As part of our African Literature as Creative Enterprise series, Brian Jones and Jane Morris of amaBooks talk to John Eppel.
Here is how the Bulawayo, Zimbabwe-based author explains his relationship with the amaBooks duo:
[They] would have been my first choice for all my books, but they seldom have the wherewithal to finance a publication; that is largely because they have the commitment (and courage) to promote new Zimbabwean writing, including poetry, which almost nobody buys. ..More people write poetry than read it
’amaBooks started in 2000 on an inner impulse to raise money for the Bulawayo branch of the charity Childline. It was John Eppel who donated a collection of his poems to be published to raise money. A professor of mathematics — Brian Jones — and Jane Morris, a clinical social worker — with a university background in literature — set themselves a goal of mastering the printing press.
You chose to come together with Togara Muzanenhamo to produce Textures. What are the advantages to you of combining your work with that of another poet in one anthology?
The singular advantage, I hope, is to Zimbabwean literature. Why should it remain segregated, more than 30 years after Independence?
What is it about Togara poetry that encouraged you to publish together? Could you give a short example of his work in this anthology that you particularly appreciate, and why?
Togara is a gifted poet, a born poet. Poetry comes as naturally to him as the leaves to a tree. Keats makes this point in a letter to John Taylor, 27 Feb. 1818. That’s why I wanted to be published with him. I appreciate all his poems, so here is a random selection:
And he lets his mind roam the landscape
others had always owned on their breath –
the beauty of mist and light, the grandeur of silence.
On the sofa the two of them cuddled,
warm and snug –wine in their heads.
Effortlessly, time and again, he blends history with the moment.
In the introduction to Textures, by Dr Drew Shaw, there is mention of the poetry here emphasising form as well as content. Why is form important?
Content is common to all genres; form distinguishes them. Form and content become inseparable in the best poems: ‘I am soft sift in an hour glass’ [Gerard Manly Hopkins].
The reputation of many poets in Zimbabwe has been enhanced by their participation and success in 'performance' events. Both of you are primarily regarded as performance poets. Can you suggest ways in which your work could be brought to the attention of poetry lovers across Zimbabwe, and elsewhere?
‘Only the usual ways: wider distribution of the book, reviews by reputable academics and writers, interviews, readings, exposure on social media networks, book signings…. Easier said than done.’
Can you please choose a poem of your own from Textures, and briefly explain your motivation in writing the poem.
‘Looking for you’. This is one of lyric poetry’s oldest themes – losing a loved one.
Where do you find the subject matter for your poems?
In the suburbs of Bulawayo.
One of John’s novels spent more than seven months with Penguin South Africa before it was rejected on the grounds that the publishers did not think they could make a commercial success of it.
While publishers have to balance between pursuit of happiness — yes, publishers are human beings as well — and need to finance future projects, authors often lack time.
Life happens to African writers the same as to the rest of us. John Eppel writes during school holidays and occasionally over the weekends. Which meant he wasn’t able to squeeze in some more creative time to answer a bunch of other questions we still have for him.
Dear Reader, if you manage to get a hold of John Eppel at a cultural event around Southern Africa or happen into his backyard garden to chat by the black roses, Rhodesian Ridgeback at your feet, please ask John one of the following and drop us a line on email@example.com:
In our first interview for the 2015 amaBooks x Steppes in Sync series on African Literature,Tendai Huchu names John Eppel’s George J. George as a quinessential quixotic character in African literature. Any other Don Quixotes that should catch our eyes in African literary corpus?