René Bohnen poetry - 2017 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award & Anthology
Poet René Bohnen

MICK RAUBENHEIMER chats to Afrikaans poet René Bohnen about the beauty of the flawed, the art of imperfection, and more.

When did you first identify as a creative artist?

I am only lately beginning to feel slightly worthy of this identity, or label. For so many years it seemed like something beyond my grasp and abilities. I felt trapped in too much of the mundane and bound by a sense of responsibility. I admired the freedom of people who lived fully creative lives. Slowly, though, I find that I can embrace the idea that those very people are my true tribe and home.

René Bohnen’s poems are being translated into Dutch, and she’s been long-listed for the 2017 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award & AnthologyOutside of your medium, what branch of art most stimulates you?

I would have to say painting. Music is evocative, and film is exploration or entertainment. In music and film my mind plays and my emotions can drift. Painting, though, is silent. The viewer pauses at the painting for as long as she wishes. Nothing moves. And so the mind and the heart can experience simultaneously, once both have absorbed the input. I enjoy the journeying process towards that moment where the senses become receptive together. The urge to respond in a manner of full awareness is a beautiful thing – it can lie dormant for a very long time before it germinates into a new poem for me. I love being the soil for those seeds.

Which artist/s in said discipline have inspired you?

My first realization of “inspiration” was as a 10-year old, when I saw the 1952 movie Moulin Rouge.  The wonderful José Ferrer as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec made an indelible impression on me, which has resulted in a lasting love for Paris, street art, and people watching. This is probably also where my fascination with the work of photographer Diane Arbus stems from, as well as my desire to see the art of imperfection. As an adult, Katsushika Hokusai has been an inspiration for a long time.

Of course his being Japanese ties in with the whole idea of wabi-sabi, the beauty of the flawed, the incomplete and the impermanent, so I suppose it was a natural progression from my childhood impression of the Belle Époque that I associated with Lautrec. In Hokusai I find a humble ambition to hone craftsmanship and to see with true eyes. His work is delicate but filled with vitality and depth. Work so layered and so well executed is inspirational to me.

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

Definitely to make meaning. Without that where would we be? Even so, such meaning may be tenuous and temporary, hence the need to keep creating.

René Bohnen poetry - 2017 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award & AnthologyLocal creatives (in any medium) that currently excite you?

I love the work of Clare Menck. I am drawn to her ability to make a dreamy, personal myth in the mind of the viewer. Her seemingly ordinary scenes resonate with a sub-conscious knowing in me – I have yet to be able to express it in words. A local photographer whose work touches me is Santu Mofokeng. I love his acute sensitivity and astute observation that have resulted in some truly unforgettable images.

We have wonderful painters, dancers and musicians in this country. I love Hannalie Taute’s intelligent discourse with stereotypes and her wordplay. Pauline Gutter’s uncanny use of light. Franco Prinloo’s insight when he composes music. So much creativity to enjoy!

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

The music of Nick Cave, always. While I have quite a diverse taste in music, I find that so many of his songs will probably never stop resonating with me. And then there is also Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. An ode to joy that moves one to tears. This one is almost my anthem.

Any current project you’re unveiling/wrapping up?

This is a busy and exciting time for me. Apart from my book that we have just launched at more than one event, I have also been long-listed for the 2017 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award and Anthology. In October I will be hosted by the Literaire Salon in’t Wevershuisje in the Netherlands, where I will be performing with seven Dutch and Belgian poets. We will also take part in a workshop of translating each other’s work. Ten of my poems are being translated into Dutch and this is an honour for me. I am looking forward to this unfolding of a new creative phase!

Who: René Bohnen