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This article is taken from PN Review 209, Volume 39 Number 3, January - February 2013.

Ways of Being a Poet: Chris Mann Chris Miller
The plight of a poet in a developing country might seem precarious, more especially that of a white male Anglophone poet in South Africa. The Anglophone writes one of the colonists’ languages; a white Christian Anglophone poet might seem ill-equipped to draw from the wells of alien belief-systems or propound the merits of poetry in a country where the non-Anglophone often lack economic essentials. Where the economy and social justice flourish, poetry is sometimes society’s grace note. Where people are undernourished, poetry is often a remote luxury. And the history of Christianity in South Africa is not altogether edifying. Such at least is the conventional view. You might say that the white South African, Christian, Anglophone poet Chris Mann is set on bucking the trend.

Trends have, on the other hand, played little part in his life. His commitment to his country has been strikingly practical. He followed a degree in English and philosophy from Wits University (Johannesburg) with a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford to study English and an MA in African Oral Literature at SOAS, then spent nearly two years teaching in a rural school in a Zulu area, living in the back yard of a Zulu family. After a couple of years at Rhodes University working part-time in the English department, he devoted the next twelve years of his professional life to working in rural development and poverty alleviation with the Valley Trust near Durban. He speaks both Xhosa and Zulu, though he is modest about his ...

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