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New Contrast

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Four from New Contrast 152 – The 50th Anniversary Edition

New Contrast 152 - The 50th Birthday Edition

Contrast is fifty.

This is the first issue of our second half century. I hope we prosper.

Occasionally, I’m asked about my editing ‘rules’: whether I follow Oxford or Chicago.

I confess I do neither and do not conform knowingly to any other set of rules or opinions. Let me explain.

I hear poetry, and some occasional prose, every week. I read other people’s new writing every day. English varies a lot. I found, with the poet in performance, I would sometimes hear with the expectation of ‘errors’. Or, when reading, that I should correct/edit the stuff that was ‘wrong’. Then a miracle happened that explained almost everything: a Darwinian revelation.

A Nigerian poet read, by invitation at Off-the-Wall. He was witty and wise with the language that always brings ‘No Woman, No Cry’ to my ears. At the end he asked for questions. I asked why he read only in English and not in his home language, be it Yoruba, Ibo and so on. He replied, ‘My home language is English.’

Not that it matters, of course. But it did bring home to me, abruptly, that the varieties are many. And that is its peculiar strength. Beyond English, it is humanity’s and life’s spice. So, my ‘editing’ is based on the idea that you and I communicate using one or more varieties of our language: there is no correct way. Or, perhaps, even common way. The English of township and suburb, east and west, differ, but the language is everybody’s property.

The editor wishes only that you write well in your tongue.


Celebrating the Fiftieth Year of New Contrast

A half century is a good innings when not out, but needs the same again and more. So, here’s to the ton!

New Contrast isn’t a cricketer, more a John Arlott commenting on our life and times. How much things change; how little. The hopes and fears of Contrast #1 are not so different from New Contrast #151. In life and literature, the stories stay the same, the characters change. And so it is that privilege and poverty flourish still in our country. This journal and others like it serve a small enlightening public, a public who have had advantages: books at home, books at school, and all that follows.

Patricia Schonstein came up with the idea of the Bell Jar – a borrowing from Sylvia Plath – into which the audience and participants at the Off-the-Wall readings at Kalk Bay Bookshop, Espresso Dot Kom and A Touch of Madness, and by post, contributed anonymously over R3700 in notes and coin to buy subscriptions for needy institutions, such as high schools. We took it further to ask individuals and companies to add to that fund. And they have! We now have the money to supply twenty four schools in 2011.

These people, writers, those who simply enjoy literature, celebrate the fiftieth year in Contrast by contributing towards the literary subscription project, confident that among its new readers will be some who will one day become writers and contributors of note themselves. I thank you all.


Contributors to New Contrast 152

Kolade Arogundade, Suzy Bell, Terry Bell, Barbara Bell, André Brink, Karina Szczurek, Marianne Burton, Penny Busetto, Derek Conroy, Mike Cope, Julia Martin, Colleen Crangle, Finuala Dowling, Sean Fraser, David Friedland, Rochelle Ginsburg, Kerry Hammerton, Silke Heiss, Paul Mason, Colleen Higgs, Cathy Hofmeyr, Evelyn Holzhausen, Jeanne Hromnik, Eva Hunter, Liesl Jobson, Shaun Johnson, Leonie Joubert, Megan Kerr, Helen Moffett, Michael Muller, Anke Nitzsche, Consuelo Roland, Karin Schimke, Don Pinnock, Patricia Schonstein, Elinor Sisulu, Alan Stevenson, Toni Stuart, Marianne Thamm, Ben Williams/BOOK SA, Wendy Woodward, The ‘Bell Jar’ anonymous donations

Four from New Contrast 152

from Remembering Contrast No. 1


Contrast No. 1 is seen, like everything else, from an adult’s shoulder height. I am nine years old. It is a part of a world I look in on but do not participate in.


Contrast is a Jack and Uys enterprise. It contains their writings, and those of their friends. It pushes certain views and values (theirs). Its head office is my father’s bedroom, which is a three metre square wooden box which contains a bed, a cupboard and a desk. The box has a bay window which looks out over Clifton bay, the most beautiful view in the world.

My father is the editor which doesn’t surprise me as his job is to be an editor. At first he worked for the Guardian. Not the British Guardian but the local commie one. Then he worked for himself and farmed a bit in Natal. Now he works as a night sub-editor on the Cape Times. Uys doesn’t work. He seems to mostly lie in his big double bed in the other (bigger) room among random heaps of paper – manuscripts, books, magazines, newspapers.


