John Eppel interviewed for Southern Eye, following the Bulawayo launch of his latest poetry collaboration, Textures, with Togara Muzanenhamo
BULAWAYO poet, teacher, critic and writer John Eppel has achieved a lot and continues to impress in Zimbabwe’s literary landscape.
His attachment to people from the southern part of the country has led him to create both prose and verse on aspects that touch on their lives.
Eppel is a teacher at the Christian Brothers College (CBC).
His first novel, D.G.G. Berry’s The Great North Road, won the MNet prize in South Africa and was listed in the weekly Mail & Guardian as one of the best 20 South African books in English published between 1948 and 1994.
His second novel, Hatchings, was shortlisted for the MNet prize and was chosen for the series in the Times Literary Supplement on the most significant books to have come out of Africa.
His other novels include The Giraffe Man, The Curse of the Ripe Tomato, and The Holy Innocents. His book of poems, Spoils of War, won the Ingrid Jonker Prize. His other poetry books include Sonata for Matabeleland, Selected Poems: 1965-1995, and Songs My Country Taught Me.
In addition, he has written two books which combine poems and short stories: The Caruso of Colleen Bawn, and White Man Crawling.
Awaiting publication is a book of poems entitled Landlocked, and a book of short stories entitled White Man Walking. In July 2010, Carol Rumens selected Eppel’s poem “Jasmine” as poem of the week on www.guardian.co.uk.
Southern Eye Lifestyle correspondent Sharon Sibindi (SS) caught up with Eppel (JE) and asked him about his experiences in the arts industry. Below are excerpts:
SS: How do your Zimbabwean and South African experiences affect you in creating poetry?
JE: Although I was born in South Africa, I grew up in Zimbabwe and still live here. I think most of my poems are rooted in Matabeleland.
SS: Does good poetry have to express personal experiences?
JE: I think good poetry should express universal experiences through personal experiences.
SS: What is your muse and what triggers poetry in you?
JE: My muse, I think, is the female sensibility, which all men possess, but which most men feel socially obliged to suppress.
SS: Do you teach poetry?
JE: I teach poetry appreciation; it’s part of any English Literature curriculum. I try to steer clear of teaching poetry composition because it is almost impossible to assess.
SS: How does creativity in poetry help you in teaching poetry?
JE: Quite a lot, I think. Poets sometimes have special insights into other poets.
SS: Why does poetry appeal to a select readership?
JE: People don’t read much of anything these days, let alone poetry. It is a fact that more people write poetry than read it. Poetry flourishes when it is combined with another genre´, like music or visuals. Inside the covers of a book it is dead to all, but a few enthusiasts.
SS: Is there a way of making poetry popular to most people?
JE: As I said, combine it with music in the form of ballads or rap. Poetry slams are also popular, I believe.