THE EPISTOLARY POETRY OF DENNIS BRUTUS TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER ONE 1.0 Life and Works of Author - - 1.1 Purpose of Study- - - - 1.2 Scope of Study- - - - - 1.3 Methodology- - - - 1.4 Theoretical Background - - 1.5 Review of Criticism - - 1.6 Thesis Statement - - - - - - CHAPTER TWO Revelation of Hidden or Confidential Facts - CHAPTERTHREE Expression of Isolation - CHAPTER FOUR The Use of First Person Narrative Style - CHAPTER FIVE Depiction of Physical Distance - - CHAPTERSIX Conclusion - - - - - Works Cited - CHAPTER ONE 1.0 Life and Works of Author Dennis Brutus was on 28th November 1924, at Salistury, Southern Rhodesia, to South African parents. He died on 26th December 2009. Brutus was of indigenous Khoi, Dutch, French, English, German and Malaysian ancestry. At age four, his parents moved back home to Port Elizabeth and upon their return, Brutus was classified as a black under apartheid racial code. Brutus graduated from the University of Fort Hare with BA honours in 1946. He taught English and Afrikaanss at different high schools in South Africa. At the height of his teaching career he was dismissed for his open and direct criticism of the apartheid system. He became a Professor Emeritus at the University of Pittsburge and this crowned his career as a teacher. He was a strong lover of sports and it was during his active involvement in it that he had a firsthand knowledge of apartheid. He learnt politics under the Trotskyist Movement and he joined many revolutionary groups. His activities against apartheid were second to none. He was banned from many public activities and his studies in Law at the University of Wiwaterand was stopped. He moved to England for further studies. A prolific poet, he has the following collections to his credit: Sirens, Knuckles and Boots ( 1963), Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison (1968), Poems from Algiers (1970), A Simple Lust (1973), China Poems (African and Afro-American studies and Research Centre (1975), Stubborn Hope (1978), Salutes and Censures (1982), Airs & Tributes (1989), Still the Sirens (1993), Remembering Soweto, ed. Lamont B. Steptoe (2004), Leafdrift, ed. Lamont B. Steptoe (2005), Poetry and Protest: A Dennis Brutus Reader (2006), It is The Constant Image Of Your Face: A Dennis Brutus Reader (2008). In 2007, Brutus was invited to be inducted into South African Hall of Fame but he turned the offer. In 2008, he received the Lifetime Honorary Award by South African Department of Arts and Culture. 1.1 Purpose of Study This essay examines the epistolary features of selected poems of Dennis Brutus. 1.2 Scope of Study This essay is limited to Dennis Brutus’ Letters to Martha and other Poems from a South African Prison. The choice of this collection is based on the fact that it embodies the epistolary tradition. 1.3 Methodology This research uses quantitative method in its analysis. The epistolary features of selected poems from Dennis Brutus’ Letters to Martha from a South African Prison are studied. Each of the letters is read with emphasis on its epistolary characteristics. Articles in journals, books and internet based materials are used as secondary materials in this study. 1.4 Theoretical Background Ernest-Samuel Gloria Chimeziem comments on the origin of the epistolary form thus: The epistolary form of prose narrative was first popularized in the 18th century by a European- Samuel Richardson, through his novel Pamela (1740). The narrative was well received that within a short time, it inspired several prose authors, prominent among whom are, Charlotte Lennox with her novel Herriot Stuart (1951). And ToniasSmollet author of Humphrey Clinker (1771). In Africa, Senegalese born Mariama Ba popularized this narrative style with her 1980 Noma award winning novel, So Long a Letter. (99) The advancement of other modern style of writing has hindered the growth of epistolary narratives. Chimeziem contends that, ‘the dearth of epistolary narratives limits the appreciation and study of that form of prose narration’ (99). It is evident that writers do not really fancy this genre in the recent times and as a result, it is less common. The sharp decline in letter writing may be accountable for this. According to Laura Patch, ‘the fictional epistolary novel is one in which the author conveys the study through documents. In the most traditional understanding, epistolary novels are series of letters’ (2). Writers of epistolary literature convey their messages through letters, that is, conversation and dialogue of characters are achieved through exchange of letters. Patch stresses that ‘most epistolary novels are love stories, emphasizing distance, confidentiality, and secrecy’ (11). Janet Gurkin Altman agrees that exchange of letters is the fundamental vehicles of epistolary narrative (48). To put it in another way, epistolary writers arrange series of letters to form the plot of their narratives. M.H. Abrams also supports Altman’s assertion when he says that ‘the narrative is conveyed entirely by an exchange of letters’ (228). Letter writing is therefore central to epistolary tradition. In the understanding of some scholars the epistolary narrative has a feminine origin. In the opinion of Patch, ‘epistolary novels are a contradiction. They are considered the female genre because they are for women and presented in the feminine style of writing. The epistolary novel as a genre arose because