Rooted in poetry

Abu Bakr Solomons is passionate about language and literature – and prays that ebooks don’t ever take over the printed page.

A teacher by profession, this Southfield resident taught at primary and high schools for 42 years, including a 20-year stint as principal of Spes Bona High in Athlone.

“I taught English to both first and second language pupils, life orientation and mathematics and science to Grades 8 and 9 pupils,” he explains.

Asked about his experience of young people’s interest in literature and poetry over the years, Mr Solomons says it was sometimes challenging to pique pupils’ interest in literature, but that it was “utterly rewarding” when they learned the value of literature and reading. “My matriculants used to call me Dr Faustus, after Christopher Marlowe’s character in one of his plays.

“I loved teaching, in general, still do, and teaching literature and language study were my favourite subjects. These days it is far more difficult to encourage young people to read and to enjoy literature,” he notes.

Recalling his own journey with literature and verse, Mr Solomons says his passion for poetry blossomed from a very young age.

“I started writing poetry when I was at school,” he says. “My work was published in school journals and magazines (and) I continued writing poetry into adult life.”

He also studied English Literature at three different universities at undergraduate and postgraduate level and has had his work published in journals like Akal, Sol Plaatje European Union anthologies, in a Botsotso anthology called Sections of Six.

Explaining his writing routine, Mr Solomons says: “I rise every morning at 5am and try to write for at least two hours.

“It took about two years to complete the first draft of my collection A season of tenderness and dread (and) another six months to prepare the final copy.

“I took the photographs while I was writing the poems. I also write during the day or whenever I am inspired, thanks to new, portable technology.”

And on what inspires him, he adds: “The human condition inspires me to write. How we strive to understand who we are and our world. How we endeavour to love and care for each other and often fail to realise those ideals. How we endeavour to make sense of spiritual and material realities in which we are immersed. How nature as signs of divine intervention nurtures us to move closer to embracing the universe.”

A season of tenderness and dread, he adds, started as a “small adventure”, which also happens to be the title of the first poem in the anthology. This work, he says, is “a celebration of post-retirement bliss and reverie.

“But the adventure grew into a much larger vision of our world as it exists now, seen through my eyes.

“I hope the photographs augment what I see and describe in the poetry. I thoroughly enjoyed writing the collection and I hope that those who read it will also experience some of the insights and consciousness that I acquired in writing it.”

While Mr Solomons describes many of his poems as lyrical poetry, he believes “it defies any such strict conventions when the poems assume its own framework”.

One such poem which defies strict convention is Moedertaal/Mother tongue a beautifully scripted ode to Afrikaans. Elaborating on the significance of this piece of work, Mr Solomons says: “Moedertaal/Mother tongue is essentially a bilingual poem, rather than an Afrikaans one.

“I think my intention in that poem was to illustrate how deeply our linguistic roots and our identity are embedded in Afrikaans.

“I come from an Afrikaans-speaking home. My mother spoke Afrikaans to me, hence Moedertaal.

“Being a Cape Muslim and having close ties with Malay culture, Afrikaans is very close to my heart and soul although I studied English. I think the politics of the day estranged us from Afrikaans and we rediscovered it later.”

On the future of literature in print and the proliferation of e-publications, he notes: “I hope and pray that ebooks never take over the printed page. I cannot imagine not turning the pages of a book or seeing books on shelves or smelling books. Unimaginable. But is that wishful thinking? So I hope and pray that books will always be printed.”