The South African poet Tatamkhulu Afrika began to practise his craft in 1987, when he was sixty-six years of age. He had written his first novel, Broken Earth, when he was only seventeen. It was published in England, just as the Second World War broke out. "I am not sure of the exact story," he says, "but it appears that the warehouse containing my book was destroyed in the Blitz. I never saw another copy, and stopped writing for almost half a century.." Those fifty years were spent as a professional soldier, prisoner of war, shop assistant, auditor's clerk, barman, drummer in a jazz band, and miner. When I asked Afrika what made him begin writing poetry after half a century of silence, he answered me with one word, "Anger."
I had come upon the writings of Tatamkhulu Afrika while combing the used bookshops of Yeoville, Johannesburg (an inner-city neighbourhood where, despite the proliferation of security bars, razor wire, and "Armed Response" signs, I was assured it was safe to walk around). I was braving Jo'burg's mean streets in search of modern poetry-not an easy task. Published in small editions, negligibly marketed and distributed, books of modern poetry can be difficult to come by, under the most favourable circumstances. During the apartheid era, many books, especially those by black writers, had been banned, and kept out of public circulation altogether.
Nevertheless, my patience was rewarded. Books Galore, the last shop on the strip, yielded a number of treasures. Among them, a 1941 hard-cover Faber & Faber edition of Roy Campbell's Sons of the Mistral, a rare copy of Mike Nicol's Among the Souvenirs (Ravan Press), and two locally produced anthologies.
I was, however, most intrigued by the discovery of a slim, red volume, entitled The Lemon Tree & Other Poems, published in 1995 by Snailpress. I had chosen the book at random, probably drawn by the poet's unusual name. ("Tatamkhulu Afrika", I would learn from him, is Xhosa and means "Grandfather Africa". He did not adopt it as a dramatic pen-name; it was bestowed upon him as a code-name when he worked for the Umkhonto Wa Sizwe or Spear of the Nation, the armed wing of the African National Congress.) Wondering whether the author was black or white, I flipped open his book to a poem called "Solitary Child".
"Hold the plank", he'd say,
building the house.
"Don't jiggle it".
But he would jiggle it,
sawing with the short,
harsh thrusts of one
who copulated or raged,
lopping me off from him with the iron
teeth of his iron,
applying no balm
to that which was alien to iron,
leaving it to time to staunch
the bleeding though
still I bleed,
old fool, now, with an old pain.
The opening lines' staccato rhythms, curt lengths, and concise metaphors conspired together to depict the poem's stern father figure. Moving from this initial confrontation, the poem unravelled like a spool, unwinding a Joycean evocation of childhood, wrought with pain. The language's precision and deftness showed off the strength of a fine poet at the height of his powers.
Back in the confines of my hotel room, I read more of The Lemon Tree. Youth, it turns out, is not the book's main wellspring of inspiration, but rather old age. I turn to the opening stanzas of "Embers", the first poem in the book.
Like small, spent suns, the coals
shrink in upon
grown heavier, shield
the residual fire at their core.
What fires do I still hold,
growing not heavier but lighter as
the fecund marrow leaves my bones,
hollow now as old pipe-stems,
snapping with a china ring
against a table's blocking stand,
a step's steep fall?
I like how the word "lighter" in the second stanza undercuts the poem's overall heaviness, intimating a sea of possibilities beyond the poet's sense of loss. In other poems, like "Retirement" and "Night Bucket", I find an earthiness (reminiscent of Irving Layton's) that ruffles the almost aristocratic elegance of his diction. He stares down old age with an honesty and self-acceptance that bespeak an underlying wisdom.
Driven by my too old bladder out
into the cold, dark yard,
groping for the toilet-bucket at 2 a.m.,
finding it wedged beneath the fig-tree thrusting through
the weathered side-post of my wind-cracked door,
I make to pee in it, but then
stand a moment, fly undone,
reluctant to break the silence with any sound,
ignoring the mounting pressure in my hand.
(from "Night Bucket")
He is obviously a practised observer of everyday life and builds his poems, detail by painstaking detail. He records the black-and-white minutiae of his world to draw us into it, as into a photograph, where beauty and ugliness, wealth and poverty, stand side by side. Filtered through his imagination, the ordinary is transfigured, becoming a reflection of the poet's far from ordinary inner world. Occasionally, his poems are purely visionary.
