@Fest Poetry to bring down Jericho

Poetry to bring down Jericho

Lesego Rampolokeng is surely South Africa’s most under-appreciated poet. His concussive, dense poetry is the dry, hacking cough in South Africa’s night. His work tinges the world with colours of wakefulness at odds with South Africa’s rainbow palette.

Perhaps this is why his oeuvre – ten collections of poetry, two novels and a play number among his projects – hasn’t drawn wider attention. The launch of Rampolokeng’s latest collection, A Half Century Thing, coincides with his fiftieth birthday.

Published by new publisher Black Ghost Books, the collection brings new layers of meaning to Rampolokeng’s continual preoccupations: petty destinies, the uses of poetry, the whiff and stain of life. Rampolokeng tells us that he was advised “to speak like an academic” now that he was in his fifth decade. He rejects this stricture in favour of his perpetual mission, to upend the ordinary and to give meaning to the depravity of our condition.

He begins his reading, which happens in Rhodes’ incongruously studious St Peter’s Building, with a manifesto in which he refers to himself as “the fire-soul of Fanon’s children”. His poetry runs rings around the somnambulant New-South-Africa discourses, the better to access an ethical understanding of how we’ve come to find ourselves here.

It’s a short performance, joyful and shocking to behold. And the new collection adds quietude to Rampolokeng’s work. Asked by an audience member whether this new collection tones down his voice, Rampolokeng retorts, “How do you tone down from navy blue? Another audience member touches a raw spot when she asks Rampolokeng about the strong scatological theme running through his work. She asks him if this stems from some early trauma he has not resolved.

He responds acerbically by declaring, “I don’t believe in wearing scars as medals.” It’s clear that Rampolokeng is annoyed with the tendency of reviewers to list this as a pathological occurrence in his work. He tells us that he talks about excrement because society’s drive to ignore what it deems unpleasant is itself pathological. “I haven’t arrived at the positive yet,” he says of his writing.

“One day I’ll write about doves.”

Wamuwi Mbao
Cue specialist writer

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