Between 1990 and 1995, I wrote poetry. Drawn to finding a creative outlet during a time of newfound English language proficiency, I stumbled upon a group of Cape Town poets organized by Peter Horn, then professor of German at UCT (where I was studying). Peter had impeccable political, academic and writing credentials, and had put together a poetry circle that met at his house in the Cape Town suburb of Lansdowne once every month or so. So, faithfully, my friends Rustum, Joy (an American exchange student) and I drove out to Lansdowne in my rickety white Golf with the 1.6 Litre Jetta engine and the bad brakes. On the way, we smoked cigarettes, listened to music and brought our own wine when we could afford it.
At Peter and Annette’s house, 6-10 writers regularly congregated as the “Lansdowne Local.” Originally conceived as a ‘local’ chapter of the Congress of South African Writers (COSAW), my memory now suggests that it may never have been formally constituted as such, probably because politics, though ever-present (these were heady times in South Africa), were never the primary reason to meet and read. I met a number of past, present and future luminaries of the South African literary scene and was lucky to have them listen to my often meager novice attempts at writing poems. I wrote and wrote and wrote… after realizing, through Peter’s thoughtful mentoring, that writing creatively was 90% sweat. You had to show up and do the work.
Reading in front of others was initially hard but became easier after the first few successes. Poets are a welcoming lot, and the encouraging words from people who wrote much better than I helped me a lot. I was published in a few “Landsdowne Local” anthologies, small publications created on Peter’s then cutting-edge personal computer and printed locally (university printers, undoubtedly).
In 1994, I moved away and stopped being part of the small community that supported and encouraged me. So I stopped writing poetry. Simple as that.
Lately, I have found a few of my old poems, dusty and hidden under layers of digital debris, strewn across the far reaches of the Internet. Two were posted by myself almost exactly 15 years ago in rec.arts.poems. The Wayback Machine has a few more, published by Peter on a no-longer-there version of UCT’s website. I must have 3.5″ floppy disks with many more on them somewhere. Of course, I don’t have a floppy disk drive anymore, so it’s anyone’s guess if I’ll ever be able to retrieve them (or whether the disks would still work after all these years in storage).
I’ll post one or two of the better ones from 15 years ago here. And maybe I’ll write some new ones one of these days.