Renewal, alienation and language variants. N.P. Van Wyk Louw’s Nuwe verse [New poems] and contemporary Afrikaans poetry

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When N.P. Van Wyk Louw’s Nuwe verse was published in 1954 it was described as innovative and as breaking new ground in Afrikaans poetry. In a contribution to the perspectives on Louw and Afrikaans poetry the research presented in this review article revisits the reception of Nuwe verse and notices broad similarity, arguably part of the effects and reverberations of Louw’s oeuvre, in notable aspects of the poetry scene in the first decades of the third millennium. Facets that were highlighted in the reception of Nuwe verse are used as the point of departure for this investigation to illustrate that these matters continue to manifest in contemporary Afrikaans poetry. Through this investigation renewed attention is brought to the reception of Nuwe verse and the contribution it made to the Afrikaans poetry landscape during the second half of the last century. The relevance extends beyond a simple renewed consideration of the contribution Nuwe verse and Louw’s poetry made to the climate of renewal halfway through the 20th century. It is argued that facets of this renewal, inter alia aspects of alienation due to temporary migration and the use of colloquial language and language variants, are also, and in a certain sense in continuation, notable in Afrikaans poetry currently being written at the onset of the third millennium.

With the publication of Nuwe verse, Louw finds himself in Europe where he experiences alienation as a result of his relocation to that continent. This despite the benefits and challenges associated with a university position. In Nuwe verse the representation of childhood memories, and also the inclusion of folk songs and the use of the language of his youth (Roggeveld Afrikaans or “Sutterlandse Afrikaans” – Afrikaans from Sutherland), can be linked to a reaction-in-poetry to experienced alienation and migration. This is noted repeatedly in critical evaluations of Nuwe verse: how Louw’s response to alienation experienced in Europe found its way into poems where the memory of his childhood in the countryside, as well as the language used in the region at the time and folk poetry from that time, are intertwined and fused.

These facets in Nuwe verse serves as the focal point and also the point of departure for the research. The representation of alienation and the use of language variants as a poetic construct observed in Nuwe verse from the previous century and the manifestation and broad parallels found in new contemporary poetry from the onset of third millennium are illustratively showcased (as set out in section 2).

In each subsection of this study the identified facets are first described as they were noted in the reception of Nuwe verse, and subsequently how it is also still noticeable in Afrikaans poetry of the new millennium. In section 3 the spatial displacement and alienation in Nuwe verse is used as a point of departure to consider other poets writing from positions of migration, and especially how this is manifesting in contemporary poetry. In this respect the article joins existing research on various aspects of migration and displacement in Afrikaans poetry (3.1). It is illustrated how contemporary Afrikaans poetry still attests to the influence of spatial displacement, alienation and the search for identity by noting the growing number of expatriate poets publishing in Afrikaans (section 3.2). Though only a handful of poets represent (temporary) migrants to South Africa who published Afrikaans poetry, also representative of both the 20th and the 21st centuries, they are part of the landscape of migration and alienation in Afrikaans poetry and are briefly considered here: from Olga Kirsch and Peter Blum to Sydda Essop and Achmat Dangor, and the recent volumes of poetry by Jerzy Koch published in 2020 and 2022 (section 3.3).

The second facet in Nuwe verse viewed as part of the renewal it brought is the poetic use Louw made of colloquial language and language variants (in previous research referred to as dialectal varieties), the focus of section 4. Interestingly Louw’s use of colloquial language and the regional language of his childhood (Roggeveld, or Rôeveld Afrikaans) in poems in Nuwe verse, especially the section containing the series of poems called “Klipwerk” (literally: “Stonework”), is presented as being inextricably part of the distillation of the experience of (temporary) migration and alienation. While the contribution that Nuwe verse made towards initiating and establishing the poetic utilisation of colloquial language and language variants has up to now largely been underplayed in research, it is argued that the contribution of Louw and the “Klipwerk” series should be more deliberately acknowledged (4.1). Subsequently illustrative examples from the work of poets publishing at the start (the first two decades) of the third millennium displaying this ongoing and also changing, evolutionary trend are considered in the final part of the article (4.2). The upsurge of debut collections of poetry published between 2020 and 2022 (seven in all), written in full or partially in different language variants, proves that it is still an important impulse in contemporary Afrikaans poetry. The contributions of the poetry of Loit Sōls, Ronelda Kamfer, Nathan Trantraal, Shirmoney Rhode, Jolyn Phillips, Churchil Naudé, Lynthia Julius, Ryan Pedro, Ashwin Arendse, Veronique Jephtas and Grant Jefthas are indicated as further cases in point.

