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Mxolisi Nyezwa wins
the Thomas Pringle National Award for Poetry, SA 2009
by Dr. Amitabh Mitra
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Mxolisi NyezwaThe Thomas Pringle National Award for Poetry is given by the English Academy, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. This is the highest award given to a poet of South Africa on alternate years. The award may be compared to the Sahitya Akademi Award given in India. 

The vision of the English Academy of Southern Africa is of a democratic society in which effective English is available to all who wish to use it, where competent instruction in the language is readily accessible and in which the country’s diverse linguistic ecology is respected.

The English Academy is concerned with all forms and functions of English. It interests itself in English in education, promotes research and debate, organizes lectures, makes representations about language matters, rewards excellence and fosters the creative, critical and scholarly talents of users (and would-be users) of English in Southern Africa.

Thomas Pringle (January 5 1789 – December 5 1834) is considered the Father of South African English Poetry. A contemporary of Sir Walter Scott, he came to South Africa and settled down at Cape Town. Being lame, he himself took to literary work in Cape Town rather than farming, opened a school with fellow Scotsman John Fairbairn, and conducted two newspapers, the South African Journal, and South African Commercial Advertiser. However, both papers became suppressed for their free criticisms of the Colonial Government, and his school closed.

His books African Sketches and Ephemerides proved to be very popular.
He died of Tuberculosis in December 1834 at the age of forty-five.

 The English Academy prides itself in bestowing awards to deserving poets and writers but also organizing lectures by eminent personalities. India’s first High Commissioner, Gopal Krishna Gandhi is one of them.

To Sir Walter Scott

From deserts wild and many a pathless wood
Of savage climes where I have wandered long,
Whose hills and streams are yet ungraced by song,
I bring, illustrious friend, this garland rude:
The offering, though uncouth, in kindly mood
Thou wilt regard, if haply there should be,
'Mong meaner things, the flower simplicity,
Fresh from coy Nature's virgin solitude.
Accept this frail memorial, honoured Scott,
Of favoured intercourse in former day --
Of words of kindness I have ne'er forgot --
Of acts of friendship I can ne'er repay:
For I have found (and wherefore say it not?)
The Minstrel's heart as noble as his lay.

The Bushman

The Bushman sleeps within his black-browed den,
In the lone wilderness. Around him lie
His wife and little ones unfearingly --
For they are far away from 'Christian Men.'
No herds, loud lowing, call him down the glen:
He fears no foe but famine; and may try
To wear away the hot noon slumberingly;
Then rise to search for roots -- and dance again.
But he shall dance no more! His secret lair,
Surrounded, echoes to the thundering gun,
And the wild shriek of anguish and despair!
He dies -- yet, ere life's ebbing sands are run,
Leaves to his sons a curse, should they be friends
With the proud 'Christian-Men' -- for they are fiends!

The English Academy gave me this rare honor to be the Chief Adjudicator and selector for the National Thomas Pringle Award for Poetry, 2009. It was a difficult task and I was helped by two well known poets, Kobus Moolman and Graham Vivien Lancaster from Petermaritzburg.

Selecting poetry is subjective, each with a varied belief of the very concept of a poem, one that surpasses and becomes an element of ecstasy.

We looked at works of individual poets, students of English Literature and Creative Writing of various universities and poetry published in A Hudson View, New Coin, New Contrast, Carapace and Chimurenga, all of them being South African literary journals.

Mxolisi Nyezwa’s work showed the excellence that we were looking for and proved to be far above all the poetry that is being written in South Africa at the present time.
The announcement was made by me, at the Book SA Ban’quet , 14 November 2009 at Cape Town to a standing ovation.

Mxolisi Nyezwa was born in 1967 in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth and still lives there at 4 Madala Street. He is the editor of Kotaz, the multilingual literary magazine based in the Eastern Cape. Of the magazine, Darryl Accone has written: “
Kotaz does more than liberate the arts. It frees space for public discourse, space that no longer exists in newspapers, as well as freeing hearts and minds to engage with what it means to be living, feeling and thinking in post-apartheid South Africa.

Mxolisi works in language & writing projects in the rural and township communities in the Eastern Cape to help build a reading/writing culture. In 2000, his debut poetry collection,
Song Trials, was published by Gecko Poetry, a book of “associative poems which move rapidly through multiple dimensions. They encompass the spiritual, the political and bleakness of the everyday with the fluency of language and a compelling deftness of image”.

Commenting on his life as a poet in South Africa, Mxolisi says, “
I realized perhaps much too early during my school years that I was fated to be powerless, vulnerable to the world completely. Maybe as clear proof of this fate I am not able to free myself from the physical and psychological restrictions imposed on me by the life in the townships. The life here is always a fierce war, merciless like the wind. I am fascinated by the sea, in its patrimonial re-enactment of life’s birth and life’s re-burial. For me in the townships, where I’ve always lived, nothing happens without the silent consent of the sea stoning our human hearts.

