The language of getting on with life

2010-07-21 00:00

KOBUS Moolman, whose day job is teaching creative writing at the University of KwaZulu Natal, is the author of award-winning poetry and plays for both stage and radio. Now his fourth poetry collection, Light and After, has just appeared, containing work from the last three years. He is also the editor of another new book, Tilling the Hard Soil, which is a collection of poetry, prose and art by South Africans with disabilities.

In Light and After, Moolman makes reference to his own disability — he was born with spina bifida, which makes walking difficult for him. He has not dealt with his own situation to any great extent in earlier poetry and I ask him why he is ­doing it now. He explains that recently he has found a way of dealing with what in the past has been a blind spot in his writing.

“I feel that, in these works, I have found a voice that speaks not just about disability, but about people getting on with their human lives. It’s both about me and not about me. About a broken body maybe, but we can understand it in various ways. It’s about all of us who have bodies that age and break down in different ways.”

For Moolman, if a poem is only about disability, it is not art but merely a pamphlet. It becomes self-indulgent. “There’s a fine line. I ­haven’t been able to do it for a long time, and now feel I have discovered something in the language I didn’t have before.” And when I ask whether his own work and the writing in Tilling the Hard Soil comes because of or in spite of disability, he says that the two are interlinked.

Putting it another way, I ask Moolman whether he thinks he would have been a writer if he hadn’t been disabled. “I’ve often thought about it, but I haven’t the foggiest idea, “he says. “I do wonder if I would have written if I wasn’t somebody who sat still and watched and listened. But I can’t really answer.”

Moolman’s poetry is not easy: it can be dark, with a sense of something threatening lurking out of reach and the reader has to work to tease out meanings. But for Moolman, a poem that is too explicit is not a poem — the reader cannot fully engage with it. “I’m impressed with poetry that leaves things out. A balance between what is there and what is not there.”

For those who would like to hear Moolman reading from the new collection, he is holding a reading at Phoebe Villa, at 43 Burger Street (opposite the School of Philosophy) on July 29 at 5.30 pm for 6pm. RSVP: ­ Light refreshments will be served, there will be piano music by John Bertram and copies of the book will be available at R70.


• Light and After by Kobus Moolman is published by Deep South. Tilling the Hard Soil edited by Kobus Moolman is published by UKZN Press

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