Antjie Krog is the author of the Alan Paton Award-winning Country of My Skull and A Change of Tongue. Her first poetry collection, Dogter van Jefta, was published when she was aged 18; other collections include Mede-wete / Synapse and The Stars say ‘tsau’. The English edition of Lady Anne, a collection first released in Afrikaans in 1989, was recently published by Human & Rousseau in collaboration with Bucknell University Press.
Krog has been an extraordinary Professor of Literature and Philosophy at the University of the Western Cape since 2004.
What does “writing” mean?
Writing, for me, means to attempt to say the unsayable.
Which books changed your life?
I don’t read books that do not change my life. I expect of every novel or poetry volume to shift something in me so that I am a different person by the end of it.
Your favourite fictional character?
Petrus in Disgrace and maybe a real character such as Teboho Raboko who shouts in his Sefela: “Hail you, fire-speckled giraffe, Hail you quinea fowl, with water tearing upwards from your head.” And in Afrikaans, a character by Eugene Marais: My vaal sussie Gampta, “al wat ek in die wêreld het, buiten my ou ouma.”
What are you working on at the moment?
I try to return to poems. Just single individual and not-thought-about poems.
Describe your workspace.
I write poetry, or the beginning of poems on my bed. They are reworked on paper until they move to the computer. I only got a “study” with a surface exclusively for a laptop and dictionaries when I was around 47-years-old.
The most important instrument you use?
Pencil. Sharp. HB. A4 paper and a Pelikan rubber. That’s for poetry. For non-fiction: laptop and a good chair.
What’s your most productive time of day?
Half-past-four in the morning, for non-fiction. Poetry is like a big shit. It comes when it wants. If you squeeze it back, it will be hard and dry. So you must have “endless” time…
What do you do when you’re stuck, or not feeling creative?
I once read that a writer’s block has to do with ego, so I work on the ego.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
To sit down. To lift the pencil over the white empty page. To allow it to be a fishingrod lined into the unconscious, touching and lifting out shimmering fishes from below, fitted out to say what you try to say. The hardest thing about being a poet is that you don’t know when it will leave you – just one morning, and it’s gone, that heard-voice coming from you don’t know where. Gone. And as far as I can make out: it never returns.
What advice would you give to people starting out in a writing career?
I have no advice for younger poets in this technological age – coming from a time where the poem was what mattered, not the poet, her looks, her recipes, her relaxation methods, her self-doubt, his marriages, his Facebook page, agent or public utterances. That is why I didn’t answer some of your questions, those that I thought: jesus, what the fuck?
[Editor’s note: Those questions unanswered included “What do you dislike most about yourself?”, “What are you afraid of?”, “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?” and “How do you relax?”]
Lady Anne is published by Human & Rousseau.
Author photograph by Antonia Steyn.