Twelve + One

zamantungwa | July 18th, 2014 | Book Reviews, current issue | No Comments

Twelve-+-One-ColourTitle: Twelve + One. Some Jo’burg poets: their artistic lives and poetry
Edited by: Mike Alfred
Publisher: Botsotso Publishing
Year: 2014

Botsotso Publishing is best known for its literary journal, Botsotso as well as numerous poetry titles and the performances by its founders Botsotso Jesters. What many don’t know is that they also publish plays and short stories which can be found online at

But this review isn’t about all those titles; it’s about one unique poetry title that aims to do more than just present poetry in print. Their latest title is Twelve + One.

Twelve because the initial concept was for only eleven profiles but then Allan Kolski Horwitz, the publisher insisted that Mike Alfred, the editor to also be profiled and he “wanted to include a young woman poet who gives a lot of insight into the burgeoning Spoken Word scene”.

This book was borne out of the idea that “most poets living around the corner in Johannesburg, as is their poetry, are largely ignored.” Contemporary poetry is largely ignored by the academy and publishers steer clear of it for its lack of profitability. Here, Mike Alfred aims to “give our local, neglected poets, a ‘louder’ voice.”

The book features interviews and poems, which give insight to how the poets approach their craft, find inspiration and create. Alfred turns the spotlight and delves into the lives of the poets called Siphiwe, Gail, Ahmed, Phillippa, Lebohang, Jane, Frank, Ike, Lionel, Makhosazana and Allan. From their beginnings, whether their love for words was sparked by bedtime stories or pulp fiction or a great teacher, the editor attempted to give each poet the respect to tell their own story.

What’s lovely about this collection is that these poets are from various backgrounds and varying ages. The first poet, Jane Fox, perhaps the oldest poet in the collection, has been working with writers for decades. Described as a “trim, strong, feisty, seventy-something”, Jane Fox has never thought of herself as a poet, “I’ve always thought that poetry is something I do on the side.” She shares a few of her poems but the one she says she’s most proud of is “On Seeing Dawn Over the Vlei At Waylands Farm”, a sonnet in tribute to her late husband, Lionel Abrahams. It was written on the morning after he passed away.

“The bird above lives, breathes, will on day die;
its copy waits below, life hath it none”

Fox attributes her growth and love for poetry to her late husband, Lionel Abrahams, who also played a big part in the development and publishing of writers and poets such as Oswald Mtshali, Zachariah Rapola and Graeme Friedman.

Ike Mboneni Muila’s interview is another standout interview for me. One third of the surviving Botsotso Jesters, Muila creates poetry using multiple official and unofficial South African languages. His is a story of triumph, resilience and brilliance. An alumnus of the Soyikwa Institute of African theatre, Funda Centre and Market Theatre Lab, Muila brings his training as an actor to performance poetry. He doesn’t, however, consider himself a performance poet, “I started as a creative writer, as a student of drama… When I’m asked if I’m a poet I grin from ear to ear. I’m just a creative writer.”

blomer madala
ek is ’n ou taxin terries
binne in di toene
change deurdlana
op en af
blomer madala…”

“I can’t finish a verse without mixing the language in between,” he says, and I can already picture that smile I’ve come to know over the years at many poetry events.

What is enjoyable about this collection of interviews is that not all of them are treated in the same way as if there’s a formula. In all of them, Alfred, let the poets speak and didn’t insert himself into the stories. In each interview, or story, he does his best to capture the poets voice and emotion. Though the written, as even Alfred, notes doesn’t achieve it the same way that a recorded voice might, each of the interviews came alive, showing off the different characters. The interviews are nicely complemented by the poetry. And having read the stories, even without reading what inspired the poem, I found that I understood the poems better.

Twelve + One is a great addition to my collection and I’d tell anyone and everyone to buy it. The lives of Mandi Poefficient Vundla, Lebogang Nova Masango, Allan Kolski Horwitz, Makhosazana Xaba, Phillippa Yaa De Villiers, Ahmed Patel, Siphiwe ka Ngwenya, Lionel Murcott, Frank Meintjies and Gail Dendy are inspiring and inspired. In fact it would make for a great introduction to these poets as it gives life to the poetry but letting us in, even for a little, to the lives of these poets.


Twelve + One is available for R100 at


Poems-For-Freedom-Mag&Ipadthis article was published in our print quarterly number six, Poems For Freedom.

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