Judging from the imagery, I guess that Tatamkhulu Afrika lives in Cape Town. For the wind, which howls round the bottom of the world (weather reports in Cape Town always detail the wind's velocity and direction), is ever present in his verse. The sea, too-fragrancing the air with "a seminal brine"-is visible, audible, tangible, as are the cape trees, which "lean/ away from the wind,/ giving into it,/ mindlessly wise."
And upon my arrival in Cape Town, I find, first, more of Afrika's books and, then, the poet in the flesh. I had known, from the front pages of The Lemon Tree, that he had written at least four other books of poetry-Nine Lives (Carrefour/Hippogriff, 1991); Dark Rider (Snailpress/Mayibuye, 1992); Maqabane (Mayibuye, 1994); Flesh & Flame (Silk Road, 1995)-as well as two novels: Broken Earth (Hutchinson, 1940); The Innocents (David Philip, 1994). This list, I discover, does not fully catalogue his works, which include a sixth book of poetry, Turning Points (Mayibuye, 1996) and four novellas, published under the title Tightrope. He is currently at work on a seventh book of poetry and a new novel.
While still unknown outside of South Africa, in his own country he has won respect and a modicum of fame (which is probably as much as a poet can hope for). Among his numerous prizes for poetry are the Thomas Pringle Awards for 1991 and 1993, the CNA Debut Prize for 1991, the Olive Schreiner Prize for 1992, and the Sanlam Literary Award for 1994.
I meet with the poet one clear, blustery, summer day. I had gotten his telephone number from Gus Ferguson, the proprietor of Snailpress. (Ferguson, who deserves to be profiled in his own right, is by profession a pharmacist, and by vocation an artist and writer of Ogden-Nashian verse. He is also the proprietor of two publishing houses, and puts out a poetry journal called Carapace. While I cannot attest to his skill as a chemist, I can praise his editorial acumen. He is without doubt publishing the best South African poets writing in English, and is vital to the health of the country's poetry scene.)
Though Afrika is in the midst of observing the fast of Ramadan, he agrees to be interviewed at his home, requesting I come at ten in the morning, before he grows too weary. He lives on Buitengracht Street, about a ten-minute walk from the downtown core, in the Malay Quarter: a very old neighbourhood of steep, cobbled streets, eighteenth-century flat-roofed houses, and mosques, laid out upon the flank of Signal Hill. As there are, in fact, two Buitengracht Streets, running parallel to one another, he is concerned I might get lost and arranges to meet me on a specified corner.
As I know what he looks like from a photograph on the cover of Turning Points, I recognize him from some distance-a supremely tall, lanky man with thinning hair, grey-flecked beard, and moustache. Up close, he has heavy-lidded lively eyes, South Pacific blue. He greets me warmly, then leads me down a laneway covered by bougainvillaea, through a courtyard, and in and out of a garage to a small walled-in lot with low shrubs. He lives in what is known in South Africa as a "wendy house": a one-room prefabricated wooden shack, not much larger than a children's tree-house. He pays for the right to park it on his landlord's property. He has electricity, but no running water.
I had been expecting to see the lemon tree he had described so sensuously in his poems. "The lemon tree stood in the garden of my home in Woodstock [another Cape Town neighbourhood]," he says. "There, I was living in a garage, but I had to get out. I bought this wendy house with the prize money that I won for Turning Points."
As the morning is growing hot, we decide to sit inside, leaving the door open for the breeze. His house is just barely large enough to accommodate a single bed, desk, and filing cabinets. In the dim light, I catch sight of a few treasured possessions: a manual typewriter, framed copies of his literary awards, a personal letter from President Mandela, a khaki army uniform, and a "command stick", carved with images of an elephant, lion, and snake. "I am still the Commander in Chief of the Young Elephants for Islam," he says. He is referring to the youth wing of the Islamic militant organization he founded in 1964 to fight against the apartheid government's declaration of Cape Town's "District Six" as "White".
The fate of Tatamkhulu Afrika, the person and poet, is inextricably bound to the story of the destruction of District Six-one of the most compelling and socially tragic events to occur in South Africa of the 1960s. Its historical backdrop involves the past government's efforts to entrench their policy of apartheid (literally, the state of being apart). Following upon their election in 1948, the National Party classified everyone in South Africa according to race. Interracial sex and mixed marriages were made illegal. The Group Areas Act was implemented in order to enforce the physical separation of races through the creation of racially homogeneous districts. The Separate Amenities Act then led to the creation of separate public facilities.
