Kobus Moolman wins the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry

This year’s winner of the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry was recently announced. Kobus Moolman of South Africa was awarded the prize for his collection A Book of Rooms (published by Deep South). Reviewing the collection last year for Sabotage Review, Afric McGlinchey praised Moolman as “one of the rawest and most honest poets I have ever come across – not even Sharon Olds comes close. Building on the insights of his last collection, Left Over, where Kobus Moolman found a dramatic way to write about his physicality, this haunting collection brings home, forcibly, the sense that, as well as the room of our body, we live in the rooms of our memories, and it is from these rooms that we experience our life.”

 Moolman teaches English Studies at University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, and is the recipient of numerous prizes for both his poetry and his radio and stage plays. A Book of Rooms is his sixth volume of poetry, and he has also edited an anthology of works by South African writers living with disabilities. Kelwyn Sole offers a fine introduction to his work at Poetry International, and his Moolman’s most recent collection extends an investigation in his previous two collections, “driven by a personal engagement with the concept of embodiment, and particularly two aspects [. . .] firstly, a concern with the interface between the inside and the outside, and secondly, a concern with the non-normative body.” A Book of Rooms, Moolman fuses a gift for lyric interiority with autobiographical narrative, using rooms dream-remembered “from the childhood and young adulthood of a man with a serious physical disability growing up in a grim family in the final years of the white side of apartheid” as the structuring device of the collection as a whole. The lyric force of the poems carry us into the stark landscape of physical and psychic pain its character inhabits, even as it channels the a sharp-edged humor that drives towards the will to live, and the will to know the truth. Moolman writes  in long-ranging lines, skirting the edges of prose-poetry, a form he is one of the few South African writers to embrace. It is a good sign for the readership of African poetry that there are only 5 copies of Moolman’s book currently available on Amazon in the U.S., but here’s a tiny sample:

The tin holds

all the luck he needs


to stay upright in assembly with his eyes squeezed tight during

the Our Father Forgive


us our Trespasses In case he should fall over or wet himself It

goes everywhere


with him    Like his hands   Like his concave chest


Alongside Moolman, two other poets were short-listed: Togara Muzanenhamo of Zimbabwe for his collection Gumiguru (Carcanet) and Joan Metelerkamp of South Africa for her collection Now the World Takes These Breaths Away (Modjaji). Click on the links to read thoughtful reviews of each by Ashley Strosnider of the African Poetry Book Fund. With funding from its namesake, the literary philanthropist and poet Glenna Luschei, the prize was established to promote African poetry written in English or in translation. The numbers of entries have doubled since the first year, and this year’s winner, Moolman, was chosen by Gabeba Baderoon, herself an award-wining poet and professor . Now in its second year, the number of entries has more than doubled, with entries this year from Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa. (Manuscripts are accepted from May 1 through October 1).

These are three mature African poets at the height of their powers. Readers hungry to discover more work by Moolman, Muzanenhamo and Metelerkamp should be sure to check out their Poetry International pages.