to the Poetry of Lewis Nkosi
THERE IS MUCH TRUTH in Michael Chapman's observation that black poetry generally had to "create an emotional currency which rejected the norms of a literary academy "…" value was attached not to skill with words but to the idea, the action, the life: to speak boldly, to shape history, to saturate words with purpose was to carry the poem beyond closed form and by implication, the closed society into the open field, where the call for solidarity invited endorsement."1 By way of contrast, Nadine Gordimer held that "black writers have had to look for survival away from the explicit if not to the cryptic then to the implicit, and in their case they have turned instinctively to poetry."2 A careful reading of some of the early poems by Lewis Nkosi will support these views unequivocally, as his poems are a vehicle for the creation of a new conscience and a new vision, as well as being a call to arms. Although the issues raised in the early poems of Nkosi are no longer of topical relevance, his poems will always be a reminder of his youthful dream of a free and equitable South Africa, pre-1994.
Nkosi, a sometimes controversial literary presence for nearly fifty years both in South Africa and abroad, is better known for his academic essays, plays, short stories and novels. His poems, however, are less known in academic circles and to his reading public, and have not often been cited in critical discussions. The poems are directly related to the social and historical perceptions of the poet at the time of writing, the aesthetic and cultural concerns deriving from and drawing on Nkosi's personal experiences and poli-
1 Michael Chapman, Southern African Literatures (Pietermaritzburg: U of Natal P,
2 Quoted in Piniel Viriri Shava, A People's Voice: Black South African Writing in
the Twentieth Century (London: Zed, 1989): 71.