The first poetry manuscript to be penned by Ms Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese, a doctoral candidate of the Graduate School of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch University, has been published by Botsotso.
Busuku-Mathese, who is originally from Durban North in Durban, is currently completing her first year of PhD studies in the English Department via a three-year, full-time scholarship offered by the Graduate School. She is being supervised by Prof Sally-Ann Murray, an academic and poet whose work she says she has greatly admired.
Loud and Yellow Laughter, says Busuku-Mathese, is a personal reflection on childhood.
"There exists a tension between truth-telling and truth-testing in the poetry."
The poems in the collection are woven together with archival materials such as letters, photographs, scraps of conversations recorded verbatim and found notes. Busuku-Mathese also uses dramatic techniques such as character lists and stage directions, highlighting the texts' re-enactment of pre-existing events between the main characters: The Mother, The Father and The Girl Child.
As the adopted daughter of a man from Yorkshire, Britain and the biological daughter of a woman from Mt. Fletcher, Eastern Cape, her childhood was anything but normal if measured against traditional standards. Her poetry collection is also a creative memorial to her adoptive father, she says, who passed when she was only 13 years old.
"The poetry collection looks at family and intergenerational discussions about parenting and childhood in South Africa, as well as topics of adoption and (un)belonging, and generational slippages that arise within families," she explains.
"It is linked to my own background and very personal."
By delving into her mother's and father's pasts and growth of their relationship – a parenting relationship between two friends – Busuku-Mathese explores her own identity as a South African through her writings by mixing auto/biography, elegy and documentary collage to explore the intersections between history and fiction.
"My parents were two friends who decided to co-parent a child. It definitely did not reflect the relationships I saw between the parents of my own friends, who were involved in romantic relationships and parented their children in those relationships. That being said, I am writing about fragments of several lives over four generational lines, it's a multi-voiced meditation on loss and hope – a renegotiation and sometimes even a reversioning of history. There is a slipperiness to the collection, a kind of zigzaging between the person and the persona, a conflation between history, memory, myth and documentary, all woven together in the poems, which is important to remain aware of," she says.
The manuscript for her collection, she explains, developed from the poetry work included in her MA thesis in Creative Writing, which was supervised by acclaimed South African poet Prof Kobus Moolman at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Before being published, her work was also circulated in local poetry journals like New Coin, New Contrast, Prufrock, Ons Klyntji and Aerodrome. In 2015, it was shortlisted for the prestigious Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award and Busuku-Mathese was selected as runner-up for the Award.
In 2016, Botsotso decided to publish her poetry – a major feat considering that unsolicited submissions from unknown poets and writers are often ignored.
"I won't lie and say it was easy. What I experienced is that there is a strong resistance to new poets and often the response that you will encounter from most poetry publishers is that unsolicited manuscripts are not welcome. It's a frequent response and it can be frustrating when the few poetry publishers we have in this country will not look at new material from new poets, so when Botsotso said yes to my unsolicited publication, it was very exciting. While it is even more difficult to get poetry work published, I do believe that the more unsolicited work is accepted for review, the more publishers will start discovering interesting poetry that may have been overlooked because of exclusionary thinking."
Her work, she hopes, will contribute to discussions around various forms of identity in South Africa and help introduce alternative narratives and voices in that space, making them more visible.
"Issues of identity are real and personal, I think it is an important discussion to have in this country in particular considering how diverse our country is and how varied our experiences are of what it means to be South African. That is a conversation that I believe we are still grappling with and watching unfold as South Africans as we are pulled in different directions. My poetry explores what it means to be brought up in a home that is not stereotypical and to be young and struggling with the liminal space between two parents who represent radically different worlds."
The collection however does not treat the alternative to traditional family structures as abnormal or as a spectacle.
"That was always my intention, to present an alternative to the traditional and a view of a different form of parenting and not to make it seem different. The collection affirms that normal is not always traditional and that there are different distinctions of that. At the end of the day, it is my hope that my collection contributes to conversations about our various forms of South Africanness."
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Loud and Yellow Laughter at R80, you can contact Botsotso at firstname.lastname@example.org or Busuku-Mathese at email@example.com.
Photo: Ms Sindi-Busuku-Mathese with her first poetry collection, Loud and Yellow Laughter, which was recently published by Botsotso. (Anton Jordaan, SSFD)