Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Don Beukes

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Don Beukes

(According to his Amazon author page)

was born in Athlone in Cape Town, South Africa. He spent his childhood in Elsies River and Belhar and graduated at the University of the Western Cape with a BA Degree in English and Geography in 1992 where he also studied Psychology. He then qualified as a teacher with a Higher Diploma in Education (Post-Graduate) in 1993.

He is a retired teacher of English and Geography and taught for Twenty years in both South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Don’s debut collection of poetry, ‘The Salamander Chronicles’, was published in December 2016 by Creative Talents Unleashed, dealing with a range of themes such as oppression, bullying, politics, globalism, sexism, abuse, birth, death, refugees, as well as racism, having been born, raised and educated during the last two decades of Apartheid.

His second book ‘Icarus Rising – Volume One’ is a collection of Ekphrastic poetry with most of the poems based on original artwork and close collaboration with artists from South Africa, America and the UK.

His South African publication debut of fourteen exclusive poems was published in August 2018 with three other prominent SA authors Bevan Boggenpoel, Leroy Abrahams and Selwyn Milborrow in a unique anthology ‘In Pursuit of Poetic Perfection’, which upon release went to number 1 in ‘African Literature’ on Amazon Kindle.


The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

My first experience of poetry actually was in my first language, Afrikaans both at school and visits to the local library. As a second language, English appealed to me as well and I found myself able to read and write efficiently in English inspired by my English teachers and family to do the best I could in both languages.

Towards the end of my secondary education, I started to write micro poems on pieces of paper and started giving these to close friends even when I started university studies. I guess it came naturally to me but it would be years later in 2009 when I started to keep a dedicated journal of poetry in both languages, dealing with my years in South Africa under Apartheid (1972-1994) and my professional career as a teacher in England. It felt natural to start archiving my writing  and it would all come to fruition in 2016 when my first collection, ‘The Salamander Chronicles’ was published by Creative Talents Unleashed (Raja Williams).

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My early experience of poetry was purely academic. We had a set list of poems to study in high school each year both in Afrikaans and English, so my teachers although in a formal way, guided me into the obvious and hidden magic of poetry.

At home, my much older sisters, Ruth and Joan, introduced me to their reading material, including poetry in both languages.

2.1. What poets you were introduced to showed you the obvious and hidden magic of poetry?

South Africa:

Adam Small
Breyten Breytenbach
Ingrid Jonker
Tatamkula Afrika
Zakes Mda

Chinua Achebe

Thomas Hardy
Wilfred Owen
John Donne
Dylan Thomas
Benjamin Zephaniah

Charles Bukowski
Laurence Ferlinghetti

2.2. What was that hidden magic?

Breytenbach’s free verse displaying a powerful visual imagination and richly eclectic use of metaphor, mixing references to zen with surrealistic images, idiomatic speech and recollections of the South African landscape as a dissident Afrikaans exiled poet ending up in Paris.

Adam Small’s persisted theme of depicting the lives of oppressed people, especially the so-called ‘coloured’ people classified as such by the racist divisive white South African Apartheid government, as well as the working class; using his writing as an existential weapon in the struggle for freedom.

Wilfred Owen’s use of half-rhyme gave his poetry a dissonant and provoking quality, which shadowed his recurrent themes. Also his use of assonance created a quiet tone and different sounds prevalent to war.

Benjamin Zephaniah’s battle for social justice through his writing incorporating humour, thereby highlighting the underlying seriousness of the struggle of black people and giving them a voice.

Charles Bukowski dabbling in conscious art and craft, mostly writing about ‘the sense of a desolate, abandoned world’ and well known for caustically indicting bourgeois society, whilst celebrating the desperate lives of alcoholics, prostitutes and other disreputable characters in and around L.A, USA.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s use of everyday language, which articulates his themes, offering a personal voice through his delivery of words. His figurative, honest and raw poetry presents things that are actually before us in the visual world, thereby presenting writing that could be understood by the average person on the street.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

Currently I can mention poets like Alan Britt, Michael Johnson and Duanne Vorhees and Beau Blue.

My tertiary studies in English exposed me to the works of John Donne, Shakespeare and Chaucer.

As an English teacher in the UK I taught the poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Agard, Simon Armitage and Gillian Clarke also Benjamin Zephaniah and Carol-Anne Duffy.

3.1. Would you say they were a dominating presence?

Not all of them. Certainly Wilfred Owen, Chinua Achebe, Dylan Thomas, Adam Small, Breyten Breytenbach, Ingrid Jonker and Benjamin Zephaniah and Charles Bukowski

3.2. How were they dominating?

I refer You back to Q4 , highlighting the ‘hidden magic of the selected poets, specifically singling out their ‘dominance’ at the same time… Furthermore, any poets I was expected to teach, revealed their ‘dominance’ through the interpretation of each and every student who individually reacted in response not just to any exam question, but also challenged me as a teacher to judge them on their unique interpretation of poets they’ve never even heard of but bravely dived into their words and literary worlds…

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Catching up on current and breaking news, jotting down key words, ideas and associations. Any theme that makes me sit up and take notice morphs into a storyline, character development and alternatives but mostly I am inspired by art, photography and moving images. I might even research ideas from films, articles or any breaking story in the world for possible poems, Ekphrastic responses and short fiction.

