection of poems, Fourth Child.

Hall's intensely personal poems combine dark humour and terrible grief with lightness and restrained sensuality. The book weaves lively, beautiful things out of the fabric of loss, grief and emptiness.

Fourth Child can be ordered from or from better bookstores. Availability is mid-October, EAN: 9780980272901.

Contact for more information or check out Modjaji Books.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Dye Hard Press newsletter 15: Is size important? Small versus independent publishing

At the Cape Town Book Fair in June, a Small Publishers’ stand was organised by the Centre for the Book. Compared with last year’s stand, it was huge – about 35 publishers were represented and were widely diversified in subject matter (such as poetry, children’s books, memoirs and even cookery books) as well as quality of content and production. Such an array is demonstrative of the amount of independent publishing taking place in South Africa, as well as the dedication of the publishers involved and, as such, is commendable.

However, such activity begs the question: what is meant by a “small publisher”? Does this mean a noncommercial publisher, an amateur publisher, a publisher that does not employ people, a publisher that works from home, a publisher that has limited access to capital, a publisher that has limited distribution, a publisher with a limited marketing budget, a publisher that does not undertake huge print runs, a publisher that does not publish huge numbers of titles, a publisher that is marginal or – still worse – a publisher that is of lesser importance?

Noncommercial: A commercial publisher is one that undertakes the publishing of books for the purpose of making a profit in order to provide a return to shareholders. A prime issue here is the marketability of a book and its likelihood to appeal to a wide audience in order to generate revenue. In this respect, small or independent publishers may be regarded as noncommercial. This does not mean they do not intend to make a profit or try to reach as wide an audience as possible, but there is often an acknowledgement that the nature of the books published may not be likely to have a popular appeal. Many works produced by small or independent publishers have a distinctly small, limited audience, notably poetry.

Amateur: A small or independent publishing operation may be regarded as amateur because it is not usually a fulltime business, as is the case with commercial publishers. Sometimes access to technical equipment may be an issue, and even knowledge about the publishing process may be limited compared to commercial publishers. But having said that, the work of small publishers is sometimes, from both a quality of presentation and content point of view, either equal to, or even better, than books produced by commercial publishers.

Does not employ people: Small or independent publishers are often one-man or one-woman operations, with the layout, design and proofreading undertaken by one person, and printing being outsourced. However, some independent publishers, particularly those who have received funding, are able to outsource the entire production process. This situation often differs little from many medium-sized commercial publishers, some of whom may have a minimum staff compliment of about five people. Even among commercial publishers, tasks such as the evaluation of manuscripts, layout, design, and proofing are outsourced to freelancers. In this regard, there is not a tremendous difference between independent and commercial publishers.

Works from home: As already mentioned, many small or independent operations are the work of one person, are not a fulltime job, and are often undertaken in the evenings or weekends at home. Hence the terms “home publishing” or even “kitchen table publishing”. But many commercial publishers have operated from homes at some point, usually during the start-up period – and thus may well have been regarded as “amateurs” during this phase. And renting or owning offices do not necessarily guarantee that the works produced are of a quality standard.

Access to capital: Medium-sized or commercial publishers have a greater access to capital than do smaller publishers, whose books are either self-funded by the publisher/editor/owner. Sometimes the publisher will be able to obtain public funding, such as from the National Arts Council or the Arts and Culture Trust. However, having said that, these days, and particularly in South Africa, is it become a fairly common practice for even larger publishers to produce books on condition that some form of funding has been provided. This should not in any way be confused with vanity publishing.

Distribution: Book distributors in South Africa, as elsewhere, are often reluctant to work on behalf of independent publishers, and this can be a definite stumbling block, especially for new publishers, even start-up commercial publishers. Commission costs for distribution can be high, and this can easily bite into a small publisher’s profit margins. One can try to undertake one’s own distribution, but large bookstore chains are often unwilling to deal directly with a publisher, and to be deal only with a bond fide distributor. Distribution is thus often a problem for independent publishers.

