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Introduction
Green in Black - and - White Times - Blurb

This book recollects conversations – serious, humorous, ribald – over a period of almost twenty years between a leading scientist-poet and me, a literary critic. The book does not comprise a collection of discrete articles or essays; it progresses through a continuous narrative.

Douglas Livingstone’s poetry crosses the ‘two cultures’ of science and art. As a marine bacteriologist, he ‘kept it clean’, that is, the Indian Ocean, along the coast near Durban. As a poet of South African and international stature, he kept alive the language, images and dreams of our imagination. Words, used creatively, he believed, are a major civilising force.

I published the first and, to date, the only comprehensive study of Livingstone’s poetry. As Professor of English, I struck up a warm, ironic, at times iconoclastic, friendship with the poet.

Over lunches we exchanged opinion, insight and anecdote not only on poetry, science, and society, but also on more personal aspects of modern life: love and loss; sexual and spiritual intimations; city living; and, generally, on the value of our ‘uncommon humanity’. 

The trajectory of the narrative takes us from the publication of Livingstone’s early poetry in the black-and-white times of political turbulence in the 1960s, seventies and eighties, to a climate, after apartheid, more attuned to Livingstone’s abiding ‘green’ concern: how to heal the Earth, the home of us wingless, two-footed creatures, the ‘clowns of creation’.

If Livingstone evolved from a tough, ironic voice of the ‘wind of change’ to a more contemplative, wry and compassionate observer of contemporary times, then I hope that our conversations, together with my appreciation of his poetry, have had a similar effect of generosity on me.

I intersperse our conversations with a fresh consideration of Douglas Livingstone’s several volumes of poetry. His is an achievement that takes us where poetry has not taken us before; perhaps, where science has not taken us before!

...

How have I recollected our conversations? At times, I had recourse to my old tape recordings; at other times, I retrieved notes which, immediately after our meetings, I hurried home to record or consolidate.

Livingstone had strong views on issues which affected him deeply, whether on the art of poetry or the health of the planet. Several such views had appeared in print prior to our first meeting; others grew out of our conversations, some subsequently appearing in published form.

My approach, whether drawing on published work or our conversations, has been to focus on those aspects and insights which are most pertinent to the narrative progression of the present book.

The ‘Obituary’, at the beginning, is followed by a bibliography of Livingstone’s work while, otherwise stated, page references to poems apply to A Ruthless Fidelity: The Collected Poems of Douglas Livingstone (denoted, RF).

...

Douglas Livingstone often said that the poet, whether in serious, humorous or ironic vein, must aim to entertain readers. I hope that the extracts from, and commentary on, his poems, as well as our conversations, offer the reader both insight and enjoyment.

 

Michael Chapman

Durban  

 
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