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Douglas Livingstone PDF Print E-mail

Douglas Livingstone (1932- 1996) was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and came to South Africa with his family at ten years of age. He went to school at Kearsney College in Natal, and trained as a bacteriologist at the Pasteur Institute in Salisbury, now Harare, in Zimbabwe. Livingstone was employed as a marine biologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Durban from 1964. He produced several volumes of poetry including The Skull in the Mud (1960, a pamphlet), Sjambok and Other Poems from Africa (1964), Poems (1968, with Thomas Kinsella and Anne Sexton), Eyes Closed against the Sun (1970), A Rosary of Bone (1975, republished with additional poems in 1983), The Anvil's Undertone (1978), A Littoral Zone (1991), Giovanni Jacopo meditates (1995), and Selected Poems (1984). His translations of Shona poetry with Phillip Berlyn are collected in Eight Shona Poems and Wilson Chivaura: Dreams. He also wrote radio plays entitled The Sea My Winding Sheet (1964; pub. 1971, revised 1978) and A Rhino for the Boardroom (1974, a prose satire). Michael Chapman is the author of an insightful literary study of Livingstone's poetry entitled Douglas Livingstone: A Critical Study of His Poetry (1981). Livingstone received the BBC Federal Broadcasting Corporation Prize (1964), the Guinness Poetry Prize (1965), the Cholmondeley Poetry Prize (1970), the Olive Schreiner Prize (1975) for his second radio play, and the CNA Award (1985) for Selected Poems. He died in Durban where he had lived and worked for many years.


Selected Work

from Eyes Closed Against the Sun (1970)

Wall-to-wall city on a rainy night; eleven
stories up and the wonder-hour-hand when
is 4 a.m. with only a very quiet Kenton
accompanying the one-sky-lamp in

the corner. Yes, she's gone, warm to bed.
The floor feels strangely concrete-solid
despite the undermining gusts walled outside.
Wet beetles lie parked under street lamps, dead.

The wakeful rain musics back no April
in Paris, nor stale old Stars fell
on Alabama. Somewhere, space unfurls
its furnaced seasons. Somewhere, over the sill,

crooked as the iced-sucker wrapper flies,
the holiday surf, swelled into its own, says:
The sshun'sh gone. The night-tide ebbs and soughs
loud and lording it unchallenged upon the shores

of South Beach, North Beach, Country Club.
Even the sherry-drinkers have long stubbed
the last drag. The street's hands are cupped;
the stars, maybe forever, are all washed up.


Spinal Column

The first sputnik blipped above me
where I worked twelve metres down
at the jaws of dam construction
in an outraged Zambezi;
hearing the broadcast about it
that evening, recalled a light chord tied at my back which strung
the man groping in mud
to sometime starmen, knotted
under my ancient aqualung.

(from The Anvil's Undertone, 1978)


1960. The skull in the mud. Surrey:  Outposts Publications. 
1963. The sea my winding sheet. (radio verse play)
1970. Eyes closed against the sun. New York:  Oxford University Press. 
1975. A Rosary of Bone. (repr. 1983). Cape Town:  David Philip Publishers.
1978. The Anvil's Undertone. Cape Town:  David Philip Publishers.
1983. A Rosary of Bone. Cape Town:  David Philip Publishers.
1984. Selected Poems. Johannesburg:  Ad. Donker Publishers.
1988. Sjambok and other poems. Johannesburg:  Ad. Donker Publishers.
1991. A Littoral Zone. Cape Town:  Carrefour Press. 
1995. Giovanni Jacopo meditates. Plumstead:  Snail Press. 
2004. A Ruthless Fidelity: Collected Poems of Douglas Livingstone. (Edited by D. Maclennan & M. Hacksley).
2004. Douglas Livingstone: Selected Poems. (Edited by M. Chapman).

Author Map (Kearsney College)

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