13 January 2003

Poetry as news

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "Poetry as News" column appears regularly in The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review.

For Famous Reporter readers

You may have noticed contributions to Famous Reporter by Lionel Abrahams. By way of introducing this modest but majestic writer to you, please read Michael Gardiner's essay on small magazines in South Africa, in the period when I lived there, 1950s to mid-80s. It sheds light on the influence of Lionel Abrahams on poetry in South Africa. Here is an extract from the DONGA magazine essay by Michael Gardiner, TIME TO TALK: LITERARY MAGAZINES IN THE PRETORIAJOHANNESBURG
REGION, 1956 TO 1978; DONGA magazine http://www.donga.co.za: Talking of Lionel's philosophy and method as editor of Purple Renoster, Gardiner says:

" Through this magazine [Purple Renoster], Abrahams established a network of writers, painters, architects, dramatists and literary figures in the Johannesburg area, a high proportion of whom went on to become the editors of magazines, to publish collections of poetry, short stories and plays, to compile anthologies and to be active in education, political movements and churches, as journalists and reviewers and in other ways to provide validity and substance to South Africa’s indigenous cultural life.

Like most of the editors of literary magazines of that time, Abrahams was willing to publish work by unknown writers , but the fact that he was able to publish only twelve numbers in sixteen years meant that frequency was a problem ... But perhaps the most valuable aspect of being a member of the Renoster circle was the time and advice that the editor was prepared to give to contributors and those who sent in manuscripts/typescripts as well as the access it gave to people who were creatively engaged. This process has extended into the writing circle that Abrahams continues to lead today. What this element highlights is the importance of the editor-writer relationship that magazines can establish, and that it should not be overlooked when conducting research in this area of literary life. Another notable and highly significant result of the editorial activities of Lionel Abrahams was his issuing with Robert Royston and Eva Bezwoda, under the imprint of Renoster Books, the first collection of poems, Sounds of a Cowhide Drum, by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali in 1971. This turned out to be a publishing phenomenon, selling more copies than any South African poetry before that.26 And when the first volume by Mongane Wally Serote, entitled Yakal’inkomo, appeared in the following year, the poetry terrain in South Africa was changed irrevocably. The dominant poetic voices were then black and they carried an authority and a sense of conviction that had not been heard in South Africa before.

The writer’s circle that Abrahams established led eventually to the publication of a descendant of The Purple Renoster, called Sesame, which lasted from 1982 to 1991, producing fifteen numbers after the break-up of PEN (Johannesburg) in 1981 and the formation of the African Writers’ Association immediately thereafter "

--- end of extract from Michael Gardiner's essay,, TIME TO TALK: LITERARY MAGAZINES IN THE PRETORIAJOHANNESBURG
REGION, 1956 TO 1978; DONGA magazine http://www.donga.co.za

PS Thank you to Stephen Oliver for re-connecting me to Donga magazine!

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