JOAN HAMBIDGE

in conversation with Michèle Betty (Interview translated from Afrikaans)

Joan Hambidge is a prolific poet, writer, literary theorist, academic, critic, columnist, gender expert and, lately, writer of libretto. She has published over 20 poetry collections, several novels and has written extensive literary criticism including on deconstruction and post modernism. She is currently professor in Creative Writing and Afrikaans at the University of Cape Town. For the purposes of this interview, we focus on the fact that she is also a prolific traveller to exotic locations worldwide. Here she shares her some thoughts on the relationship between writing and travelling, travelling and love, her favourite cities and her meeting with Susan Sontag.

Interviewer

In Beyond the Threshold, Adéle Nel writes that a number of questions arise in the context of the travel experience and writing. These include the purpose of the journey, the metaphors that are associated with travel and what types of knowledge, narratives and theories are produced through travelling. Discuss your experience of how travelling inspires new narratives for you.

Joan Hambidge

Travel to exotic locations is an experience of liminality. You cross boundaries and because you are alone, you see things from a different point of view. In Puerto Natalis, I looked at the sea and the Andes. Saw a bench, standing empty. That is what the traveller does. You complete it in your mind. There are many lucky shots and flukes when you travel.

'n Foto, skryf jy iewers,
is 'n opslagkoeël: iets
wat tref en wond
in die loopgraaf
van herinnering.
Nommer DSCF0177
geliasseer in 'n reisverslag
Chili 2015-2016
(dus die oorgang van een jaar
na 'n ander verwonding) verklap
die boustyle van hierdie stad:
modern en ouderwets,
lig en somber. 'n Woonstelblok
vol afwesige bewoners, lamppale,
robot, 'n boom en lug voltooi
die komposisie. 'n Horlosie selfs
met twee tydsaanduidings:
ek onthou dit was so om en by
drie namiddag op pad terug
na my hotel The Singular op Merced 294.
Wat opval is die kruis
toé hiervan salig onbewus.
Genade, hoop, verlossing
op my pelgrimstog in Santiago
opgesom in dié foto:
'n vloekskoot.

Interviewer

In many of your works, the travel experience can be associated with a search for the beloved or for love. The landscape of love, the search for love and love lost is a consistent presence in your poetry. Did you find the process of writing about love and the loss of love whilst travelling a cathartic experience? How is it that travelling brings up such a strong connection with love, those we love and love lost?

Joan Hambidge

I often travel to allay a fear that I have. It is not as if I climb on the airplane and think, I am going to manage and deal with this issue. The writing process is powerful, mystical and if you knew exactly what was going to happen, you would not be able to write. Because love undermines the coordinates of certainty (refer Žižek), the poem and the act of writing becomes a healing process.

Eat your heart out, Emily D.

Nog ‘n slapelose nag
in ‘n vreemde hotelkamer
digby ‘n lughawe.

Nog ‘n weerlose nag
in ‘n enkelkamer
weg van jou.

Nog ‘n rustelose nag
met verfrommelde lakens
sonder jou.

Nog ‘n uitputtende nag
van vreemde enkelkamers
met verfrommelde lakens

en uitgebrande hartstogte
in oorvol asbakke.

Nog ‘n nag van ver
-geefse vergeet.

New York

(Uit: Ewebeeld. Perskor, Johannesburg, 1997).

Interviewer

Your blog, Woorde Wat Weeg, recounts your travel diaries of a recent trip to Santiago de Chile in the footsteps of Pablo Neruda where you visited each of the houses that Neruda lived in at different periods of his life and immersed yourself in the history, culture and food of the nation he called home. Not only that, but an immersion in the geographical landscape of Neruda’s continent was evident. Explain the aspect of a journey as a form of pilgrimage and how it influences the poetry that you write on such a voyage.