There are three kinds of friends – bohemians, commies and neighbours. Contrast is about the first lot. I like the bohemians best but my own friends are the children of the neighbours. The communists seem cross and worried. Some of the friends seem to be both bohemians and commies, but I am never quite sure. None of the neighbours are either.


I am not yet fully aware of how edgy my normal is. 1960 is a peak year for Nationalist power. White people (it turns out we are white) are in general neither bohemian nor communist, and in fact it is illegal to be the latter. Jack and Uys have black friends, and the neighbours don’t.


I am aware in a big-eyed sort of way of the conspiratorial nature of much of the social action that moves through Sea Girt, the bungalow that contains Contrast’s head office. I know that both the bohemians and the commies are being transgressive in some way, but I am not sure exactly how.

Michael Cope


Sacred Passage
For my sister Jeannette Khensani Bila

Before the stoep of our house
Where the underground pipes lie
Khenyeza the dagga-smoking builder discovered your clothes
When he was digging the foundation
I lay invisible flowers
And water them to bloom and blossom
In all seasons

I take off my shoes
Walk on this passage gently
Hold your hand, my sister
As we sip coffee together on the stoep
With our aged mother Fokisa N’wa-Mahatlani Maxele

Even when the torrential rains wash away your clothes
And the remains buried beneath the ground
I shall always remember that I walk on graves –
On fragile bodies of my beloved people
Whose spirits make wicked people sneeze and wobble

And whenever I discover something anew
I shall listen to your voice prickling my conscience
For every ground is covered with blood
Its pillars are human bones

As you smile Khensani, and our eyes hold each other
Know that you’ll never be a khumbi that only remains behind the hut
Or buried in the wetlands of the rivers
In time, you’ve grown to comfort my heart
You are the holy angel
That guards and saunters in your mother’s glittering house.

When my steps triple
And movements go astray
Carry the torch
And show me the way in darkness

What I have belongs to you
It belongs to our mother Mbati-ya-ku-fuma
Who’ll soon take a warm bath of salts
And forget the pain of losing you, her last-born child
And Klaas, her first-born
And Richard, her first husband
And Risimati, her second husband

When I finally go –
I will hold your hand, again
As I join your father
and the entire Bila ancestry

Vonani Bila


Die pad huistoe

Tussen Breedeleegte en Brakfontein
lek die son plek-plek deur waterkleur
streepsels wolk.
Die R61 pyl grys voorentoe.

Radiohead kla die iPod vol.

    ‘i wanna perfect body
    ‘i wanna perfect soul’

Hier’s maar min om voor te wens –
net dooie teer en kraaie wat teer
op bloederige padkos.


is daar ook niks. ’n Mooie niks.
In die stilte knik die koppies,
wring die wind stofworsies
wat hy oor die pad spin


    ‘i’m a creep
    ‘i’m a weirdo’

ek dink ek’s nou by angsverby,
dalk naby geluksbegin.
Hier lê die weesvlaktes.
              So is ook goed.

Karin Schimke


Elegies For Living Poets

Don Maclennan, 1929–2009

Gaunt and suave in your blue beret
(even when you shuffled slowly, bent over your ashplants)
you had learned enough to know
that it all boiled down to those four-letter words
you Anglo-Saxoned with relish
to shock and challenge.
Your grim – or chuckling? – eyes
never wavered under those frosty forests of eyebrow.

Once, as I stood at a basin, you walked into the men’s toilet
‘I’ve always thought I should wash my hands
before I touch my prick, and not
the other way around.’

You read us your locomotive poem
and we saw the steam rise, shut our ears
against the shriek of the whistle, felt the deep throb
of the driving pistons;
you talked about the shit of trains and railways
as if shit were a compliment, a praise-word.
Later, you also listened to me read, and kindly
didn’t call my poems

The last time I saw you, I hardly dared
to offer you help
when you battled to stand up on your own –
and I turned my eyes away
when you couldn’t tie your shoelaces.

Chris Thurman

Preview New Contrast 152 (and purchase it in the USA)

New Contrast 152 – The 50th Anniversary Edition


Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    January 19th, 2011 @12:26 #

    Hear, hear to the prospect of 50 more years!

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    January 19th, 2011 @12:58 #

    I just got mine in the post: it's a lovely,juicy, celebratory issue. Well done, Hugh and team!

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    January 19th, 2011 @17:31 #

    Mike Cope's memory piece is utterly brilliant, whatever you do, read the entire piece (just a taster here). Worth the cover price alone. It's a heroic edition of NC, full of ghosts. Well done and mazel tov to all who've kept this venture alive, kicking and singing.


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