This Carting Life | Poetry & Poetry Anthologies
Olive Schreiner Prize for Poetry (2007)
Ingrid Jonker Prize (2006)
Rustum Kozain’s debut collection of poetry moves between vastly different landscapes, some real, some imaginary: The US, and Cape Town and Paarl, in the Western Cape, and London, Moscow, Afghanistan. Against this backdrop of wandering, the themes of This Carting Life can be summarized as God, love, art and politics. The section titles already suggest the sense of a nomadic existence: Home, This carting life, Home again and Waking. In the first poem, ‘The grape picker’, an old woman is picking grapes in a vineyard in the Boland. And this territory – this complex landscape of exploitation – introduces the reader to one of the many leitmotifs in Kozain’s poetry.
Some of the most evocative poems in This Carting Life deal with the poet’s childhood. In ‘Talking jazz’, Kozain remembers his father as a musician, jamming at home with a friend – a brief interlude of joy for musicians who could no longer play at white venues:
And sometimes, just sometimes
the sax hit its high note
This poem contrasts greatly with ‘Kingdom of rain’, one of the central poems in his collection, which signals his first steps towards adulthood – and his growing awareness of a natural landscape lost to the child because of apartheid.
Kozain’s love poems are remarkable: unbearably honest, and enveloped in a sense of fleetingness, of loss. See for instance ‘Now. I want to wake now’, ‘The woman I am’ and ‘Rain in May, Cape Town’. Another leitmotif in his work reflects on his relationship to religion, and in particular, Islam. Probably one of the most extraordinary poems in the collection is ‘Brother, who will bury me’:
Brothers in Islam, of my early faith,
Go and rest with your share of grief, of duty.
I’ll die homeless. And grow quiet
As the earth, buried in some pauper’s grave ...
Last but not least, there are his poems on jazz, and on writing, and on reading other poets such as Heaney, Mandelstam and most of all, Derek Walcott.
This Carting Life collects poems that span more than ten years of writing. A fair number of these poems have been published previously in either journals or anthologies, primarily in South Africa, but also abroad in the USA and, in some cases, in translation in France.