Marketing: Small or independent publishers generally have a limited, or even nonexistent, marketing budget to undertake nationwide launches. They also often lack the “credentials” that a commercial publisher may have to be able to organise interviews on radio or television. But having said that, having a substantial marketing budget or department at one’s fingertips does not guarantee the success of a book. Many books have in fact sold very well solely by word of mouth.

Print runs: Commercial publishers tend to publish vast print runs of books undertaken by litho printers. Such a print run works on the basis of larger volumes, lower cost. Independent publishers often go the cheaper digital printing route whereby small print runs – up to 500 copies - can be made, and then additional copies printed if required. In terms of quality, there is very little difference between a book produced by a litho printer and that of a good digital printer. Again, many independent publishers who have been able to obtain funding have produced large print runs by litho printing route.

Number of titles: Independent publishers generally publish far fewer titles per year than commercial publishers – after all, it is not their livelihood and they do not have the time, or the access to capital. But again, there are exceptions. Gus Ferguson, for example, in a period of about 12 years published well over 100 titles through his Snailpress and Firfield Press imprints, in addition to about 30 issues of his Slug Newsletter and his poetry journal Carapace as now reached issue 64. Other independent publishers, such as Deep South, intentionally limit their output.

Marginal/lesser importance: Throughout history, many small or independent publishers have produced groundbreaking works. The Hogarth Press’s publication of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land is an example, as well as presses such as City Lights in the US, which published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Much groundbreaking work in SA has been published by independent presses, and a few years ago Botsotso published Post-traumatic, one of the most important short fiction anthologies published in SA in recent years – an anthology which several commercial publishers passed over. Groundbreaking work usually initially has a limited appeal – and thus is not the terrain for commercial publishers.

From the above, it is clear that the perceived differences between “small publishers” and “commercial publishers” are in fact not so wide, and by referring to independent publishers as “small” we risk diminishing their importance and contribution to enriching our literary culture. For this reason, I feel the term “small publisher” should be replaced by “independent publisher”, though I am aware that some “small publishers” may feel uncomfortable with the term “independent”.

But what the hell - long live independent publishing!

© Gary Cummiskey, 2007

Wednesday, 19 September 2007


There were 24 people trapped in a lift; a rampaging mob set fire to downtown Shanghai. Horses were dying all over Zimbabwe; by Tuesday the Russian athlete didn’t know his own name.

A cyclist rode through the ancestors.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Tribute to Jim Morrison

One of the most highly recommended websites
devoted to contemporary South African Poetry
is Southern Rain Poetry. It is run by Joop Bersee,
who has his own poetry website, Joop Bersee,
which deserves equal attention. Bersee sometimes
writes tribute collections of poems devoted to a
particular person, such as Jackson Pollock, Elvis
Presley, Andy Warhol or Francis Bacon. One of
his most fascinating tribute collections is to Jim
Morrison, poet and lead singer of The Doors.
Two short poems of Bersee's devoted to Mr Mojo Risin' are as follows:


Waiting to follow
The stange fields.

A hand full of coffin.

The globe spun in its writing,
A blue face.

And the story of the wind,
Dreaming faces,

Breathing on.


The hunt had started,
The great search.

Forty years in the wilderness,
Step towards shamanism,

His body close to the birds.

Sunday, 09 September 2007

April in the Moon-Sun goes on film

The multitalented Aryan Kaganof (film maker, poet, novelist, publisher and visual artist) is working on a short textfilm of my cut-up prose piece April in the Moon-Sun, published by Dye Hard Press last year. Kaganof, who recently directed SMS Sugar Man, says the cutup nature of the work would serve the animated-image medium well, but with single-frame editing, it is going to take a while.

I will keep you posted!

Friday, 07 September 2007

A debut collection by Haidee Kruger

Haidee Kruger, whose work has appeared in Green Dragon, is due to have her debut poetry collection, Lush: poems for four voices, published later this month by Protea Books. The book will be launched at Poetry Africa in Durban in October and distributed via bookstores countrywide. The estimated retail price is R100.
Here is a poem from the collection:


the dog dug up
the last of
your sunflowers


they were getting
to be

rather beautiful

Haidee Kruger is a lecturer, editor, writer and translator. Her fiction, poetry and cut-ups have been published online on sweet magazine and on LitNet. She has also been published in local and international literary magazines, including Literator, Englishes, Carapace, Fidelities and Green Dragon.

