Living a More Poetic and Associative Existence

Cape Times (South Africa), November 6, 2007 | Go to article overview

Living a More Poetic and Associative Existence


I once landed up on poet Robert Berold's farm for an impromptu braai with some mates during the Grahamstown Arts Festival. But the poet wasn't there, he was in China.

"What's he doing in China?" I asked. "He's teaching at Zhejiang University," was the reply.

Even though I have been to his beautiful farm, Robert is only known to me from the spine of his books as in "edited by Robert Berold" or "poems by Robert Berold" as in his The Door to the River, The Fires of the Dead and Rain Across a Paper Field.

Via the poetry journal New Coin, he introduced me to fellow poets through his sensitive and illuminating interviews. I learnt about Natan Zach, who during the war in Lebanon and the Intifada wrote spontaneous political poems.

I learnt about Jeremy Cronin, who was arrested under the Terrorism Act and jailed for seven years, and Vonani Bila "the sober poet with a long heart and the fifth son in a family of eight children".

Robert is a poet, mentor, teacher of creative writing and the chap with the "verbal sensibilities" you call on to re-work technical writing, making it accessible to NGOs, such as editing practical handbooks including People's Workbook and The Southern African Chicken Book.

Robert was happy to be interviewed about his new book Meanwhile Don't Push an Squeeze: A Year of Life in China (Jacana) while his naked feet soaked in a bamboo bucket of floating green teabags.

"I smuggled some poetry into the book," he smiled as his pale milky feet were being pummelled by an unsmiling Chinese woman.

His is a book you have to get for your book club or as a Christmas pressie for a book-loving mate and, of course, a copy for yourself. You'll enjoy this book for its honesty, warmth, fresh energy and quirky humour.

Coming from a poet, the pages sing and hum and levitate high above the tired shopping list of colourful anecdotes that travel journalists sometimes laze back on when lazing should be strictly for pool loungers and big summery sips of pink gin.

Not surprisingly, Robert is known for his "meditative simplicity" and "his pared down naming of essential things", reckons Denis Hirson, author of prose memoir The House Next Door to Africa and respected translator of a selection of Breyten Breytenbach's poems.

Robert's poems and writing have great warmth. Like many white children under apartheid he was nurtured by a black woman. …

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