women began to receive an education, and though it was still not completely acceptable, the most acceptable form of writing for a female was that letters’ (10).Without further consideration, it is straightforward that epistolary narratives use exchange of letters as mode of narration. Gabriella delLungoCamiciotti observes that ‘recently renewed scholarly interest in historical letter writing has given rise to several studies which explore the culture of the epistolary form, from different perspectives’ (17).The style of creating characters in epistolary literature drew the attention of Lisa Pearl, Kristine Lu, and AnoushehHaghighi. They note that deliberate differences in how authors represent characters have been a core area of literary investigation since the dawn of literary theory. Here we focus on epistolary literature, where authors consciously attempt to create different character styles through series of documents like letters’ (2). The character creation of epistolary narratives is not straight forwards since less information is given about characters. Only some of their traits are hinted. Epistolary novels reflect the writer’s isolation. According to Elizabeth Campbell, ‘the letter writer in epistolary fiction is usually isolated’ (338). The far distance between two closed people causes isolation. This brings a psychological disturbance at time. By exchanging letters, these distant people try to bridge the gap between them. Their worries and loneliness are fully expressed. Compbell contends that writers of letters especially the lonely, ‘must speak to someone about their difficulties’ (338). An exchange of letters is therefore seen as a way of tackling distance problem or barrier in communication and relationship. Gabriella Del LungoCamicioti believes in the fact that, ‘printed letter collections make private matters public’ (26). Camiciotti’s observation is relevant because printed letters truly ‘make private matters public’ (26). For instance, Brutus in his Letters to Martha from a South African Prison reveals the agonies, horrors and dehumanization that characterize prison life. Without being there, people in the outside world can still share the tribulations of those in prison. This is usually made possible through the personal letters of those in prisons. In the opinion of Katharine Basset Patterson, ‘the epistolary form reflects the context of social (public) interaction and codes of social behavior, what is said and the manner in which it is said’(24). This means that letters are revelatory in nature. Writers of letters write to express their confused or tensed feelings. What Patterson is saying is that letters are written to convey the thoughts of writers. 1.5 Review of Criticism Dennis Brutus is a vibrant activist who stands shoulder to shoulder against oppressors of black South Africans. According to an online source, YourDictionary.com: While he was in prison Brutus decided to stop writing this kind of poetry. The five months he spent in solitary confinement caused him to re-examine his verse and his attitudes toward creative self-expression, and he resolved thereafter to write simple, unornamented poetry that ordinary people could comprehend immediately. His Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison (1968) contains brief, laconic statements deriving from his experiences as a prisoner. The diction is deliberately conversational and devoid of poetic devices. Instead of seeking to express two or three thoughts simultaneously, Brutus was strives to say only one thing at a time and to say it directly. (Web) This quotation simply explains why Brutus writes his letters without an elaborate language. As a poet who wants to be heard by many, Brutus uses a simple language to express his thoughts. He expresses his hatred for apartheid, a system that is built on segregation and discrimination. Victor Dlamini celebrates Brutus for using ‘his incisively eloquent views to oppose tyranny and injustice wherever they occur in the world’ (2). Art and society are intertwined so Brutus through his poetry seeks justice and freedom from powerful forces or agents of apartheid. He engages his creativity in search of freedom for the helpless blacks in his terrorized country. Joy M. Etiowo posits that Brutus inspires revolutionary poets in Africa. Etiowo’s assertion reads that ‘what Brutus inspires in these poets is vision, is resilience, is the fact that poetry can be put to use against the forces of evil’ (117). Brutus and other South Africa Writers dismantled apartheid with their incendiary write-ups. KonteinTrinya acknowledges the relevance of Brutus’ poetry when he says that ‘poetry provided the prominent platform which Dennis Brutus staged his agitation against oppression’ (2). Brutus uses his poetry as a satirical weapon to fight injustice and oppression embedded in apartheid. Poetry, to Brutus, is not an expression of merriment but a literary weapon for fighting social ills structural injustice. Brutus has the vision of a good society in mind so he speaks against oppression wherever it is perceived. Emmanuel IkechukwuAsika posits, that ‘Brutus is among poets referred to as alternative poets whose poetry sought to speak to ordinary man’ (101). The plights of the masses are the burdens on Brutus’ shoulders. He fights to see South Africa set free from oppression and tyranny. This makes Brutus a selfless leader. Halize Van Vuuren concludes that Brutus’ style