In 1964, Afrika returned to live in Cape Town, after working for many years in the mining industry in Namibia. He moved into District Six, just east of the city centre in the shadow of Table Mountain. It was a poor, overcrowded, but absolutely vibrant neighbourhood of crumbling nineteenth-century houses and cobbled streets and lanes (probably similar to early Toronto's "The Ward"). It spawned numerous poets, artists, and jazz musicians (including Abdullah Ibrahim a.k.a. Dollar Brand). It was the cosmopolitan home to local Coloureds and immigrant merchants: Jewish, Arab, Indian, Chinese, West Indian. (The word "Coloured" holds a particular meaning in the nomenclature of South Africa. It mainly refers to the mixed-race descendants of whites, Hottentots, Bushmen, and slaves/indentured labourers, imported primarily from Indonesia, Malaysia, Madagascar, and Mozambique. Under the apartheid government, Arab, Chinese, and East Indian people were also classified as "Coloured". )
"In some respects, District Six was a slum," recalls Afrika, "but its people had a great zest for life. I had only been living there for a few months when, under The Group Areas Act, it was classified as `Coloured'." This classification proved to be problematical for Afrika for, at that time, he was considered "white".
"I was born in Sollum, a small, coastal town in Egypt," he explains. "My father was an Arab and my mother was a Turk. My family moved to South Africa when I was two years old. But shortly after we emigrated, both my parents perished in a flu epidemic. I was raised by friends of theirs, as a Christian. In fact, I only found out that they were not my biological parents when I was seventeen years old. My adopted mother came to me saying that she felt it was her duty to tell me something.
"Perhaps it is strange, but her revelation had little impact on me-until I wanted to live in District Six. Then I wanted the facts of my birth known so I could be officially classified as `Coloured'. So I decided to go to Helen Suzman [then a member of Parliament, the sole representative of the anti-apartheid Progressive Party] and ask her to trace my family history. She said it would be difficult but that she would try. I don't know how, but she managed to get me a card saying I was a Malay!" Afrika opens a filing cabinet, searches around for a moment or two, then pulls out an old identity card. "Look," he says, with visible glee.
Helen Suzman's leg work, however, was to no avail. For in 1966, a new government proclamation declared that the greater part of District Six would be reserved for white ownership and occupation. Then, in 1968, under an ostensible policy of urban renewal, the government began a program of removal and demolition. More than fifty thousand people, some of whose families had been living side by side for five generations, were forcibly evicted, split apart, and sent to live in bleak concrete townships on the "Cape Flats". The bulldozers moved in and turned District Six into a wasteland.
"I stayed until the bitter end," says Tatamkhulu Afrika. "I watched the houses come down one after the other. All our protests were useless."
His memories are interrupted by the cooing sound of turtle-doves. He stops talking and sets about looking for some seed to throw out into his yard. I know from the poems of The Lemon Tree that feeding the birds is one of his life's small pleasures.
Patiently, night after night,
I would set out the seed,
for the swift subversion of the birds,
my love for them matched only by
my deep alienation from my own kind.
(from "Feeding The Birds")
He evokes in verse "the shrill/ uproar of raging sparrows, /doves' booming, liquid cries", the tittering sparrows and screaming gulls. His birds are primitive, powerful, amoral, and instinctive. But they are also harbingers of a world beyond this world, the existence of which the poet intuits but cannot reach.
I never got to tame them,
do not hope to anymore,
but I still set out the seed,
my eyes on the new rock-pigeon now,
a lumbering, ungainly bird
that looks at me with red-rimmed, startled eyes,
but seems slower at taking off when my shadow falls on it,
and lets me feel
that someday it will float down to my very feet,
angelic on silent wings,
and, eating out of my hand, will grace
my yard with old-time, hallowed light,
open the door for me
to its own, by my imagination screened,
(from "Feeding the Birds")
Afrika not only writes about birds, but spiders, bees, dogs, and cats. In doing so, he takes his place alongside the great South African English poets Roy Campbell and Douglas Livingstone, for whom animals were a source of inspiration. Yet, whereas these poets painted the beasts of the veldt-lions, giraffes, zebras, elephants, cobras-Afrika sticks to the fauna of Cape Town. They exemplify, for him, the tension between the wild and domestic, the knowable and unknowable. He is, for the most part, an urban poet; but nature, in its totality, impinges itself upon his consciousness in the same way that it colours, infiltrates, and transforms his city. While early South African poets sought to counter its power with an Apollonian restraint, Tatamkhulu Afrika regards the natural world with a dispassionate but respectful eye and gives it free rein to flourish, wreak havoc, or succour.