Wednesday, 05 September 2007


I am standing at the side of the road when who should come along but the shamanic poet Ira Cohen, with his son, Rapheal.

I have a copy of Poems From The Akashic Record with me, and so I ask the aging poet to inscribe a message on the title page.

He takes the book from me and starts to write slowly, silently with a huge silver pen.

He returns the book to me and I read: “To Gary Cummiskey. Ira Cohen September 3, 2007.”

“But I wanted a message,” I tell him.

“There is no message,” he replies.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

April in the Moon-Sun

by Gary Cummiskey

ISBN: 0-620-37317-2

April in the Moon-Sun is an astonishing cut-up prose sequence with delirious images shifting between Johannesburg and London, capturing the instances of experience through a simultaneous and multi-layered kaleidoscope rather than by linear perception.

Available directly from the publisher at R30 per copy. Dye Hard Press, Po Box 783211 Sandton 2146. For more details, e-mail

Monday, 27 August 2007

Bog Docks

by Gary Cummiskey

ISBN: 0-620-33553-X

Gary Cummiskey’s latest poetry collection Bog Docks consists of 28 surreal poems that explore, and challenge, the often brutal, schizophrenic nature of contemporary society.
It is a poetry that is not afraid to take risks into the unknown.

Bog Docks is available directly from Dye Hard Press, PO Box 783211 Sandton 2146, at R30 per copy, including postage. For more details e-mail

Green Dragon 5

ISBN: 978-0-620-38471-1

This issue contains poetry and prose by Arja Salafranca, Kelwyn Sole, Goodenough Mashego, Kobus Moolman, Colleen Higgs, Motjidibane Bapela, Kaye Axon, Karen Press, Dawn Garisch, Lauri Kubuitsile, Haidee Kruger, Joop Bersee, Tania van Schalkwyk, Philip Hammial, Hazel Frankel, Abbey Khambule, David wa Maahlamela, Allan Kolski Horwitz, Richard Fox, Amanda van Rooyen, Gary Cummiskey and Liesl Jobson.

Copies available at R65, including postage, directly from Dye Hard Press PO Box 783211 Sandton 2146.
For more details, e-mail

Green Dragon 4

ISBN: 0-620-36817-9

This issue of Green Dragon contains poetry and prose by Goodenough Mashego, Michelle McGrane, Colleen Higgs, Philip Hammial, Allan Kolski Horwitz, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Amanda van Rooyen, Liesl Jobson, Les Merton, Lionel Murcott, Arja Salafranca, Valery Oisteanu, Makhosazana Xaba, Kobus Moolman, Aryan Kaganof, Joop Bersee, Haidee Kruger, Silke Heiss, Gus Ferguson, Bernat Kruger, Tania van Schalkwyk, Alan Finlay, Richard Fox, and Gary Cummiskey.

Available at R65 per copy, including postage, from Dye Hard Press, PO Box 783211, Sandton 2146.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Dye Hard Press newsletter 14: In Print or Online? Some Thoughts on Internet Publishing

In contrast to many overseas countries, the concept of online publishing, as opposed to print, has not been readily embraced in South Africa.

There are obvious reasons for this. Surfing the internet in South Africa can be costly plus it is estimated that only about 7% of the country’s population has internet access. Furthermore, as far as literary publishing is concerned, there still seems to be a general preference for printed books.

But even so, as far as local literary journals are concerned, online publishing has not been as neglected as one may think. In 1994, the third issue of Alan Finlay’s Bleksem went online as a showcase publication for one of the first internet start-ups in the country. Shortly after, Roy Blumenthal launched his Barefoot Press poetry website, which he followed up with an online version of Lionel Abraham’s Sesame. By about 2000, LitNet had been launched and Alan Finlay started donga, which ran to 12 issues. Today, apart from LitNet, there is sweet magazine (admittedly inactive), plus Botsotso and Chimurenga have websites that complement the print versions of the journals. And while not strictly a literary journal, Southern Rain Poetry showcases contemporary South African poetry.

