Shabbir Banoobhai
Powerful, pure poetry

by Michael Chapman


This talk by Michael Chapman, a leading expert on South African poetry, at the Durban launch of Shabbir Banoobhai’s book of songs, contains some interesting comments on Shabbir’s writing and contribution to South African poetry. Professor Chapman’s A Century of South African Poetry and The New Century of South African Poetry are classic anthologies, used as textbooks at universities both locally and abroad.

I am honoured to introduce Shabbir Banoobhai’s new collection, book of songs, which has just appeared as an imprint of Wits University Press.

Shabbir’s career as a poet and mine as an anthologist of South African poetry are uncannily linked. Shortly before I was to go to press with the anthology, A Century of South African Poetry in 1981, a new voice appeared in the collection echoes of my other self.

a distinctive voice

This was a distinctive voice. I persuaded my publisher, Adriaan Donker, to delay going to press. The result: the inclusion of four poems by Shabbir. Let me read the title poem:

echoes of my other self
forever keep haunting me

the mind always logical
the blood speaking differently

However difficult it is to define poetry, this is poetry! The words suggest far more than they say.

The 1980s in South Africa were tough times for poets – the political intruded upon the personal. Shabbir’s verbal concision met the challenge, as may be seen in the following offering:

the border

is as far
as the black man
who walks alongside you

as secure
as your door
against the unwanted knock


in our land of differences and commonalities,
we must appreciate Shabbir’s voice of wisdom


Shabbir’s skills suggest to me that I am a reasonable judge of the poet. I included in the anthology, The New Century of South African Poetry, published 2002, his long poem ‘sarajevo’.The poem went on to win the annual Thomas Pringle award.

Now, after his collections, shadows of a sun-darkened land (1984) and inward moon outward sun (2000), we have here tonight, book of songs.

It is difficult to turn into prose-description Shabbir’s poetry – his is a powerful, pure poetry.

Let me not interfere with the poetry, but conclude by saying simply:

in our land of differences and commonalities, we must appreciate Shabbir’s voice of wisdom.


© Michael Chapman – Text of Talk; © Shabbir Banoobhai–Poems. All rights reserved.