of poetry ‘foregrounds disintegration of the self or depersonalisation’ (44). Brutus is a simple activist who sacrifices his life for the liberation of the oppressed apartheid infested South Africa. ChidiAmuta acknowledges his selfless services thus, ‘poets have often found themselves fighting on the side of the people. This is why poets as diverse in nationality and outlook as Christopher Caudwell, John Corford, Louis Aragon, Christopher Okigbo, Maxim Gorky and Denks Brutus have dedicated their art and sometimes their lives to the pursuit of freedom’ (177). Brutus fights for a free society where everyone will be equal before the law. This is the beauty of his write-ups. He writes poetry with revolutionary impulses and through this, the oppressed are awoken from their depressed state. Amuta strongly believes that Brutus is a good example of Marxist poet who quests for freedom. B. Sanchez says that Brutus is a courageous freedom fighter who ‘devoted his life and art to opposing apartheid in South Africa’ (Web). Abrian Roscoe shares this opinion when he says that Brutus ‘identified himself and his community with this rubbish. He and his people are the cast-offs of South African society’ (30). He readily identifies with the oppressed. KonteinTrinya says, ‘Dennis Brutus’ rhythms have remained fresh now as then under the shadows of apartheid. The enduring appeal of his poetry is a testimony to its beauty over and above the duties that had midwifed it, it is the lasting relevance of good painting- the classic painting of a social landscape on the canvas of art’ (6). Brutus composes his revolutionary poems with a dignified language that soothes the painful experiences of the downtrodden. John Lent says that, ‘by manipulating us into psychological realities through such vivid images of landscape in this way, I believe Brutus succeeds in forcing the love and horror in his homeland out into the relief of our own consciousness’ (110). In other words, Brutus uses a compelling language to engage his readers’ attention. According to Trinya, people especially the down trodden admire Brutus because ‘Brutus does not shy away from social responsibility in his poetry’ (1). This is truly praiseworthy. Lee Sustar and Aisha Karim are of the opinion that ‘Brutus’s poetry is representative of contemporary third world writing. If there is a generalization that can be made about such literature, it is that its creation is itself a political act. And Brutus belongs to that tradition of contemporary third world writers whose writings have consciously grappled with the inescapably political nature of such literature’ (12). For a long time, third world countries are kept in perpetual darkness by foreign lords who exploit them. Their evil enterprise is achieved mostly through selfish political institutions. Brutus sees political institutions as the target of his revolutionary poetry. One of such political institutions Brutus fights is apartheid. He clamps down on all forms of injustice and oppression that keep his people under the yoke of apartheid. Africa is blessed with natural resources which attracted the white to the continent. Their presence has introduced injustice, oppression, exploitation across Africa. These socio-political vices are responsible for leadership problem Africans endure. Etiowo makes a comparison between the plights of South Africans, and Niger Deltans. In her articulation, she asserts that While Brutus’ poetry is affected by the unjust apartheid system, the poetic imagination of the Nigerian poet Obi, (2006) is fuelled by the injustice experienced by her people of Nigeria’s Niger Delta region as a result of the discovery of oil in that regions. Just like gold and other minerals in South Africa encouraged the hold to power and oppression by the whites and the debasement of the black in South Africa, so does the presence of crude oil accentuate the environmental degradation of the Niger Delta by multinational oil companies who represent political and economic cartels of the world. (119) In his articulation, Etiowo reasons that Brutus and Obi fight not just oppression and deprivation but the imperialists whose selfish multinational cartels represent dangers in Africa. Etiowo notes that, Brutus ‘was a fierce voice against oppression of any kind, and one of his tools is poetry’ (117). Brutus is fearless, and his audacious postures often put fear into the authority that promotes apartheid. Through his write ups, he has been able to suppress the injustices and oppressions the blacks face in Africa. Consequently, he is a savior to the oppressed in South Africa. So far, we have explored critical comments on Brutus and his works. From all these comments it undeniable that Brutus is a man of his people. With his relentless effort, he fights the menace called apartheid. Many works have been done on Brutus’ poetry, however, nothing is found on his poetry dealing with epistolary literature. This study attempts to explore the characteristics of epistolary literature in selected poems in his collection, Letters to Martha from a South African Prison. 1.6 Thesis Statement This essay posits that the revelation of confidential facts, depiction of physical distance, expression of isolation and the use of the first person point of view are the characteristics of the epistolary tradition in Dennis Brutus’ Letters to Martha from a South African Prison.
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