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This article is taken from PN Review 9, Volume 6 Number 1, September - October 1979.

A South African Poet: Notes on Guy Butler David Wright

WHEN I was in South Africa a few years ago a dispute was going on as to whether Roy Campbell or William Plomer was "the father of South African poetry". An Irish friend to whom I put it resolved the problem: "Roy Campbell was the father, William Plomer was the mother." Be that as it may, were I asked to name the first wholly South African poet writing in English, I would point to someone few readers of poetry outside South Africa are likely to have heard of: Guy Butler, born 1918, the first to stick it out at home. The first South African English poet that is: for the land of visible and invisible apartheids is equally or it may be unequally the home of other languages and cultures: Afrikaner, Zulu, Xhosa, Hindu, Bushman, et al.

Campbell and Plomer, like most of their successors, count at best as South African exiles. Many of them have been totally absorbed, like F. T. Prince, by the European culture and environment in which they have made their homes and reputations. The temptation for English-speaking writers to leave South Africa for Europe or America to get away from an illiberal and largely philistine society is extreme; quite apart from the pull of England as the source of the language and literature in which they are involved. Alan Paton, Herman Bosman, and Nadine Gordimer excepted, few have stayed. To stay and retain sensitivity and sanity (as Sarah Gertrude Millin for example ...


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