This fulfils the dual purpose of the study, namely using illustrative examples to present a perspective on how manifestations of spatial displacement and the experience of alienation in the work of various types of migrants can be noted post-Nuwe verse – especially where a growing body of work written by expats can be observed in the second decade of the third millennium; and, secondly, noting the application of colloquial language and language variants as poetic constructs, as observed as a facet of renewal in Nuwe verse of the 20th century, as ongoing, evolutionary and growing.

The reception of Nuwe verse in N.P. Van Wyk Louw’s oeuvre as contributing to changes of renewal and innovation in the Afrikaans poetry of the late fifties in the 20th century is pointed out as confirmation of the contribution Nuwe verse brought to the poetry scene. The extensive body of research on Louw’s oeuvre confirms the literary stature, influence and after-effects (“nalewing” and “nawerking”, Van Vuuren 2006:280) of this poet and his oeuvre. This is further supported by this investigation and the findings of this article. It is demonstrated that facets of Nuwe verse which have been singled out as specifically contributing to the innovative nature of this volume of poetry can still be noted as occurring in contemporary poetry today. This confirms anew the importance of Louw’s collection and the contribution it makes as a paradigm-shifting and significant work. Drawing attention to the occurrence in recent poetry of facets that gave rise to Nuwe verse’s being viewed as innovative, broadens the investigation’s relevance beyond renewed interest in Nuwe verse and its contribution to renewal. It is argued that the influence of spatial displacement and alienation observed in Nuwe verse (in childhood memories and the application of nostalgic folk poetry and language reminiscent of childhood) can also be observed in contemporary poetry in, for example, the ever-growing corpus of expat literature, in the resurgence of language variants as poetic construct and in identity- affirming and socio-political perspectives. These observations are illustrated through examples from poetry from the onset of the third millennium in order to answer the research question, namely: What can a review of various facets of Nuwe verse contribute to the review of aspects of contemporary poetry? (2.1)

The research is pertinent, given that the latest research presenting reviews of post-2000 poetry typically covers up to 2012 and the contemporary poetry used as examples in this review are from 2000 to 2023, with an emphasis on the last decade, namely 2012/13 to 2022/23. The method employed included identifying two facets in Nuwe verse, describing these facets as they appear in Nuwe verse and, subsequently, investigating and demonstrating through the use of illustrative examples that they are still manifesting in contemporary poetry and indeed occupy a significant position in it. These two facets are: the effect of spatial displacement and alienation as manifested in poetry, and the related use of colloquial language and language variants as poetic constructs in poems.

The conclusion reached is that by revisiting Nuwe verse and the contribution that this volume and Louw’s oeuvre make to innovation in poetry during the last century, a review can be presented which confirms that facets of Nuwe verse are still noteworthy and can be found in corresponding themes and trends in contemporary Afrikaans poetry (5).

While (childhood) nostalgic poems, poems in response to alienation, and poems employing colloquial language, language variants and/or folk poetry as poetic constructs are not novel, the current investigation makes a novel contribution through reviewing and mapping.

Keywords: Afrikaans poetry; alienation; contemporary poetry; expats; expat poetry; expat poets; globalisation; internationalisation; Kaaps; language variants; migration; multilingual poetry; multilingualism; Namakwaland/Namaqualand Afrikaans; N.P. Van Wyk Louw; Nuwe verse; Roggeveld Afrikaans; third millennium



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