We stand blinking in the brilliant Cape Town sunshine for several minutes while the poet feeds the birds. They dance, close to his feet. "My doves seem to have an intelligence, or even souls," he says gently. "I love to watch how they will lie out and spread their wings for me. They are so coquettish."
Before the seed is finished, his telephone rings, calling him back inside. He answers it with the words, "El Jehaad", then embarks upon a long conversation with a friend. He speaks in "Cham", a lingua franca of the Western Cape that fuses Arabic and Afrikaans. "My Afrikaans is very rusty now," he says, having hung up the phone. "I was, of course, raised in English, but when I went as an adult to work in Namibia, I adopted a second set of adoptive parents, and they were Afrikaners. I even took their name. When I returned to live in Cape Town, I ceased having contact with them. For I knew that, when I became a Muslim, they would never forgive me."
Afrika became a practising Muslim in the 1960s, around the time he was battling to preserve District Six. (He became a Sunni, then eventually chose to observe the strict rules of the Shi'ite sect. "There is not really much difference between the two sects," he says. "But we lay a greater emphasis upon the coming of the Messiah.") Discovering Islam proved to be a turning point. It encouraged him to lead a more disciplined, healthy life. ("I was utterly debauched when I lived in Namibia," he admits with a laugh, "whoring, drinking, you name it.") Part of his politicization, it also encouraged him to begin writing after a long silence-not poetry or fiction, but anti-government propaganda.
"I wrote for the publication of our political organization, El Jehaad-reams and reams of bitter articles against the apartheid government." But as a political activist, Afrika did not restrict his protest to the written word. In 1984, his organization affiliated itself with the African National Congress and he joined a hit squad, responsible for blowing up industrial buildings. (He will not reveal to me which particular factories his squad hit, preferring that the facts remain secret. He will, however, say that one manufactured expensive European cars.)
In 1987, he was caught in the act.
"We had been working all the time in the same industrial area of Cape Town. It was completely deserted at night, and easy to move around. But it was a mistake to operate in a single area, for the police began to establish a pattern of attack.
"The night we were caught, we had already reconnoitred our target. But, before we could return for the attack, we were trapped in our car."
The poet recounts his past struggles and tribulations with a sense of detachment and wry humour, which I find uncanny. (He obviously reserves any expression of anger or anguish for his poetry.) He tells me matter-of-factly that he was held in custody for several months, serving time in a number of jails, including the Victor Verster Prison just outside of Cape Town. His case eventually went to the Supreme Court.
"We had three renowned advocates defending us," he says, "Dullah Omar [now minister of justice], Siraj Desai [now a judge], and Johnny De Lange [an Afrikaner, who is now a member of Parliament heading up a criminal justice committee]. Our defence was that, though we had planned to blow up the building, we had changed our minds.
"Right before the trial Dullah Omar said to me, `You are sixty-seven years old, and I want you to look it.' So I stood there on the stand looking terribly pathetic and awfully old."
He was given a suspended sentence. "We had to pay a fine for having a gun without a licence. I was also banned from writing anything for five years."
Tatamkhulu Afrika refused to be silenced. Fifty years after writing his first novel, he officially assumed his present name and turned his mind to poetry. "I wrote a whole volume of poetry after I came out of prison," he says. "It was called Tormented. It was, quite frankly, awful."
Nevertheless, the manuscript landed in the hands of Douglas Reid Skinner, a well-known South African poet and then the proprietor of The Carrefour Press. He gave the burgeoning poet "a few pointers". "Skinner told me I sounded too `Wordsworthian'. He told me to write with modern syntax, to stop inverting my sentences, and to put in `full stops'. He told me I must have an arresting first line and an enigmatic last line. In short, he gave me all the basics."
