Breyten Breytenbach was born (1939) on the banks of the Breërivier in the Little Karoo and studied at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Arts.
In 1959 he left South Africa. Following the Sharpeville Massacre and after he fell foul of the Mixed Marriages Act and the Law on Immorality by marrying Ngo Thi Hoang Lien, of Vietnamese descent, he had his exile confirmed.
He started publishing in 1964, both poetry and prose. He started exhibiting in various European galleries from the early 1960’s on. He returned clandestinely to South Africa in 1975 and then spent 7 and a half years of a 9-years conviction for Terrorism in South African prisons. He taught at various universities both in South Africa and the United States, helped bring about the Centre for Creative Arts at the Kwazulu Natal University in Durban and was a co-founder of the Gorée Institute in Dakar, Senegal (1992) with which he remains involved. He works from Catalonia, Paris and Gorée. Date of death not yet decided.
who will be / the last to fall?
when I arrive in the lecture hall
I see wiser heads nodding in my direction
with an all-knowing smirk or two
here and there a backhanded titter
as if in anticipation of whatever old dog
flushed from the bush when the stone is thrown:
who do these people think I am – Breyten Breytenbach?
while waiting for the presentation to shape
in the presence of tongues still softly clicking palates
to search for the sweet gossip marrow
I realize with a suppressed sob
that I actually pity the slob
but when he prances and prattles on stage
mumblestumbling laboriously to make a case
for the double negation of engagement,
and particularly once he takes cover
behind the biarticulation of empty embodiment
(and forgets the pure light of song)
as he trashes about to snatch image from thought,
I resolve to let him dig his own hole
roomy enough to be a grave
poor shit / so full of / hollow utterances:
let him save face
and commit his own explanation.
I will not try