Sunday, July 15, 2012

Afrikaans poet gets the Spanish vote (1987)

Johann de Lange (1987)

Afrikaans poet gets the Spanish vote (1987)
The Pretoria News, Monday, 10th August 1987

Elsa Fourie, Staff Reporter

Who would have thought that a South African poet, the Canary Islands, the Institute for American Culture and on top of it all, Unesco, could have anything in common?

No, we are not talking about exiled South African poet Mr Breyten Breytenbach’s adventures like the historical trip to Dakar or South Africa’s unpopularity in Europe, or with the rest of the world for that matter.

This is all about a puzzled Pretoria poet, Mr Johann de Lange, who won one of the 11 prizes in an international poetry competition organised by a well-known Spanish poet, who is an international delegate of the Institute of American Culture, which has ties with Unesco!

Entries for the competition were received from 50 countries and Johann’s Afrikaans poem, “Skerpskutter”, will be published together with the other winners in an international book of poetry.

After this mouthful of information johann had to get his breath back again to explain it all.

He said the story behind the prize he won in what he thought to be an “obscure” competition called Anastasia del Pino Memorial, organised by the Spanish poet, Jose Quintana from the Canary Islands, started when Mr. Quintana invited South Africans to take part in the competition.

Mr. Quintana wrote to Professor Cathy Maree at the Spanish section of the Department of Romance languages at UNISA and asked her to inform possible participants about the competition, held for the first time this year.

Prof. Maree said this first international lyrical poetry competition was for all language groups and dialects. Mr Quintana specifically asked for poems from all language groups from South Africa and said it would be very sad if the book of winners did not contain a South African work. According to him the poems entered were all of a very high standard.

The winner of the first prize was a poet from Isreal who entered a poem in Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, and the second prize was won by a poet from Senegal whose poem was written in French.

Prof Maree said she was expecting a certificate as she was one of the judges for poems written in English.

Johann was on his way to New York for what turned out to be “an artistically very inspiring tour” when he heard about the competition. He decided on the spur of the moment to send in a poem which he plans to include in his fourth book of poetry.

Johann’s first book, Akwarelle van die dors, won the Ingrid Jonker prize. He published his second book, Waterwoestyn, in 1984 and his third, Snel grys fantoom, in 1986. He is working on his fourth book , Orpheus in New York [1].

He wrote “Skerpskutter” after he saw a picture of the Spanish civil war showing a father carrying his son away from the rubble in the city of Teruel.

As the competition was meant to be “in praise of universal values and human rights” Johann entered “Skerpskutter”. He said the interesting thing about the poem was that the judges possibly did not even notice it was about the Spanish civil war because he stressed the universal rather than the Spanish elements in the poem. He tried to implicate through the use of Spanish-related words and symbols what it was all about.

Johann could only guess that there must have been a Dutch or Belgian member on the board of Judges to understand his poem.

He said he was astonished a South African poet should win a prize in an international competition as this had not happened since 1948.

Professor Ernst van Heerden

Professor Ernst van Heerden, a former sportsman who later lost both his legs, took part in an art festival organised by the International Olympic Committee at the first post-war Olympic games held in London that year won the second Prize for a sport poem he entered [2].

Johann hopes his prize will open doors for other poets.

1. This manuscript was eventually split & became Nagsweet, published in  1993 & Wat sag is vergaan published in 1995, for which he received the Rapport Prize for poetry.
2. He received a silver medal for Ses gedigte/Six poems. They were: "The runner/Die hardloper", "Diving board/Duikplank", "The swimmer/Die swemmer", "The boxer/Die bokser", The weight-lifter/Die gewigopteller", & "Cycle race/Fietswedren".