Nine Lives, Afrika's first book of poems, was published by The Carrefour Press in 1991. While not as accomplished as his later works, it remains a very good book. Here are the themes the poet would return to again and again: he is prompted by memories of his childhood ("Remembering", "Moths", "The Stepfather"); his experiences as a prisoner of war during World War II ("Sieve"); his battles against apartheid ("Backwash", "Lines to a Dead Comrade in a Ditch", "The Detainee", "The Agent", "The Trap"). A few early poems are marred by a surfeit of description ("Slave Band") or by a selfconscious attempt to sound "poetic" ("Small Singer Moving On"). But the best are notable for their clean, visceral diction and absence of artifice and pretension. They appear to spring, without force, out of a long life-fully, boldly, and justly led. Here, in full, is "The Mugging", from a later work.
The voice is right alongside:
so close, I cringe.
Can he have a match, it pleads.
He is young,
bowed a little
with the obsequiousness of one who needs.
Dark, with the black,
straight hair of a half-
caste Indian teen, he stares
slightly to one side,
correctly not meeting my eyes.
I give him the box,
tell him he can keep it,
at the meagreness of his demand.
He thanks me, falls behind:
I walk on.
It is late and I am going home
across the wasteland where once I lived.
White with stars,
wraps me round;
its light gilds
the myriad faces of small stones
that roll under my shoes,
winter grasses rustling high
as my thighs.
He is on my back,
bearing me to the ground;
the breath bursts from me like air
from a ruptured balloon:
I feel the skin
peel away from my knees.
Others are rising now,
like leopards, from the stones,
pinioning me with hot,
His knife glitters, bright
as the beyond-the-city
ludicrous as my unseemly sprawling here.
The blade nicks my throat,
steadies in a small,
silent pool of pain.
The others strip me
of clothing, shoes;
their hands move about me
like lovers' hands,
shocking into sensitivity
my serene, celibate skin,
flopping aside even my genitals
with passionless aplomb.
Incredulously I hear
the knifeman plead:
sorry biya, sorry,
but it's Christmas
and we must buy wine.
They find what they want
in my left sock's heel:
little plastic bag
bound with a rubber band-
last of my week's wage.
The knife lifts, then, and they rise
from the offal of my bones,
fade into the night,
easily as clouds,
trailing a faint scent
of sweat and young skin.
Am I still here,
stones troubling my spine,
grass-stem sticking in my eyes,
or does this naked, lonely body run
with them over the harsh,
desperate lava of the land?
In this poem, as in numerous others, Afrika's sense of humanity is explicit. His compassion helps make his verse distinct from that of his contemporaries inside and outside his country. He aptly describes himself as "a poet of the people", for his writing is both overtly political and accessible. It is also simply about people: prison guards, war mates, old flames, store clerks, comrades, street people. He brings to life all the characters of his world, past and present.
An analysis of South African poetry written during the apartheid era reveals a clash of styles-a tension between those poets (mainly white) who voiced their resistance in measured, reasonable tones and those poets (mainly black) who rejected the familiar devices of poetry as belonging to the bourgeois ideals of the oppressor, and voiced their anger without restraint. Tatamkhulu Afrika writes, for the most part, in the liberal humanist tradition of the former group; his preferences for plain speech, however, and straightforward narration ("I am a compulsive story-teller," he says) give his work something in common with the latter. Having participated in the struggle against apartheid, he is more than just a "witness" to injustice. When he writes about the poor, the dispossessed, he does so without sentimentality or false aggrandizement, for he is writing about those he intimately knows.
He says he doesn't like talking about his writing. But he confesses to being "a purist when it comes to the English language," holding that "the language is an instrument of beauty that should not be distorted for effect." In terms of his artistic process, he says, "I will puzzle over a single word for hours, deciding which one I want." He always begins by writing the first line. "I will find a single line and I will cling to it for dear life. Then it will be like leaves parting to admit a flow of water in a little stream.the words will begin to flow."
At the inception of a new piece, he says, "I can wait until I am moved, or I can make myself be moved. The muse is a lazy bastard. For example, after I attended the funeral of Anton Fransch [a Coloured member of the ANC and anti-apartheid hero], I wasn't particularly inspired. But I told myself, `You are a poet of the people. You must write something about it.' So I started to write a poem, then tore it up. I started again, then tore it up. This process continued for months. But eventually, I was satisfied with what I had written."
