Two poets, both affiliated with the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch at Stellenbosch University (SU), were recently honoured at the 10th Tuin van Digters (Garden of Poets) festival at the Breytenbach centre in Wellington – lecturer Dr Alfred Schaffer as festival poet, and former Matie Ryan Pedro with the Ingrid Jonker prize for his first volume of poetry.
Dr Alfred Schaffer
Dr Schaffer is also this year's recipient of the Dutch PC Hooft prize in recognition of his poetry oeuvre. He has been teaching Creative Writing at SU since 2014. Having moved to South Africa from the Netherlands in 1996, he obtained a PhD at the University of Cape Town in 2002. His first volume, Zijn opkomst in de voorstad, appeared in 2000. This prolific poet proceeded to produce works such as Dwaalgasten (2002), Geen hand voor ogen (2004), Schuim (2006), Kooi (2008), Mens dier ding (2014) and Postuum. Een lofzang (2016).
Schaffer's work has earned him multiple awards, including the Paul Snoek prize, the Awater poetry prize, the Charlotte Köhler prize, the Ida Gerhardt poetry prize, the Jan Campert prize, the Herman de Coninck prize and the Hugues C Pernath prize. Translations of his work are available in not only Afrikaans, but also English, French, German, Chinese, Spanish, Turkish, Indonesian and Swedish.
He shares a birthday with poet and artist Breyten Breytenbach, who grew up in Wellington and around whose September birthday the Tuin van Digters fees was established just over a decade ago. Due to COVID-19 regulations, this year's event was hosted in October.
“As an outsider, it was an exceptional honour to be recognised at the Tuin van Digters," Schaffer says. According to festival organiser Francois Lötter of the Breytenbach centre, this was the first time that a non-Afrikaans-speaking poet was honoured at the festival. “It is very special to be able to pay tribute every year to someone who, over many years, has proven him or herself as an Afrikaans poet and friend of note," Lötter says. Other poets who have been honoured in this way include TT Cloete, Wilma Stockenström, Adam Small, Olga Kirch, Daniel Hugo and Breyten Breytenbach.
In his tribute, fellow poet Danie Marais, who is also involved in the SU Woordfees, commented on how Schaffer “rather casually challenges so many stereotypes, both in his personal capacity and through his work". Marais also commended Schaffer for the extremely innovative way in which he uses his work to engage with “identity as an issue of inevitable absurdity, struggle and fragmentation".
“In an age of fierce and intense identity politics, Alfred refuses to fall into the trap of an oversimplified 'me' and 'you'; he dares to be a Monty Python-type knight, fully aware of the futility of searching for the self and the truth, his only armour being double-edged irony, but with a willing ear and a keen eye for mysterious, everyday beauty," Marais said.
SU alumnus Ryan Pedro, in turn, received the Ingrid Jonker prize, which was established in 1966. His first book of poetry, Pienk ceramic-hondjies, was published by Kwela in 2020.
The annual Ingrid Jonker prize is awarded alternately to an Afrikaans or English debut poetry collection – the two languages in which poet Ingrid Jonker herself wrote. Pedro received the prize from Jonker's daughter, Simone Garcia Marques.
Currently on the writing team of Suidooster, an Afrikaans weekday soap on kykNET, Pedro is a former Creative Writing student at the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch. He obtained a BA Language and Culture degree at SU in 2017, and an honours degree in Afrikaans and Dutch in 2018.
The panel of judges called Pedro's debut a “powerful" and “impressive" volume by a “capable poet" displaying “strong talent", and said his work “sharply illuminates a world where violence both inside and outside the home is a common occurrence, and where show and pretence are essential for self-protection".
“He finds himself in a world where injustice and racism are historic and systemic, where general distrust is warranted, and where poverty is part of nearly everyone's reality," the judges added. “Pienk ceramic-hondjies takes account of the wrongdoings of the past, but strikes out in a new direction at the same time. He identifies with a generation who engages creatively with protest against a society in which they feel displaced, selectively partakes in consumerism, forges an own identity, and claims agency."
According to Prof Ronel de Goede, chair of the Ingrid Jonker prize committee and former lecturer in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, the judges are all poets themselves, making it a prize “from poets to poets". This is the fourth year that the Ingrid Jonker prize is awarded at the Tuin van Digters. The Afrikaans prize worth R10 000 is sponsored by the Dagbreek Trust.