5. What is your work ethic?

As a visual learner, I need to be moved by imagery, art or any visual stimulus to ignite my writing planning. Sometimes it takes me days to interpret a painting or image before a pattern or writing plan emerges. I then find myself spilling ink until I look up at what I’ve written and then astonish myself with what I’ve managed to write. If I am forced to limit myself to any structure limit, it challenges me to focus and be more creative than usual. If I don’t believe in what I’ve written, I would delete it and start all over again. Sometimes I just stop and pick up stalled writing when I’m ready to focus all my attention to it, without any interruptions.

6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?

Good question! Aside from poetry, my first Stephen King book I was introduced to as a teenager by an older neighbour,  was ‘It’. I was stunned by the page turning experience. It is King’s choice of characters however flawed, which made me start writing short fiction. My first published story was ‘The Trilogy of Em’ (Scarlet Leaf Review), a story of a genetically engineered girl who ends up in an institution for ‘the gifted&talented’, where she uncovers many secrets about her ‘creators’.
King also inspired me to think of creating characters with a flawed past, subdued memories and psychological problems.

My favourite teenage ‘horror’ go to read still remains ‘The Rats’ by James Herbert. He inspires me to tap into the darker side of my imagination and to push the boundaries.

Peter O’ Donnell’s ‘Modesty Blaise’ inspirés me to create exceptional resourceful female characters with dubious pasts and many talents.

As for a great South African poet, Adam Small inspired me to speak from the heart, not holding back in pointing the finger to autocratic racist governments, which I try to reflect in my resistance poetry and political articles dealing with race, culture and identity.

I know you have already mentioned Alan Britt, Michael Johnson and Duanne Vorhees and Beau Blue. Please can you expand on why you enjoy these writers and who else in today’s writers you admire, and why?

Michael Lee Johnson writes in a conversational.style, almost with familiar imagery and references; “I drink dated milk/sip Mogen David concord wine with diet 7Up/My neighbors’ parties/loud blast language” from ‘Missing of the Birds’.

Duanne Vorhees’ metaphorical poetry speaks directly to the reader; “Come find me in some brick and vinyl Inn/when your soul is frozen in hard winter” from ‘The Poet’. His galloping rhyming style of writing makes you willingly trot along, “history is the mystery of mud and bones/how many of me, me, me have died or grown since yesterday”, from ‘Mean Time’.

Beau Blue’s no-nonsense and straightforward, honest writing, using familiar scenes or situations; “And when I asked where they kept The Cummings and Pounds/she pointed lemon lips at me/Paperbound poets are on the backside of humor”, from ‘Reviewing the Bookstore Massacre’.

Although its becoming very author heavy at this point, I only want to give a special mention of two voices of these modern literary times, although quite uniquely different, they have become booming legendary poetic loudspeakers –

Scott Thomas Outlar for his ‘fluxing and flowing’ sweepingly honest and almost prophetic writing, commenting on the good, the bad and the ugliness of humanity, somehow sometimes making us uncomfortably shift in our seats when we admit to ourselves we actually know what he wants to remind us of and what he suggests we do about it.

Heath Brougher for his visionary and increasingly intergalactic premonitional utterings of literary galaxies we can only try to imagine. His spectral visions take us onto a far flung comet hurtling us to far flung stars not even born yet.

Both Scott and Heath for me epitomise contemporary written creativity and that’s just my honest opinion.

7. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I would say you must have some inkling that you are able to write, be it in diary form or in a formal setting like a language exam at school, or writing a letter (in my younger days posting to pen friends).

If thoughts keep bubbling in your head and you need to pen it down in whichever form and you feel a surge of creativity and feel good afterwards, then you are a writer.

If reading inspires you and you are moved by words and the magic of language, which stirs a passion within you and flips your emotions, then you are a writer… You just have to believe and trust in your unknown destiny. Pour out your heart, frustrations and inner voice onto paper or a screen!

8. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

Well I have written a chapbook entitled ‘The Girl in the Stone/La Chica en la Piedra’, inspired by an image of the face of a girl in a stone from the Bronze age, which I found in my summer home in Spain, near a UNESCO world heritage mountain site. The poems deal with the surrounding people, the vineyards, the earth and the mountain, as well as folklore and the African migrant seasonal workers, as well as the surrounding areas. I hope to get it translated into Spanish. Know anyone perhaps?

My new full collection is entitled ‘Sic Transit Gloria Mundi’/Thus Passes the Glory of the World with the book cover painted by Janine Pickett. It also contains a few short fiction pieces. Watch this space!

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