Poet Muse: Wopko Jensma

h | December 13th, 2017 | current issue, poet muses | No Comments

(poet, artist. 1939)

i am a dirty little room
with spiders in the corner of my skull
my mouth a dark pit
into which human droppings disappear

the speck of rust in my heart worries me
many people breathe in and out of me
i am at ease with the world
only the speck of rust worries me

-Lo Lull by Wopko Jensma (1973)

Wopko Jensma is a South African poet and artist. Born in 1939 in Ventersdorp. He published three poetry collections, Sing for our Execution (1973), Where White is the Colour/Where Black is the Number (1974) and I Must Show you my Clippings (1977) and produced artwork that became iconic book covers for poets such as Oswald Mtshali. Wopko wrote about race and identity and mental illness (before being diagnosed with schizophrenia.) He struck a peculiar figure because he was a white man in apartheid South Africa, fluent in many languages, including tsotsitaal. Wopko’s poetry was a melting pot of jazz, Sophiatown, Doornfontein, Soweto, District six mixed with his own rejected identity.

i was born 26 july 1939 in ventersdorp
i found myself in a situation
i was born 26 july 1939 in sophiatown
i found myself in a situation
i was born 26 july 1939 in district six
i found myself in a situation
i was born 26 july 1939 in welkom
i found myself in a situation now,
when my mind started to tick
i noticed other humans like me
shaped like me: ears eyes
hair legs arms etc

 -Spanner In The What? Works(1977)

Mafika Gwala had this to say about Jensma: “For a long time I thought he was black… so when I met Wopko one morning, edged against his withdrawal, I could think of only one thing, his white world was killing him as if out to destroy him. Perhaps he had refused for too long to be the white he was expected to be” (Gardiner 2000).

The law of tension
The law of precalculation
The law of reason
The law of aggression
The law of intrigue, the game

His poetry and afrocentric art only further obscured his identity as stated by Peter Wilhelm in 1973: “Some have displayed uncertainty about his racial/religio/political background: after all, in the land of separate development, to have no official identity, to slot into no orthodox groove, is a very strange, disturbing thing […]. He is a terrifying, new sort of human. He is the first South African’’.

Jensma’s mental illness ultimately took a toll on his ability to produce. He faded into obscurity, living from shelter to shelter until his disappearance in 1993. He left behind a large collection of artwork, his three collections of poems and a relatively unknown and unpublished collection called Blood and More Blood.


[1]sources: 1Wopko Jensma: A Monograph. The Interface Between Poetry And Schizophrenia byAyub Sheik (http://researchspace.ukzn.ac.za/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10413/4829/Sheik_ … Continue reading

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