Mxolisi’s second collection of poetry,
New Country, was published by the UKZN Press in 2008.

“Poetry is a simple way to remind us of our humanity. It guards against placing blind faith in the sciences which are constricting to the human spirit. In poetry we discover our basic selves.” Mxolisi Nyezwa.

In his citation, I wrote –

It gives us great pleasure to award the Thomas Pringle Award 2009 to Mxolisi Nyezwa. He is a a poet who is not influenced by a certain style of writing or literature but has evolved his unique poetry in his own special way giving us a rare insight to a sensitive human being created out of pure personal experiences.

The poetry of Mxolisi Nyezwa is purely South African in the context of imagery and words , its flavor wafts and stays in the minds of whoever reads them

Mxolisi Nyezwa is a poet of refreshingly honest insight and outstanding linguistic ability. Uninhibited by a particular style or correctness, but his own truth of a distinctly South African flavor and passion, Mxolisi is well deserving of the 2009 Thomas Pringle Poetry Award.

Graham Lancaster writes -

My participation in judging the Thomas Pringle Poetry Award this year was a great privilege and honour for me.

The general standard of poetry presented was high, which is indeed gratifying and bodes well for poetry in South Africa and South African poet’s integration with the world.

Mxolisi Nyezwa’s poems published by New Coin, “
My Friends Who Lived With Me” and “8 Poems from Malikhanye” rose above others with his clarity of voice in layered depth, refreshingly honest insight and outstanding linguistic transmission. Perhaps with certain influences, yet uninhibited by a particular style or correctness his own truth emerges in a distinctly South African voice of flavor and passion and I believe Mxolisi is well deserving of the 2009 Thomas Pringle Poetry Award.

Other poets I found impressive and shortlisted are Sarah Frost for “
Chaise Longue” and Katy Kilalea for “The Vineyard” and “Goodbye is a semi-circle”.

Kobus Moolman writes -

It was an honor for me to participate in this year’s Thomas Pringle award.
I would strongly nominate the following two poems by Mxolisi Nyezwa published in New Coin magazine: “
My friends who lived with me” and “8 poems from Malikhanye”.

The writing of Nyezwa is intensely lyrical, evoking strange and powerful landscapes, which are both literal and at the same time deeply imaginative. He writes with a natural intuitiveness that finds expression in complex and arresting imagery. In this sense, Nyezwa has clear affinities with Spanish poets such as Lorca and Vallejo. But the beauty of Nyezwa’s poetry is the way that he has forged a unique voice for himself. Like all poets he has influences and literary forebears. There is no writer who does not have such influences. But Nyezwa has been able to implant this tradition in the South African soil, and to make it his own. His work deserves this award.

At the same time too, I must make mention of the extremely high standard of the other poems which we evaluated. Although, Nyezwa’s work stood out for me from the rest, it was nevertheless enormously gratifying to read work of such quality. Mention therefore must be made of the following poets whose writing impressed itself upon me:

Katy Kilalea for “
The Vineyard” and “Goodbye is a semi-circle”; Gail Dendy for “Q&A: Please fill in the blanks”; and Sarah Frost for “Chaise Longue”.

Some of his poems that we are publishing in ‘A Hudson View’

Before the child destroys the world
I have a few things to say


Before the child rises like the morning
and destroys the world
before the bread rises from the table
and the axe falls to the ground –
bread that rises from the ashes
into your grave.
Days now appear slanted like the sun
the rain begins from your body
a new prohibition begins –
Your body clings to the earth
like fire over the burning sky.

For days I looked for my poems
for days I looked for my poems in the streets,
and since I could not find them,
light fell like a flower on the lonely square.
the light sounded the drum of a thud.
beauty came groveling forward
begging,
and children went for days
without food.


~*~

City

I have lived to discover a city, an open road,
a bucket of milk, and two gentle doves.
I have discovered in myself
two frightened birds with miles of dirt road to fly.
in the forest hills spiders and black dogs clamored.
in the corpses of yellow flowers
a rainbow spun across a darkened sky.
I lived in a street where girls with dark eyes sang,
birds with their wings welcomed a harsh rain.

At the end I can only say that culture and healing go side by side. My colleagues in the hospital would not appreciate my vision of medicine. Black townships of South Africa has languished in its own terms, have at certain times come out victorious. Political controversy continues to eat the very soul of this vibrant culture. By giving this award to Mxolisi, I have brought his voice into the open, ringing all the way through many continents. Thomas Pringle would surely have been proud of him.

November 22, 2009

More by : Dr. Amitabh Mitra

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