Poetry with identical content
to this reprint first appeared in 1982.
The only addition here is the Preface;
the only modification, the subtitle Perspectives
which wishes to clarify that what is offered is not an anthology of poetry, but
an anthology of views, interviews, reviews, articles and bibliographical
aim, close to the temper of the 1970s, was to understand and appreciate a burst
of creative energy in the voices of the New Black Poetry, or Soweto poetry. The aim of this reprint - 25 years later - is
to acknowledge the enduring significance of Soweto poetry, the definitional term of which is
discussed in the Introduction.
Soweto poetry tapped the imagination, ideas and
issues of a Black Consciousness challenge to the apartheid police state. The expression presaged Soweto '76 in predicting the demise of a racially
oppressive system and the hope of a future in a new South Africa, or, as BC phrased it, a free Azania.
idiom captures the revolutionary idealism of the times. As editor of the original Soweto Poetry, I concluded my
Introduction: "It is a poetry which over
the last ten years has boldly taken a Eurocentric South African Literary
Establishment by the scruff of the neck and dragged it into an arena robustly and
challengingly South African."
was my own idealism. A revision of my
Introduction might have tempted me to revise my language. But not my judgment. Soweto poetry signalled not only political
change. It signalled also a global
movement in poetry: a movement initiated in both the South and alternative
spaces of the North. In the North,
reaction against the densely layered texts, the print-bound allusions, of the
modernists saw, in the US, the projective, open-field expression of the
Beat generation; in Britain, the calypso rhythms of Linton Kwesi
Johnson. In South Africa Soweto poetry
parallels Paula Barnett's identification of Caribbean poetry: a poetry about the process of growth despite
a history of exploitation; of turning
negative images to gain; a gritty
celebration of survival; an injection of
ethical power to the word; a discovery
of the oral voice, of a poetic language that can communicate not just with an
elite, but with the majority of people (The
Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse in English, 1986: xxiii-lxiv).
Soweto poetry has superseded its immediate political
purpose to enter the literary life.
Mongane Serote, Mbuyiseni Mtshali, Sipho Sepamla, Mafika Gwala - the
names appear on school and university syllabuses of new South Africans. The volumes, including Sounds of a Cowhide Drum and
Yakhal'inkomo, probably did take a backward-looking Establishment by the
scruff of the neck. To appreciate
Serote's "City Johannesburg", for example, invokes an innovative aesthetic:
This way I salute you:
My hand pulses to my back trousers
Or into my inner jacket pocket
For my pass, my life,
My hand like a starved snake rears
For my thin, ever lean wallet...
pass laws have been revoked the "thin, ever lean wallet" remains for many a
mark of tough urban living. Without
minimising a striking print-bound imagism the poem seeks power in oral
expansions and contractions of the line as breath-unit. It combines its visual imagery with
repetitions, parallelisms and a refrain all of which emphasise the musical
score as the principle of intonation and delivery. If Soweto poetry presaged political change, it also
presaged a new generation of oral-based South African poetry in the
contemporary voices of Seitlhamo Motsapi, Lesego Rampolokeng, Kgafela oa
Magogodi, and others.
high volume of ‘hits' in my advertisement of the original Soweto Poetry (www.michaelchapman.co.za)
prompted this reprint of a book that was poorly marketed (by McGraw Hill,
Johannesburg) and has long been out of print.
The hits suggest not only interest in the politics of the 1970s, but
also in Soweto voices as still vibrant literary expression.
wish to acknowledge the contribution of Stephen Gray, the general editor of the
series (Southern African Literature Series) in which Soweto Poetry initially appeared, not only for his vision of a
future South African literature, but also for his encouragement of my editorial
efforts as a then newcomer to the academic scene.