Granted, three active online literary journals may not be impressive, but when you consider there are only about eight regular print literary journals in South Africa, these websites represent almost a quarter of the total local outlets.

Also, literary or cultural blogs have started up, such as those of Carapace, Goodenough Mashego, Roy Blumenthal, Richard Fox and Aryan Kaganof, plus, of course, the small publishers’ and writers’ network blogs of Centre for the Book.

So what are the advantages of online publishing as opposed to print?

· From a publisher’s standpoint, a main advantage of online publishing is that it eradicates the costs involved in printing, especially litho printing. Granted there are costs involved in a website (such as for domain registration and hosting) but in the long run, and especially if the site is updated on a regular basis, these could work out to be cheaper than going the printing route.
· Online publishing can also be a lot less time-consuming than print publishing; again this depends on how often the site is updated and how much work you wish to do on it.
· Proofreading and correcting errors on a website can be done as you go along: if you spot a mistake or wish to improve a phrase, you can simply go into the site and fix them up. Printing 800 copies of a book, however, is a different story. Once it’s printed, it’s too late to correct an error. Proofreading a book prior to print can be extremely time-consuming.
· A publisher also manages to cut out distribution costs. To obtain national (and overseas) distribution for printed books, a distributor would have to be employed and paid commission on sales. There are also administrative costs involved, such as invoicing and payment collections. There is also a matter of finding a suitable and affordable distributor.
· Bookstores can be fussy about what takes up their shelf space and when it comes to items such as literary journals, for example, larger bookstore chains tend to be reluctant to stock them. Online publishing cuts out the need for the bookstore middleman.
· Another advantage of online publishing is that it provides a far easier, quicker and cheaper exposure to international readers.
· You also tend to reach more readers than with print publications. Alan Finlay’s donga, for example, had 500 - 1 000 unique visitors a month.
· Depending on the type of software you use for your website, it is possible to draw statistics showing the geographical areas, including cities, where most of your visitors come from.
· Internet publishing also assists in bringing work to readers who ordinarily might not have easy access to large bookshops – such as people living in rural areas – or to those who may not be able to afford to buy printed books, such as learners, who would be able to access the internet for free at schools or universities.

Some disadvantages of online publishing are as follows:

· As said above, it is estimated that only 7% of South Africans have internet access, and even those probably do most of their surfing at work - when they should be working - and there is a limit to the amount of time you can spend online while the boss isn’t looking. Also, many companies monitor internet access. Therefore, if you were publishing, for example, an online literary journal aimed specifically at a wide local audience, this raises the question of many South Africans would have the means, time or money to read it.
· One of the main barriers to internet access in SA is cost, unlike in some other countries where you may have unlimited 24-hour access for a fixed monthly fee. It is this local cost factor that discourages home users from spending lengthy periods of time online in their leisure hours.
· If a website is taken offline, the material obviously disappears as well, so unless the user has printer or saved material from that site, they will obviously not be able to access it again. Once you have bought a printed book, however, it is yours to be read at any time you wish. However, some website owners do save the website to CD and then send it to archives or libraries. Locally, NELM is now seeking to archive material published online.

Another huge problem, particularly in South Africa, is a mindset against online publishing. For many people, being published on a website is regard as “not real publishing”. Most would prefer a printed book in their hands. I admit I am one of them, and I am happy that the geeks who, back in the mid-1990s, prophesised that print publishing was coming to an end, have been proved wrong.

But internationally, publications such as literary journals and genres such as poetry are battling to get support from bookstores, and there is a diminishing reading public interested in such material. Faced with these challenges, but presented with the opportunities of the internet, many overseas literary journals have shifted online.

In SA, of course, due mainly to cost issues, shifting online is not so simple a solution. However, this situation cannot continue forever.

© Gary Cummiskey, 2007