Thursday 01 November 2012

Protest poetry, by Kulani Nkuna

Allen Kolski Horwitz has to be one of the most erudite writers in post-apartheid South Africa.

Horwitz is an incisive observer of the South African political and social condition through his creative works which include plays like Comrade Babble, poetry, and fiction.

He has produced works with the Botsotso Jesters poetry performance group and Botsotso Publishing, which featured voices that seldom get heard in the mainstream.

He has also just released his latest collection of short fiction, Meditations Of A Non-White White, which he describes as “stories that scrape away superficial assumptions; bringing to life a multitude of characters whose issues and concerns have dominated post-1994 South Africa but are in many respects timeless.

"They probe the limitations of middle-class norms and blinkered identities; they grapple with the diverse 

experiences of those living beyond privileged ghettos”.

Another new release is a book of poetry called There Are Two Birds At My Window.

While he is heralded as a political poet, Horwitz also casts his eye over human pleasures, desires, love and struggles.

A poem titled Drunken Need jumps out of the page on an abstract level with an interesting second line that includes the phrase, “tongue-tying muse.”

“Drunken Need is all about the inspiration to write and the intoxication associated with writing,” explains Horwitz.

“There aren’t a lot of experiences that thrill me more than writing something and then marvelling at the end product. And it is funny, because you become inarticulate about that feeling, that rush of creation,” he says.

“That was the real impulse behind this poem. It was almost like an illicit relationship – the tension between the writer and the inspiration to write.

It is at an abstract level, but it is very real to me at the same time.”

Then there are other poems, which speak of the state of South Africa since 1994 like Mzansi, My Beginning – Mzansi My End, which talks of the almost schizophrenic existence of being in South Africa as it is today.

The role of the poet in a post-struggle situation is not as prevalent as during the struggle years, but according to Horwitz, there are injustices that still have to be corrected within the current political dispensation.  

“We have lived through 18 years of the national democratic revolution, which has sharpened  economic inequalities, and instead of making progress in closing the income inequalities, those gaps have widened,” he says.

“It is astonishing that the liberation movement is in power but many people are still stuck in poverty. So my poetry still has that political context and listening to other poets like Lesego Rampolokeng and Nova Masango, you will pick up that political aspect in their work as well. Poetry is not as widespread as it was back then, but its role is still significant.”

Sales of some local authors are not particularly good, with overseas titles achieving more success (think of Fifty Shades Of Grey or the Twilight books).

Horwitz attributes this to South Africa’s disturbing lack of self-regard.

“We still have a colonial culture,” he says.

“We are still dominated by the need for approval regarding what we are doing from the outside, more specifically Europe and the United States. We don’t yet have a full sense of our own value.

“Our inner sense of worth was shattered and Biko recognised that we have not changed fundamental psychological relationships between the coloniser and the colonised.”


(Published in The Citizen, October 29,2012)

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