New Words, New Ideas

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My guest post today comes from a guy who has done SO much for South African writing and new writers that it is a bit hard to list it all! One of the creator/founders of the literary journal cum writing  movement, Botsotso, Allan Kolski Horwitz has done his time in the trenches! Here he reflects on his writing and what it all means anyway!

On Writing

By Allan Kolski Horwitz whose new collection of short fiction MEDITATIONS OF A NON-WHITE WHITE will be published in the next two months. A new collection of poems THERE ARE TWO BIRDS AT MY WINDOW will see the light at more or less the same time as well as a play, COMRADE BABBLE, based on the life and times of Brett Kebble.

I suppose all writers write “what they like” to the extent that no one forces you to write and no one directly tells you what to write. Of course, issues of taste, fashion and marketability may influence you, but in the final analysis the choice is made by the individual concerned. As such, every story/poem/play results from both conscious and unconscious motives and each should be a new journey of discovery.

I began writing as a teenager and most of my bad writing habits have their origin in those early attempts. I was entranced by the dictionary – Aldous Huxley’s vocabulary was mighty impressive and I would joyfully pour over the many unfamiliar words he used, jot them down and then try and incorporate them into poems. Needless to say, the poems were incoherent memorials to pedantry and bombast but the hours of pleasure this activity gave me were well worth the illusion that I was writing “great poetry”.

Today in my short fiction I have to wield the big stick of brevity and simple syntax but every now and then a monster of complexity and elaborate design slides forth. These monsters have their charms and I still gain much pleasure from comparing them to Faulkner’s raves or Henry James’ winding paragraphs. If you think I am ‘names dropping’ (to show my literary erudition) then you are probably right – the motive being that my familiarity with the English and American canon is patchy (despite having studied English Literature at varsity). For some years now my reading tastes have been more partial to non-English writers who have a fundamentally different worldview and approach to language (Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Roberto Bolano spring to mind). I am also very keen on reading South African writers who are trying to do justice to our own complex situations – public and private.

My new collection MEDITATIONS OF A NON-WHITE WHITE consists of sixteen stories that cover a pretty wide spectrum of characters, ideas and story lines. It is intrinsically contemporary and reflects on both the idiosyncrasies of South African life as well as the more global aspects. I am an inherently political creature and love the interplay between the very personal and the very general; the jump from interior to exterior and back again is the essence of our daily lives and the dream world flits never far from the ‘flesh and blood’.

The craft aspect of writing (hours and hours of shaping and reshaping) are comparable to the making of sculpture. The slow chipping away at a sentence till the words drop into a perfect sequence and rhythm – and the excitement when you’re on a roll and the torrent is assured and strong – that is the thrill of creation and a thrill that never wanes unlike other drugs that seem to require higher and higher rates of consumption with less and less of the ‘high’ resulting.

Any way enough of this rambling – here’s a poem about the activity that fills so much of my time (crazy way to fill the hours but such a splendid one!)

First of all, do it; then once you’ve done it (let the words rush out
dart in from the fringes; let the flow
of ragged cataracts swell over the banks so that a state of swirl

do it again and again because you need to express and order
the rawness and the rational
make those traces in the sand beside the raging river
make the momentary tangible
the ineffable visible

essence of the poem/story:
truthful fantasy wanting to give voice, rhythm, eye
to the machinery of the intellect
hand in hand with the rolling tongue

the preserve of telling and of drama an ancient space
and one to honour – here in Mzansi, yo everywhere –
the poem/the story, virtual and real cuts
of the heart, exciting the philosophical,
the sordid     the mystical

love the crafting    shape and re-shape
without too radical a deviation from the impulse
poem/story testing over months and years
art making a process
till that point when you stop and
shout out: complete! it stirs me!
makes sense  inspires beauty
captures the drama and heartbeat of love and war

and are then free to address the fresh page
and read your neighbour’s page
explore it as you do your own
script/scrawl of the living
record and revelation   emotion and deliberation
island and mainland visited in
daylight and darkness
delivering merciful judgement of the senses
merciless exploration of the universal spirit

You can find a selection of Allan’s work for Sale on Amazon by clicking here, or get in touch with him via the Botsotso website by clicking here.


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