Pearlie Theron chats to Patricia Schonstein following the launch of Africa! My Africa!

The encounter took place in the former premises of Clarke’s Bookshop in Long Street. This followed the removal of all shelves, books and furnishings to the shop’s new premises at 211 Long Street. The conversation happened a few hours after the launch of Africa! My Africa! By then all guests had left so Miss Theron and Ms Schonstein cut recessive figures in the vacant shop, which was illuminated by a single strip of neon light.

Miss Theron was dressed in her iconic bridal gown and Ms Schonstein wore a black silk dress, with a beaded collar fashioned by Thuliswa Kraai of Khayalitsha.

PearlieTheron: Well, that was quite a launch! You must be thrilled. Were you expecting such a turn out? Who’d imagine a crowd like that, spilling out onto Long Street, for a poetry launch? What a guest list! Even Hakeem Kae-Kazim and Oliver Munnik were there. David Lurie and Sheila Fugard too. And how tenderly Sheila reminded us of Don McLennan’s magnificence by reading his poem.

Of course, I had a head-start coming early, and opening one of those bottles of Dragonridge Sangiovese, so my mood was already well-in-the-mood, as they say, all nice and mellow and ready for pathos and beauty. When everyone started arriving, I was rather overwhelmed to see so many of the poets themselves; and to hear them later read their own words. I loved heairng Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa sing that amazing Ugandan song before reading her poem. Fantastic! I believe Jonty Driver came out from England especially for the launch and to read his poems.

You’ve created quite a kaleidoscope of settings and images with this anthology. So many voices. Such a mix. Such a range. The poem by Patrick Cullinan, The Billiard Room, with all its rage, contrasted with the tenderness of Kerry Hammerton’s One Minute Lover and Ethelwyn Rebelo’s Who. And I must say those Found Poems are extraordinary. What a concept – poems being uttered by one person and then rendered by another. They deserve a book on their own, as probably do Hugh Hodge’s concise but bold text verses. By the way, I didn’t know that Mike Nicol and Consuelo Roland were poets as well as being novelists. And I loved your telling of meeting Tatamkhulu Afrika. Fancy him living in such humble circumstances in a wendy-house in someone’s yard. I agree with you, that he should have been cherished in his late years and given all sorts of awards.

And how fitting that you should launch here in Mr Clarke’s shop.  You mentioned meeting him in 1975 shortly after arriving in Cape Town from the old Rhodesia, and how he was prompted to tell you his amazing story when he learnt that your mother was Italian. I had a quick peek at Henrietta’s poster, in her office, just now, of The Resurrection. Yes, I’d agree with Aldous Huxley’s crediting it as being the most beautiful painting in the world. How wonderful that Mr Clarke allowed it to live on for us. Aah, Mr Clarke, one can still sense him here in his old shop, even though the books and shelves have gone next door to the new place. You were smart to launch here, in the shop-shell, this cavern, and then filling it with poetry.

Now, these poems all touched me in one way or another. Either for their poignancy, or for their simple beauty, or for their innocence, or for their courage. I wondered what you had in mind, and whether you had conceptualised the anthology right from the start, or whether it just grew organically. I see you’ve dedicated it to Stephen Watson and Patrick Cullinan. Yes, two giants of South African poetry, without doubt.

By the way, does former President de Klerk know he is now a published poet? I heard you read his words when Nancy Richards interviewed you on radio the other day. Strong words … life-changing words.

May I add one more thing? I like what you said about using poetry to heal society. To touch people’s hearts with it. To inspire with it.

Are you uncorking another bottle? You sweet-heart. I raise my glass to sonnets and odes and all the rest.


Photograph of the launch before the interview: Gaelen Pinnock
Miss Pearlie Theron declined to be photographed





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