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Kelwyn Sole

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Mo Yanks Our Chains

I would like to congratulate the Nobel Prize for Literature for devaluing their own prize. There’s been some odd decisions in the past: but, Mo Yan believes in censorship, does he? You have excelled yourselves this time. Whoopee.

The Common 4

The Common 4 will carry an anthology of contemporary South African poetry:


Boris Strugatsky RIP

Boris Strugatsky, the remaining Strugatsky brother, has died. For those who don’t know them, the Strugatsky brothers wrote wonderful science fiction. They are best known for novels like  ’Hard To Be a God’, ‘The Ugly Swans’, and ‘Roadside Picnic’ (the last a concept subsequently much copied, and generally badly – also made into a movie, can’t remember the name), as well as the great novella ‘The Second Martin Invasion’ etc. They also write very funny, satiric fantasy like ‘Monday Begins on Saturday’. They were no fans of stupidity or bureaucracy. 

I remember sitting up all night in a plane from London in 1975 reading ‘Hard To Be a God’ because I was afraid SA Customs might get it the next morning. But my favourite is a lesser known novel, ‘The Snail on the Slope’. Nothing better describes the dilemma of the marxist intellectual in terms of the choice the two protagonists make:  theory, or practice? And how both choices distort one’s understanding in a particular way…. 

Their best period was the 1960s and 1970s, when there was great sf around – Dick, Lem, Wilhelm, Disch, LeGuin at her best, the original ‘Dune’, Brunner, Compton, Delany, Simak, Leiber, early Wolfe, early Dozois, early Tiptree, the Strugatsky’s…..ewven one or two decent Heinleins!

One from Celan

Whichever stone you lift – / you lay bare / those who need the protection of stones: / naked, /now they renew their entwinement. //

Whichever tree you fell – / you frame / the bedstead where / souls are stayed once again, / as if this aeon too / did not / tremble. //

Whichever word you speak – / you owe to / destruction.

(transl John Felstiner)

One from Dennis Brutus

In the comparative calm of normalcy / my role is tension. / As on this sun-silvered day / the shirt-sleeved leisured float / in a lucent crystal ambience / while strong tides viper through the placid sea.


One from Robert Hass


In all the mountains, / Stillness; / In the treetops / Not a breath of wind. / The birds are silent in the woods. / Just wait: soon enough / You will be quiet too.

South African Literature: Days of Future Passed?

This piece in the Sunday Independent by me last month may be of interest:


No time like the present for No Time Like the Present

Reading Gordimer’s latest – shame, I dunno about the negative reviews (so far, anyway). It’s kind of like Henry James meets Milton in Bertrams – full of lovely embedded clauses. I dunno why we’re so respectful to our one Nobel Laureate and tell the other that she’s writing badly here: perhaps it would be better to call this Gordimer’s Mandarin style?

The real question, of course, hearkens back to TSEliot’s distinction between James and Milton/Joyce – is it only as difficult as it has to be? The idea’s an interesting one to ask re this novel, even though TSE was wrong about both Milton and Joyce…

One from Okigbo

Lament of the Drums V

‘For the far removed there is wailing: / For the far removed; / For the Distant… / The wailing is for the fields of crop: / The drums’ lament is: / They grow not … / The wailing is for the fields of men: / For the barren wedded ones; / For perishing children … / The wailing is for the Great River: / Her pot-bellied watchers / Despoil her … ‘

- Christopher Okigbo (1932-67 – Killed on the battlefield during the Biafran War)


One from Ungaretti

‘To die like thirsty larks / upon the mirage // Or as the quail / once past the sea / having no more / will to fly / dies in the first thickets // But not to live on lament / like a blinded finch.’ – Giuseppe Ungaretti