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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Podcast: the Disarming Irony of Poet Immanuel Suttner

Hidden and RevealedImmanuel Suttner In his poetry, Immanuel Suttner has a gift for communicating paradox, often through poems that are disarmingly simple, but always with a sting in the punchline. “Punchline” here is apt, for Suttner likens some of what he writes to a good joke, saying that when the poetry works, it has a climax that is fresh and surprising – but also familiar, almost intimate, able to worm its way under one’s skin.

Join me on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as I chat to this fascinating individual about his work and deeply felt sense of moral repugnance toward the indifference and social decay that he depicts with such skill in his poems.

Immanuel SuttnerImmanuel’s poetic voice can be light, sometimes even casual, but it is one that is founded on close observation of complex subjects. The topics he engages range from the personal to the social, from the religious to the political. It is his ability to make each item matter in a personal way that gives so many of his poems a sense of philosophical urgency. They deal with weighty matters in a manner that is not disconnected from the poet, indeed that sometimes redounds on him: he admits that poems that reflect his dismay and rage do not remove him from complicity in some of the excesses of modern life, including the consumerist lifestyle of those who live in the West.

Immanuel SuttnerImmanuel is a writer, director and editor who was born in Hillbrow, Johannesburg in 1964. He was educated in Johannesburg, and when he turned seventeen, he packed his bags and went to live in Israel for ten years, where he completed a degree in English and Hebrew literature. He says when he returned to South Africa in 1991 he had no idea how long he would stay in the country, but since then he has followed an eclectic career path, working for NGOs, writing and directing for broadcast television (Isidingo, Soul City, Jozi Streets, Kagiso Educational Television) and publishing fiction, non-fiction, no fewer than nine children’s books and – most recently – his debut collection of poetry, Hidden and Revealed (Snailpress/Quartz Press 2007). Several poems from the collection are included in this post, below – along with a new one that isn’t.

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*

Poems from Hidden and Revealed

I have tried on

I have tried on
and slipped out of
many identities
like a woman
in a changing room
trying to find
the clothes that
will make
everything alright
but nothing fits completely
tho bits and pieces stick to me
perhaps I am
a kind of hollow
resonant
identity mannequin
and somewhere beneath
my latest face
lies an infinite
open
unafraid
space

It says in the
kabbalah

It says in the kabbalah
that the ends of bread
cause memory loss
so I threw the tips of the
challah
on the lawn
and now the birds can’t find their nests

The way of all flesh

When I was a student in Jerusalem
I mostly daydreamed about how to get laid
and spent hours hoping
the large breasted neighbour
would forget to lower the blinds
just down the road
was a 2000 year old tomb
from the Maccabean period
in which
perhaps
a dusty ancestor
who daydreamed about how to get laid
was laid.

*

A new poem from Immanuel Suttner, not included in Hidden and Revealed

There is an bicycle shop in Louis Botha
dimly lit
crammed with bicycles and bicycle parts
old and new
and inside it
is a young man
whose face is like mine
though my genes are east European ashkenazi
and his perhaps Tamil or Gujurati
a thin face
glasses
gentle intelligent eyes
measured speech
hands that insert an inner tube
with skill and care
as it were the most important thing in the world
so that as soon as I enter Bhani’s cycle shop
from the honking taxis and summer heat
my troubled mind
feels a certain release
and like the air he pumps into my tyre,
some of which hisses out as he removes the pump
I am filled with a great tranquility
and yearning
and wish to gaze upon his face
and bow to him
hands clasped together
“thank you for being”
but I only say
“keep well.”

If I take anything from Johannesburg
it will be the promise of that
bicycle temple
filled with the smell of rubber
and peace