Joan Hambidge

Yes, I am a traveller. I have a notebook and take my laptop with. Many of the poems actually exist before you depart on the journey. The visit to the landscapes (such as Neruda’s three houses) just confirms what you already know. For the trip to Chile, my travel agent took me from the Atacama desert all the way to the South by the glaciers; to the beautiful wine regions from Santiago de Chile through to Vecuna. In this way, I experienced all the regions of the land. It was my second visit to this country. In the eighties, a trip to South America was bedded down in Verdraaide raaisels (1990). After that, I travelled again to Rio de Janeiro, Peru (Machu Picchu) and two years ago back to the Argentinian landscape. South America talks to me. That continent has something powerful about it...

Paleis van geheime

Die siel is ‘n paleis vol geheime:
‘n Machu Picchu wat vra om ontdekking,
‘n verre reis nie vir almal beskore.

Die siel is ‘n paleis vol geheime:
die wêreld blote projeksie
van ons ongekaarte binneste.

Die siel is ‘n paleis vol geheime:
hierom soveel misteries óm ons
soos ‘n besoek aan ‘n onbekende-bekende plek.

Die siel is ‘n paleis vol geheime:
tog goed ons begryp nie alles
- juis hierom soveel ontdekkingsreise.

Die siel is ‘n paleis vol geheime:
met elke reis demistifiseer
ons ‘n vroeër ongesiende plek.

Die siel is ‘n paleis vol geheime,
legendes en mites – heerlike
juwele vir ontdek.

Cuzco-Puno

(Uit: Verdraaide raaisels, Human & Rousseau, 1990).

Interviewer

You also discuss on your blog, how different cities have different personalities or auras – a distinctive vibe that makes them unique. The city as destination is a theme in many of your poems. Tell us about one or two of your favourite cities, why they made such an impression on you and how they lead to the origination of a poem.

Joan Hambidge

New York. Buenos Aires. Again, this is something that you cannot explain rationally. In my first collection, Hartskrif (1985) I wrote this about New York:

New York

Geëerde geagte
nooit volprese veel besonge stad
van menige mites
in jou onherbergsame kakofoniese vuis
het ek ‘n maand vertoef

verwonderd (eers bevrees) oor jou hemelhoë
strekkende vingers
tot waar die oog
net ‘n stippel sien van toppe

deurkruis dan jou simmetriese palm
vind links en regs
is hier gelyk (dus oos op wes)
met Hudson en East
jou duim ‘n nimlike trotse marmervrou
hand in die lug die vertes in

jou kneukelhand is ook ‘n hel (as ons na patrone kyk)
- dog verlossend anders as Amsterdam -
ontdek die Guggenheim se sirkel op sirkel
- tollend in die rondte; geen vuil gragte hier, Camus -
net bó by Andy Warhol se wreed gereproduseerde Marilyn Monroe

die wysvingerige Empire stuur my af
op Broadway en 5th Avenue
tot verby die hardvogtige Rockefeller
ontdek nou kneukel op kneukel
‘n swinging aand by Elaine’s
of swierige socialites in Studio 54
Bianca Jagger tuitbek dans
‘n klapper ontplof uit Nicaragua

versoen die dag se ongevraagde blootstelling
aan suiplap op suiplap in slote
van die Bowery
‘n bewys van jou ystervuis

vanaand probeer ek my reis oproep
lees in my reisboek: ”21 Julie 1981:
Genugtig! Wat ‘n slegte reisiger is ek nie…Ek is
nou al drie weke in NY en nog steeds het ek nie
die belangrikste dinge meegemaak nie!!! Nog net
toeristies gekyk/bekyk…wens ek kon in Greenwich
Village bly – daar is dit ten minste rustiger as in
die res van die wrede stad. Voel ongemaklik ná Kubrick
se The shining – identifiseer paranoïa – nie heimwee nie.”
herinneringe gefoto-album in woorde
helaas: onverwags slaan die gansreuk uit Chinatown
op ek sien skielik – vlugtig vlug – Harlem gevoëlhok krot

(Uit: Hartskrif, Human & Rousseau,1985).