I find "The Funeral of Anton Fransch" to be one of Afrika's best poems. Less lyrical than many of his works, it is more edgy, contemplative, acerbic. He takes risks with the vocabulary, choosing "unpoetic", polysyllabic Latinate words, rather than those of Anglo-Saxon derivation. He calls up the ambiguous, discomforting thoughts that can play in the mind of the mourner. Yet, for all this, the poem remains a moving, poignant celebration of the dead hero. Here, the opening stanzas:
I went to Anton Fransch's funeral:
he held off the police for seven hours.
with careful logic sketched
a parable of ancient Babylon:
I savoured the aptness of the simile
but thought of Africa,
the photograph I had seen the night before:
a buffalo being dragged down by hyenas,
one eye ripped out, the bloodied muzzle
agape and bellowing.
out of the closets of his ambivalence,
well-fleshed beneath the robes
of his unaccustomed Arabism,
the minor community leader droned
eyes darting that way, this,
reminding me of the cockroach that,
when we had ripped up the floorboards of
my tottering hovel,
had rushed about with kamikaze unstoppability,
seeking the sullen lair we,
and the sunlight,
"The Funeral of Anton Fransch" is one of roughly twenty of his poems selected to be published this fall in a French anthology of modern South African poetry, funded by the Royeaumont Foundation. The anthology has been edited and translated by an exiled South African writer, Denis Hirson. Hirson is also the editor of an American anthology of South African verse, due to be published in August 1997 by Northwestern University Press. The title of this anthology is The Lava of This Land, and is taken from the last line of Afrika's poem "The Mugging" (quoted above). It includes nine of his works. Perhaps both of these collections will help him establish the international reputation he justly deserves.
At the moment, he has turned most of his attention to the writing of fiction. He is working on his third novel, set in a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. The story is drawn from his own experiences. "I was nineteen the year I went to war, stationed in Egypt. I was put in charge of black troops that were forbidden to be armed. We were caught at the Battle of Tobruk, by Rommel, the Desert Fox-betrayed by our own general."
Afrika spent four years in POW camps; he was held for two years by the Italians and then for two more years by the Germans. "The camps," he recalls "were worse than any jail. We were starved. At the time of our liberation, I was just skin and bones. My hips sticking out like an old cow's. I remember being taken to Brighton to recover. They put a plate of food down on a table before me. It took me more than an hour to finish it, because I was so unused to eating."
His novel deals with the relationship between two prisoners of war, exploring what it means to be "male" and the experience of "male-bonding". The legacy of the war, it seems, has been an unwaning Lawrencian interest in the kind and depth of love that can arise among men. "During the war, I had an intense friendship with an Englishman. We were real buddies. On our last great march across Germany, I fell down and couldn't move. Though my friend was but half my height, he picked me up, threw me over his shoulder, and carried me. I felt that that was love, in its purest possible state."
He has already written about this incident in a poem, called "War Mate", published in Turning Points, his second last book of poems. In just a few lines, he presents a portrait of the man he cannot forget. Listen to this stanza:
That first day,
asleep under the camp's
bird, or wind,
guard singing of bambinos and love
somewhere high up
in his heron-legged cell,
I woke to find you stretched out flat,
warming my side,
not answering my eyes.
your silence said,
and you turned to me, fully, grinned:
rubbery wide mouth whinnying back
from the ice-
white bite of your teeth.
It was a blinding switching on,
but I still saw
you wore a woman's scarf,
waiting for the breaching hand.
But it was your wife's:
you wore it all the time.
And when you stripped
on the hot summer days,
flailing genitals unabashedly round,
you were what I no longer was:
Here, as elsewhere, the words are infused with a sexuality that is explicit. Indeed, sex is part and parcel of the poet's earthiness and physical engagement with the world, and bolsters numerous of his poems about men, women, his own self. I tell the seventy-six-year-old poet that sex in Western society is often believed to be the purview of the young. "Rubbish," he replies. "I think sex is totally misunderstood. It underlies everything, even the adoration of God."
The sun has, by now, climbed high into the surreal blue that forms a cloudless dome over a summer's day in Cape Town. Inside the "wendy house", it has grown hot and Afrika's voice is hoarse from talking. Due to Ramadan, however, he won't be able to moisten his parched throat until the fall of darkness. Before I take my leave, allowing him to get back to work, I ask Afrika if he believes he would have been a poet if he had been born at another time, in another place, if he had lived a life of peace. "I would have been a writer no matter what," he replies. "Poetry must stem from the self, not outside the self. Indeed, it records the landscape of the heart, not the mind."