Mick Raubenheimer’s ROUND CORNERS mini interviews situate given artists outside their medium whilst peeking into their various worlds. In the midst of Corona’s morose web he chatted with Italian poet Raphael d’Abdon about the colour purple, and other lights shining through.

Poet Raphael d'Abdon
Poet Raphael d’Abdon

When did you first identify as a creative artist?

I don’t call myself an artist, because I don’t consider myself one. For me, the term “artist” rubs shoulders with the term “genius”, and, therefore, should be used frugally. Unfortunately, nowadays it’s not always the case. In my understanding of the meaning of the word, Prince is an artist, Bernini is an artist, Toni Morrison is an artist, Roger Federer is an artist, my grandmother when she was making pasta, was an artist.

These are creators of pure, timeless expressions of beauty. I do not belong to that club, I don’t have that rare gift. I rather see myself as an artisan, or an art practitioner, and I started to identify as a writer when my first stories got published. They were short stories, written in Italian, and they appeared in different anthologies, circa 2005-2006. The same happened with poetry: I started viewing myself as a poet when I got my first pieces accepted for publication a couple of years later.

Up until 2009 I had absolutely no intention, let alone ambition, of starting a writing career; however, when the editors started responding consistently (and positively) to my stories, I realized that my works might have value for someone, and that maybe I could take this writing business more seriously, and push my creativity and my craft to higher levels.

I am a late bloomer, I have only been writing for 15 years, but the desire to master this art is growing by the day.

Outside of your medium, what branch of art most stimulates you?

Music primarily, and then cinema. Music has the power to make me explore new dimensions, and parallel universes. It might happen with certain paintings and poems as well, but music more than any other art form allows me to transcend the barriers of time and space… to experience pure ecstasy – to have trance-like, out-of-body experiences. Cinema, on the other hand, inspires me because of its versatility in terms of storytelling, and because movies are imaginary worlds where the visual, the verbal and the musical come together. I love filmmakers like Monicelli, Hitchcock, Leone, Kubrick, Spike Lee, Fellini, Burton, just to name a few, because they combine these elements masterfully – each one of them with their own peculiar style, and they create imaginary worlds I can relate to.

Poet Raphael d'Abdon

Which artist/s in said discipline have significantly inspired you, and why?

My hero is Prince because he is the quintessential artist. He is fearless, cheeky, curious, profound, witty, funny, sexy, generous, and devoted 100% to his art. When I think about an artist, I think about Prince.

Besides him, the list of musicians who inspire me is endless, there are really too many to mention! To meet you halfway, I will mention ten names (in no particular order), who will forever be on the top of my list: Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Tom Petty, Jim Morrison, Blondie, Led Zeppelin, Public Enemy.

What, to you, is art’s most important function?

I will answer with the words of Eugène Inoesco, who said: “If it is absolutely necessary for art to have a function, I will say that its function is to teach people that some activities are completely useless, and that these activities are essential.”

Local creatives (in any medium) that currently excite you?

Lesego Rampolokeng, Abdullah Ibrahim, Jonas Gwangwa, Jimmy Dludlu, Zakes Mda, Zola Maseko, Thandiswa Mazwai, Aryan Kaganof, Simphiwe Dana, Neo Ntsoma, Black Jacks, Sindi Busuku, Jim Pascual Agustin, Stephen Symons … and many more!

What specific work – be it in literature, music, or visual art – do you return to again and again, and why?

Prince’s music, The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, Dante’s Divina Commedia, the poetry of Lance Henson, the novels of Naguib Mahfouz and Toni Morrison, Mario Monicelli’s movies, just to name the top players in the game. I think that all these artists (yes, the term here is appropriate) have captured the essence of the human experience.

With their works they have offered us the opportunity to be fully aware of life’s beauty, ugliness and complexity, and they have done it by inventing languages that are imaginative, original, and profound.

Any current project you’re unveiling/wrapping up?

Recently, I translated into Italian a book entitled We Kissed the Ground. A migrant’s journey from Somaliland to the Mediterranean. It’s the autobiography of Mohamed Hussein Geeldoon, a guy I met in 2017, when I was invited to the Hargeysa Bookfair. The book is the story of his tahriib, an Arabic word referring to a form of unregulated emigration which involves a large number of young Somali men and women who leave for Europe via Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya, and thence across the Mediterranean Sea.

It is the story of his odyssey through the desert to reach the coasts of North Africa – of how he survived the concentration camps for migrants in Lybia and the deadly voyages in the Mediterranean. Geeldoon and I will go to Italy to launch it as soon as the Covid hysteria cools down and travel is allowed again. Besides this, with Katleho Shoro and Vus’umuzi Phakathi, I am co-editing a volume of poetry reviews entitled The Constant Reader. I am also writing two academic articles on poetry therapy – an exciting yet unexplored discipline in South Africa. Lastly, I am (slowly) beginning to put together my fourth collection of poems. I will be very busy in the second half of 2020, but I can’t complain. As long as I can write, tell stories, and travel, I feel blessed.

Who: Poet Raphael d’Abdon