Joan Metelerkamp (1956 - ) is a South African poet and recipient of the SANLAM Literary award and Sydney Clouts Prize. Born in Pretoria and raised in the scenic KZN Midlands, Metelerkamp found her passion for writing at the early age of nine. Now the author of eight published poetry collections, she continues to dominate the South African poetry scene as a writer of note. With a career as diverse as being the editor of a poetry journal, a university lecturer and a short stint as an actress, it is no wonder Metelerkamp is widely regarded for her unique contributions to the South African literary landscape.
Joan’s Career in the arts saw early beginnings as she stated in a 2009 interview for a Dutch website Conversation with Writers, that: “Like most poets, no doubt, I started writing soon after I could physically do cursive writing -- which is to say I wrote the first “verse” (or one I still have a vague memory of) when I was about nine years old.” But what then continued as an off and on impulse, had later met its full form – a few degrees and two kids later – with the compilation of her first volume of poems.
What began as a simple competition entry in the hopes of being published, Joan soon gained recognition after winning the SANLAM Literary Prize in the 1990’s. With the confidence of a prestigious literary award under her belt, Joan soon sent her works out, particularly to the poetry journal New Coin of which she later became editor until 2003. While the 1990’s may be considered an early stage in her literary career, she had two significant publications out during this time, the first of which was Towing the Line (Carrefour, 1992), followed by Stone No More (Gecko Poetry, 1995) three years later. The next decade would see an acceleration in her output as she gained entry into the literary scene as one of South Africa’s most prolific writers. During this period her publications included Into the Day Breaking (Gecko Poetry, 2000), Floating Islands (Mokoro, 2001), Requiem (Deep South, 2003), Carrying the Fire (Substancebooks, 2005) and Burnt Offering (Modjaji Books, 2009). Her relationship with Mojaji books did not end there as her most recent poetry collection Now the World Takes These Breaths (Mojaji books, 2014) was recently launched at the National English Literary Museum in Grahamstown last year. Perhaps her choice to remain with Mojaji books is a purposeful one as this publisher admits to be committed to empowering female readers and writers, their slogan maintains “Making rain for South African woman writers and readers”. Alternatively, it could be an active critique of her dissatisfaction with the current state of her poetry being able to reach her target audience as she noted in the same interview for Conversation with Writers (2009) that:
“…South Africa is not a country which fosters or cares for the kind of poetry I’m interested in: in that asphyxiating atmosphere it’s very difficult to keep going: in a vacuum of any debate about poetry or poetics.”
Her comment, along with the subjects of her works encourages us as readers and writers to take a closer look at, and even critique the politics of poetry in our country. Perhaps it is plausible to say that she has found that acceptance in an international space where her work is greatly enjoyed and celebrated. However, her discontent with the local state of affairs has not discouraged her, when asked what her most significant achievement as a writer was she stated that it was “ Keeping going; believing I may be a poet.” It is with that strong sense of perseverance that she is now a formidable force in South Africa’s literary landscape and culture. She has judged both the DALBRO and Ingrid Jonker Prizes and continues to improve the poetic landscape through her work and activism.
An excerpt from the poem "This young woman before me" from the Poetry Collection Carrying the Fire (Substancebooks, 2005) :
essence of poems, body of poetry,
the old story, like yours, story you are writing,
all we write, you remind me: apocrypha,
love reminds me, the story of the body, its mystery,
the gods remind me,
Eros and Psyche, poem’s story :
even from the earliest
blessed be that time
the apple taken was
time when words sign like silence, hand in hand, in Extasie, when
love bade me welcome through my soule drew back
and on through the region of the mind, rhythm,
of rosy sanctuary
To let the warm Love in!
and on, and further, closer to home, closer to me
I will not kill
my love for you. Even if it is
impossible. Even so…
and more, more than reminding
like love lost, found,
like Isis finding the bits of scattered Osiris,
bits of a body :
grafting the phallus.
Towing the Line (Carrefour, 1992)
Stone No More (Gecko Poetry, 1995)
Into the Day Breaking (Gecko Poetry, 2000)
Floating Islands (Mokoro, 2001)
Requiem (Deep South, 2003)
Carrying the Fire (substancebooks, 2005)
Burnt Offering (Modjaji Books, 2009)
Now the World Takes These Breaths (Mojaji books, 2014)