28 December 2009

dennis brutus, 1924 - 2009

We learned on Saturday evening of the passing of the South African poet and activist Dennis Brutus.
The NPR & Book SA remembrances include links to interviews with Brutus; the former also includes a rather perplexing (albeit unfortunately not surprising) comment lamenting NPR's "far too much time" spent on coverage of South Africa!!

I had met Brutus only a few times, thanks to his (and my) work with the African Literature Association, he as a past president and member. He was an outstanding reader of his own work and a passionate, forceful advocate and activist -- as the memorials above highlight, an activist to the end.

Similarly, I've dipped into his work here and there, sporadically. And while I wasn't overawed by his most recent poetic work, there are more than a few poems from Brutus that will, for perhaps too long, stand as both a legacy and reminder of his work and the age we live in (and will always live in):
"Stubborn Hope"

Endurance is a passive quality,
transforms nothing, contests nothing
can change no state to something better
and is worthy of no high esteem;
and so it seems to me my own persistence
deserves, if not contempt, impatience.

Yet somewhere lingers the stubborn hope
thus to endure can be a kind of fight,
preserve some value, assert some faith
and even have a kind of worth.


"Oh God"

Oh God
the sight of these uniformed men
locusting the earth
for their fat harvesters
fills me with sadness
and sick anger and a horror-struck prescience
of the carnage to come

From Stubborn Hope (1978).
Timeless, ageless -- lamentedly ageless. Rest easy -- you fought long and hard.
Addendum (12 January 2010): Not surprisingly, and quite fittingly, online remembrances of Brutus have proliferated. There are also a number of memorials being held, including in Philadelphia this past Sunday and New York on January 15th.

I've found Joyce Nyairo's piece in Kenya's Daily Nation -- Brutus’ poems survive death like they beat -- to be among the best of the brief remembrances: engaging, evoking, and elevating his poetry alongside a life well and strongly led.
Addendum (25 February 2010): A late-appearing obituary in The Guardian by Cameron Duodu.

1 comment:

Sinthalunda said...

This is sad news. He was such a significant poet in many ways. Your tribute is kind. Thanks.