Compilation of Africa! My Africa! An anthology of poems

I began compilation in 1997 with poems by Andries Oliphant, Robert Berold, Ingrid Jonker, Ruth Miller and some of Stephen Watson’s versions of the /Xam poems from the Bleek and Lloyd Archive. The brief I gave myself was: ‘About Africa, touched by Africa or written by an African, in the broadest sense’.

As the collection grew, similarity in the ‘types of fabric’ that made up the whole became apparent: Love. Song. Loss. Exile. Refugees. Journeys. War’s folly. Figures in urban and rural landscapes. Wilderness. Simple pictures of life. Shades of the human condition. Pathos. Poignancy. The joy in small things. Light. The colours of Africa.

I judged the collection complete with the addition of J.M. Coetzee’s From: Dusklands – Caravan. But then a friend, Lennart Nilsson, brought to my attention From an African diary by Tomas Tranströmer, Sweden’s much-loved poet and winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature. The poem fell into place like a key-stone.

The completed anthology now seems to be a jewelled quilt, one that glows in the dark, rippling in a dune-movement of lyricism. I have no doubt that it will evoke in you the same pleasure and depth of feeling that it gives me.

Here is Tomas Tranströmer’s poem together with the piece by J.M.Coetzee. I’m honoured to be able to include the work of these two Nobel Laureates.

From an African diary
Tomas Tranströmer
Translated from the Swedish by Lennart and Gillian Nilsson


In the Congolese market an artist churns out his paintings.
The people in them move like thin insects, bereft of their human strength.
It is the difficult passage between two ways of life.
He who has reached his destination has a long way to go.

A young man met the foreigner who had lost his way among the huts.
He didn’t know whether he wanted to be his friend or extort money from him.
This uncertainty upset him. They parted in confusion.

Otherwise the Europeans stay close to their car as if it were Mamma.
The crickets are as strident as electric razors. The car drives home.
Soon comes sweet darkness that takes care of the laundry. Sleep.
He who has reached his destination has a long way to go.

You may be helped by the shaking of hands like migrating birds.
You may be helped by releasing the truth from the books.
You must move on.

The student reads at night, reads and reads to become free
and after his exams he is transformed into a step for the next person.
A difficult passage.
He who has reached his destination has a long way to go.


From: Dusklands – Caravan
J.M. Coetzee

So Coetzee’s caravan entered Namaqualand. His wagon contained: black, white and blue porcelain beads, tobacco, knives, looking-glasses, brass wire, three muskets, balls, a barrel of gunpowder, a bag of shot, flints, bars of lead and a bullet-mould, blankets, a saw, a spade, a hatchet, spikes, nails, ropes, canvas, a sail-needle, oxhide, yokes, halters, tar, pitch, grease, resin, linchpins, hooks, rings, a lantern, rice, biscuit, flour, brandy, three water-casks, a medicine chest, and many other things – civilization, in fact, in ovo.

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