Gary Cummiskey has published several collections of poetry, including Reigning Gloves, The Secret Hour, Lost in a World, Visitations and When Apollinaire Died, to name but a few.
He also owns his own independent publishing company, Dye Hard Press. Born in England in 1963, he first came to SA in 1969 and has lived in SA since 1983, and is based in Joburg.
What is your view of the local poetry scene?
It's exciting, as there is a huge amount of poetry being produced at the moment. But a big problem is diminishing readership, and so many publishers are not keen on publishing poetry because it is viewed as being too much of a financial risk.
There is also the attention given to a lot of spoken word, hip-hop-type poetry. Spoken word poetry is important and I support it, but a problem in SA is that it is becoming standardised and predictable. There is too much emphasis on quality of delivery and form, rather than on quality of content.
We are also seeing trends involving the commodification of poetry and the celebritisation of the poet. Some poets are becoming marketing brands, are encouraged to become marketing brands, and those who resist this trend, or who do not fit the mould, risk being ignored.
You consider yourself to be "a bit of an outsider". How so?
Well, I was born in England, but moved to SA when I was 6, and we tended to move around a lot because of my father's work, always moving schools, changing environments . I then went back to England when I was 10, but never really felt at ease or at home there. I returned to SA when I was 20, and was in England for a short while again in 2001/2002.I met one or two poets in London, but I felt an immense cultural chasm between us. It was as if we were talking a different language. I have never felt that I have actually belonged to a certain culture or certain values. I have always been a bit of a lone wolf, an outsider, yes. But I see it as an advantage.
How would you describe your poetry?
I take a surrealist approach to poetry. Surrealism has been a tremendous influence on my work and thinking since I was 15 and read a book of surrealist poetry.I see poetry as part of life: it is there in the supermarkets and shopping malls, in dreams and overheard conversations, in taxi ranks and soccer stadiums, in beer cans and empty streets. It is not something to be composed in the study by academics.
By Gary Cummiskey
Last night, feeling suicidal,
I leapt over the balcony
And landed flat on my back
In the garden below,
Almost squashing a snoozing cat.
Lying there, I looked up
At the sky and saw how empty
It was, apart from a few
Now I know I am immortal.
(First published in The Star Tonight, October 7, 2008)