Gabeba Baderoon’s second collection of poetry, A Hundred Silences, grew from 18 months of intensive work, made possible by her winning the DaimlerChrysler Award in 2004.
Describe yourself in a sentence.
I want to spend my life as a writer, which, I’ve learned, means being everything else as well—academic, friend, daughter, performer—and to be those things with integrity and also lightness.
Describe A Hundred Silences.
It is a book that took shape from my journals and the unhurried, fecund underground of the mind that plays itself out there.
Describe your ideal reader.
I love to catch the ear of people who think poetry excludes them—young people whose eyes slide to the side in anticipated boredom, older people who think you’re being distant and trendy—and watch their bodies change as the words enter them. Poetry is a cheap, demotic and physical form of art. It’s for everyone.
What was the originating idea for the book?
The DaimlerChrysler Award brought with it the opportunity to publish a new full-length volume of poetry.
Since receiving the award in November 2004, I’ve spent the past year and a half writing new work, which became A Hundred Silences.
Describe the process of writing and publishing the book.
I keep a creative journal. This free-form, unedited letting loose of my mind, which I try to do every morning, leads to most of my poems. I try not to direct the content or form—that is for later. Because of the award, I had the chance to travel last year. I wrote many of the poems during a residency in the Kunst:Raum art colony on the island of Sylt, then more during a fellowship in Sweden in the Africa Writing Europe Project, and, at the end of last year, the Guest Writer Fellowship at the Nordic Africa Institute in Sweden allowed me to finish the manuscript. It was not only a gift of time and resources, but an enormous honour to receive this fellowship.
In all, A Hundred Silences contains a rather accurate map of this range of physical and emotional landscapes over the past year and a half.
Name some writers who inspire you and tell us why or how.
The person who makes it seem both possible, because I know him, and impossible, because his writing is unreachably beautiful and brilliant, is Rustum Kozain. Hanif Kureishi is an old, seductive favourite, both in his screenplays and short stories. Recently I was astonished at how deeply I was affected by Robert Hass’s book Sun Under Wood, which directly inspired The Pen, the last poem in A Hundred Silences. The Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie is one of those writers who is searingly, and a little intimidatingly good, for her age. Her short story, The Master, unfurls serenely and brilliantly. Everything of hers I read is a lesson to me. I feel similarly about Nadia Davids’s play At Her Feet. It is as much an intellectual as a visceral pleasure.
What are you reading at the moment?
I tend to dip into many books at once. Right now I’m reading Zanele Muholi’s book of photographs and essays, Only Half the Picture, Jeremy Cronin’s More Than a Casual Contact, Mzwandile Matiwana’s I Lost a Poem, The Book of Shadows by Don Paterson, Allan Horwitz’s Saving Water, Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Meera Syal’s Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee.
Do you write by hand, or use a typewriter or computer?
I always start by hand, and then move on to the computer. I’m sure the next generation will feel differently, but the visceral connection of hand on pen, scratch on paper, feels to me like the natural path for words, the right pace, somehow.
What is the purpose of poetry?
Poetry eludes the guards at the gates of our minds. It gets us inside and outside boundaries that seem impermeable. As a result of poetry, I know more about myself through the words that run from the tip of my pen than I do from reflecting purposefully. I feel an astonishingly intimate connection with people through reading their poems. In poems the world is close and dangerous and, sometimes, possible to remake.