After this, I wrote more than ten poems about NYC, which inspired me on many levels. The city is like a poem that does not limit your vision or let you have a final say. I am born on 9/11...

In my new collection, Indeks (2016), I wrote the following on Buenos Aires.

Om te dans in Borges se stad

Meneer Borges,
in die stad van Goeie Winde
ja, in die stad van Goeie Winde
het ek vele danspassies uitgehaal
in ‘n vergeefse soektog na u.
In die geliefde Café Tortoni
sit u nou verewig, ‘n standbeeld,
langs twee vriende, rustend op ‘n wandelstok
as blinde moes koers kry
van Palermo tot die Avenida de Mayo,
die straat wat nooit slaap nie ...
‘n Roete wat ek nougeset volg
met ‘n oopbustoer waar ‘n anonieme
stem tereg verwys na u:
“Hier het Jorge Luis Borges koffie gedrink,
met kunstenaars gepraat”; “Daar het Lorca
vertoef toe Bodas de sangre opgevoer is ...”;
“Hierdie straat is vernoem na Ortega y Gasset,
daardie een na JFK ...”
Nou plaas ek ‘n Café doble voor u neer:
in my soektog na u, meneer Borges
vind ek ook ánder figure en bakens:
bakens van bloed en politieke blindheid;
waarvan daardie alwetende stem bloedmin wis.
Perón en Menem en wie nog afgejaag;
monumente en geboue blindelings afgetel ...
Strate, so weet ons, net vir dié met die groot gebaar,
selde vir diegene wat in ‘n blinde labirint verdwaal.

(Uit: Indeks, Human & Rousseau, 2016).

Interviewer

The phenomenon of the movement of many Afrikaners (and South Africans generally) across the county’s borders has been termed an “Afrikaner Diaspora”. It has been suggested it could even be likened to a form of migration, leaving the Afrikaner feeling rootless, living between worlds. Many questions that the Afrikaner is struggling to answer in the post apartheid era can be linked to this diaspora. Do you agree with this sentiment and what do you think is the impact of so many Afrikaners moving and living in other parts of the world.

Joan Hambidge

I travel a lot, but I will never leave South Africa. I think that for most people, the migration is a political one. I am too tied to Afrikaans, the language of my heart.

Interviewer

In 2004, you met Susan Sontag on a trip she made to South Africa to study the AIDS crisis and you wrote extensively about that experience in an essay Desperately Seeking Susan Sontag. It is evident from these writings that you are a great admirer of Sontag. In an interview with the Paris Review, Sontag, in response to a question on whether she wrote everyday said:

I write in spurts. I write when I have to because the pressure builds up and I feel enough confidence that something has matured in my head and I can write it down. But once something is really under way, I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t go out, much of the time I forget to eat, I sleep very little.

What is your experience of writing, particularly in the context of writing whilst travelling? Should writers and poets write everyday? Do you identify with this description by Sontag and what was your experience of Sontag?

Joan Hambidge

I write every day. This is something that every writer has to decide for themselves. I met Sontag at UCT a few months before her death. I found her to be intellectual yet friendly. A typical New Yorker: professional, asks all the right questions and that’s all there was to it.

Interviewer

Tell us a little about writers and poets who influenced you and what impact they have had on your writing. What advice can you offer young writers and poets tackling the, often daunting, process of getting their work published?

Joan Hambidge

Emily Dickinson, Opperman, Neruda, Robert Pinsky, Boerneef, too many to name….Currently inspired by Boerneef. Last year, I revisited Neruda. If you want to write poetry (and publish), you must never lose hope or give up. It will happen. Keep at it. To write, means to re-write!

Interviewer

What are you currently working on and what we can expect to see and read from Joan Hambidge in the near future?

Joan Hambidge

Indeks, later this year.