South African Poetry Presses

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South African Poetry Presses

Poetry Presses in South Africa

Recently, African Books Collective has grown, adding a wealth of poetry presses from South Africa. And through the Collective, the presses have a new platform to share literary voices from the region with global audiences. These presses are home to multiple voices, including those who are often side-lined, sharing stories of identity, marginalisation, history, and love – with all its complexities.

At Dryad Press, poets Michèle Betty and Joan Hambidge are dedicated to the promotion and publication of South African poetry, sharing voices that innovate by tackling familiar issues in a fresh way. In their words, they publish “Poetry that surprises, not only in form and technique, but also in its ability to enable us to reflect on our experiences in the world in a new way.” Dryad have had a busy year, growing their list with second poetry volumes from Stephen Symons (Landscapes Of Light And Loss) and Beverly Rycroft (A Private Audience) as well as publishing debut collections and a selection of poetry in translation.

impepho press is a Pan Africanist, intersectional-feminist publishing house, championing brave, particularly feminist, voices committed to literary excellence. Their intention is to ‘serve the stories’, by promoting writers who capture African and international narratives, celebrating both the fragility and resilience of human experience. Danai Mupotsa’s collection Feeling and Ugly captures this intention, with poems that approach difficult feelings about what it means to “do politics” with empathetic complexity – but ending with a stance that these poems are love poems, love letters to the wilful. The press gives a platform to poets to write their own stories, underlining their ethos by quoting Audrey Lorde: “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.

Similarly, uHlanga is a press committed to publishing new and classic works of Southern African poetry. With an extensive list, uHlanga promotes established voices such as P.R. Anderson, whose extraordinary sequence of poems In a Free State: A Music re-assembles images and idioms, landscapes and earthscapes of central South Africa, looking at ‘ancestral lands’ from the perspectives both of first peoples and settlers. The collection encompasses and compresses centuries of human drama into a fleeting and temperamental poetic narrative, creating a ‘music’ that is a bold and visionary work, a piece of South African poetic storytelling unlike any other. At the other end of the landscape, uHlanga have worked with Cape Youth Poetry Hub for Expression and Rhythm to produce Imbewu Yesini, a collection showcasing young poets writing predominantly in Xhosa and English. Contemporary themes and concerns are dealt with through a gender and identity journey, with the young poets bearing witness to narratives that have come to separate women and men, but also celebrating the collective power to shed these pasts.

And finally, a press that should be familiar to many: Deep South, which was founded by Robert Berold and Paul Wessels in 1996, with Berold becoming sole owner/publisher from 2004. Their aim was to publish innovative and risk-taking South African poetry, regardless of market limitations. Twenty years on, this foundational principle continues to inform the selection process for new books, and has attracted many of South Africa’s foremost poets. Berold wants to publish books that will remain fresh and readable in the long term as “good writing opens new ways of seeing the world”. Two recent examples are Kelwyn Sole’s seventh collection of poetry, Walking, Falling, which was awarded the 2018 SALA Poetry Award, and Lesego Rampolokeng's third novel, Bird-Monk Seding, which was awarded the 2017 University of Johannesburg Prize and shortlisted for the 2018 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize.

Stay tuned for a series of interviews with the publishers from these wonderful presses.