UP’s Poets: ‘Poetry is central to our culture’

On 21 March, we celebrated the annual World Poetry Day, paying tribute to all past, present and future poets. In honour of this day, Perdeby spoke to some published poets who are students, or were students at UP.


Dewald Steyn

Currently an assistant lecturer in the Department of English, Dewald Steyn’s first poem was published in New Contrast in 2015. Steyn remembers writing for the first time during primary school as few poems were published in his school’s yearbook, with one of his included. He became attracted to poetry because of its concise precision, and how he felt that it shapes language with dexterity. However, Steyn said he is a fan of long poems like the epic works of Homer and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. Other poets to have influenced Steyn include romantics such as Mary Shelley, John Keats, as well as Victorian poets Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson. Dewald Steyn also expressed admiration for poets of the 20th century, specifically James Merrill, Hart Crane and John Ashbery. Steyn feels poetry has a vital role in our fast-evolving modern world where a tweet of 140 characters says a lot, but a haiku of 17 syllables can say just as much or more. “Poetry taps into our need to explain the world to ourselves and others, and it does so in a way that can be beautiful, surprising, absurd, or even ugly, but always in a way that makes you think or feel differently.”


 Fiona Zerbst

Having just completed her post-doctoral studies in creative writing, with four anthologies of poetry published, Fiona Zerbst is a well-established poet and a brilliant one too. Coming from a family where her siblings and parents all read poetry, Zerbst was heavily influenced at a young age and had an entire library of poetry all to herself. Aged ten, Fiona Zerbst wrote her first poem. She was “overblown by undeniably exciting poetry of Roy Campbell”. A few years later, at 18, she was first published in Upstream magazine. Not long after, her first anthology, Parting Shots, was published in 1991. She published The Small Zone in 1995, Time and Again in 2002, and Oleander in 2009. Zerbst said that her work has been influenced by translations of Russian poets, specifically Osip Mandelstam and Anna Akhma­tova, as well as Derek Walcott. When asked why she feels poetry is important, Zerbst quoted the poet John Burnside, say­ing, “Poetry is central to our culture. It helps us to make sense of who we are.” She also said, “Poetry humanises us, something increasing important in a world with virtual reality and artificial intelligence.”


Georg Nöffke

Georg Nöffke has recently completed his Masters which focuses on the intertextual dialogue between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in selected poems. “I have been published in the revived Inclinations (the literary magazine of the Inklings, UP’s literary society) since 2010, but was first officially published in New Contrast in 2015.” Although Nöffke was only published in 2010 he was dabbling in writing long before that. “I wrote doggerel as a child, attempted poems in my adolescence, switched to writing prose during my undergraduate years, then returned to poetry afterwards.” In a long list of poets Nöffke listed who “I think have influenced me, I hope have influenced me, whose work I imitate, whose sensibilities have shaped and modulated my own, to whom I am drawn, from whom I wish to break free,” he includes Ingrid Jonker, Sipho Sepamla and of course Shakespeare. To Nöffke poetry is important in society because “[…] to my mind poetry is important in the same sense that art is important, as a self-reflexive modality so various as to include any number of qualities and, if one were inclined to dis­cern them, functions, be they expressive, or linguistic, or social (political), or escapist, or whatever the case may be.”


Ivor Samuel

A final year Bsc Architecture student, Ivor Samuel, was self-published at the end of 2017. Samuels gathers inspiration “from the works of J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, B.I.G, 2pac to Rupi Kaur, Nayyirah Waheed, and various others.” He was drawn to poetry as a new form of expression as he was already doing visual art, photography and had an interest in architecture. “There was something about writing that seemed very fragile.” When asked about the effects of poetry on society and its significance, Sam­uels said, “I think poetry has helped people understand that they are not the only ones that go through certain things. Not just the writers but the readers as well. Because as writers, we write as a release form and for the readers, we hope it is relatable.

That’s where it’s significance comes from. From a place of understanding and expression. After all, we all just [want to] be understood and cared for as we are.”


Ricardo Teixeira




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