The poetic plot of Lady Krog

Preface to the translated and republished article by Bernard Odendaal and H.P. van Coller in issue 30(3), “Krog”

Thys Human

Noordwes-Universiteit

Bernard Odendaal and H.P. van Coller’s “Poetic plot in Antjie Krog’s Lady Anne (1989)” was originally published in Afrikaans in Stilet, exactly a decade ago. As their title suggests, however, the focus of the article is a volume of poetry published two decades prior (in the late 1980s, when political change in South Africa was palpable but not yet a fait accompli) and, specifically, the urgent questions it raises concerning what a South African (and African) identity entails. With our reprint of this article in 2020, we are reminded just how relevant (and contentious) the issue of the nativisation and Africanisation of white South Africans, still, remains. 

By taking the construction of the poetic plot as a point of departure, Odendaal and Van Coller reflect on the way in which Lady Anne can be seen as a thematic (and maybe even an ideological) forerunner/predecessor for later volumes such as Gedigte 1989-1995 and Kleur kom nooit alleen nie (2000), not to mention the lyrical emplotment of nonfictional/factional works such as Country of my skull (1998), A change of tongue (2003) and Begging to be black (2009). Furthermore, they also show how the emphasis on narrativity and metafictional aspects of Krog’s volume paved the way for a considerable number of Afrikaans “narrative poetry” volumes (Odendaal, 2009) in the decades since.

Incidentally, one can’t help but wonder if a disservice has been done in seeing Krog as poet first, author second, and oracle third. She might balk at the (mis)nomer in the title of this contextualisation, but there are very real ways in which Krog has laid bare – had been laying bare – the poetic plot of the Afrikaner. And has done this, not in a pacing recorded in years, but over the slow scope of decades.

Inspired by the late Tom Gouws’s contention that Krog can be described as a contemporary national poet, Odendaal and Van Coller convincingly argue that Krog considers it part of the duty of the poet to account for the situation in which she finds herself. In this particular volume, Lady Anne Barnard serves as a metaphor-personae through which Krog attempts to explore the personal-historic-mediated South African actuality, so to account for positioning herself in said actuality. As a result, Lady Anne Barnard is employed and imbedded in an intricate narrative about Krog’s movements towards the realisation of (the necessity of) a personal and national Africanising transformation.  

This transformation can indeed be considered the paradigmatic frame in which the themes of the volume are realised (including through movements from solipsism to altruism, inaction to fervour, aesthetic preoccupation to social utility, conservatism to revolutionary engagement), and Odendaal and Van Coller make a convincing case for their contention that Krog (or at least the writing subject of Lady Anne) aspires to establish an Africanised identity for herself as well as her ‘fellow citizens’. However, by means of illuminating quotes from poems in the volume, they point out that Krog increasingly becomes disillusioned and irritated by Barnard’s reluctance, her inability to turn insight into action (and to break free from the chains of her privileged existence), with the result that she (Krog) eventually distances herself quite vehemently from Barnard.

Today, three decades after Lady Anne’s publication in 1989 (incidentally, also the year in which the first issue of Stilet was published), Krog and Barnard – Antjie, Anna and Anne – still reverberate with relevance.

 

To cite:  Human, T. 2019. The poetic plot of Lady Krog. Stilet, 30(3):83-84.

© 2019. The author.

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