Keorapetse Kgositsile


Keorapetse Kgositsile

Collected Poems, 1969–2018

Keorapetse Kgositsile
Edited and with an introduction by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers and Uhuru Portia Phalafala

African Poetry Book Series

298 pages


January 2023


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eBook (PDF)

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January 2023


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January 2023


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About the Book

Keorapetse Kgositsile, South Africa’s second poet laureate, was a political activist, teacher, and poet. He lived, wrote, and taught in the United States for a significant part of his life and collaborated with many influential and highly regarded writers, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling Plumpp, Dudley Randall, and George Kent. This comprehensive collection of Kgositsile’s new and collected works spans almost fifty years.

During his lifetime, Kgositsile dedicated the majority of his poems to people or movements, documenting the struggle against racism, Western imperialism, and racial capitalism, and celebrating human creativity, particularly music, as an inherent and essential aspect of the global liberation struggle. This collection demonstrates the commitment to equality, justice, and egalitarianism fostered by cultural workers within the mass liberation movement. As the introduction notes, Kgositsile had an “undisputed ability to honor the truth in all its complexity, with a musicality that draws on the repository of memory and history, rebuilt through the rhythms and cadences of jazz.” Addressing themes of Black solidarity, displacement, and anticolonialism, Kgositsile’s prose is fiery, witty, and filled with conviction. This collection showcases a voice that wanted to change the world—and did.

Author Bio

Keorapetse Kgositsile (1938–2018) was chosen as South Africa’s national poet laureate in 2006. He taught at the University of Dar es Salaam, Nairobi University, and Sarah Lawrence College. His publications include The Present Is a Dangerous Place to Live, If I Could Sing: Selected Poems, and This Way I Salute You. Phillippa Yaa de Villiers is an award-winning South African writer, performance artist, and lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand. Uhuru Portia Phalafala is a lecturer at Stellenbosch University.


“If I could sing, after a sudden rain, I would certainly praise in my song Keorapetse Kgositsile’s poetry because it was shaped by his body and his soul, both of them existing all along a marvelous and historical lifetime—Willie’s property—forever beginning, forever laughing, like he did himself, inspired, nourished by Afrika, the deep and wise homeland of our own. His transparent voice was given to the service of freedom, all over the planet. Kgositsile is like his fellow poet David Diop, a strong ‘spirit, ever since unchained.’ And I will always say to him: Thanks, brother, ‘You are what Man should be.’”—Nancy Morejón, author of Before A Mirror, The City and Homing Instincts/Querencias

“[Kgositsile’s] poems transcend the superficial definitions which some might attempt to make on the basis of quick-draw ideologies, tactics and postures from yesterday’s conferences, and keep their fingers on the pulsations of the Black soul history. That emotional history, with its consequent cry for steadiness and action, for undeviating clear-sightedness, for rejection of death, in its range of reference and feeling, jumps forth in these pages as truly deep Pan-Africanism—the truly joining thing.”—George Kent, introduction to The Present is a Dangerous Place to Live

“When trying to find texts to compare Kgositsile with one thinks of Pablo Neruda of Chile, García Lorca of Spain, Agostinho Neto of Angola, Okot p’Bitek of Uganda, and Thomas McGrath of the United States. . . . There is something magical in the way the personae of these poems seemingly start in one direction, reverse, or deviate to side paths, and then deftly start in an entirely different one to begin anew on another plane of reality. This is the work of a poet hearing his own muse and inventing an original expression as medium for the oracle.”—Sterling Plumpp, foreword to If I Could Sing

“What Kgositsile has to say is too urgent for the conceit and fanciful ambiguity of literary artifice.”—Chinua Achebe

“The young want to move and they want everything else to move—including poetry. Willie Kgositsile’s poetry lunges, strains its muscles—and barks or howls or richly murmurs or screams.”—Gwendolyn Brooks, introduction to My Name Is Afrika

Table of Contents

Editors’ Note: In the Original . . .
Introduction in Two Movements

Spirits Unchained (1969)
To Gloria
For LeRoi Jones, April, 1965
When Brown Is Black
Brother Malcolm’s Echo
Mandela’s Sermon
Elegy for David Diop
Ivory Masks in Orbit
Lumumba Section
Spirits Unchained
To Fanon
Song for Aimé Césaire
My Name Is Afrika
For Spellman at Spelman
I Am Music People

For Melba (1970)
And the Long Story
Song for Melba
mmabatho: Dakar, 1966
The Creator
Indeed in Deed
For Those Who Love & Care
True Blue
Of Death and Lives
Death Doses
Death Doses No. 2
Death Doses No. 3
My People When Nothing Moves
Come Duze
3000 Miles Apart
Of Us for Us
In Time
By A. B. Inspired
For Melba

My Name Is Afrika (1971)
The Air I Hear
Mayibuye iAfrika
Could Be
Random Notes to My Son
To Mother
My People No Longer Sing
To a Black Woman, Insane
To My Daughter
Sift and Shift
Vector or Legacy
Bleached Callouses, Africa, 1966
The Lip Trick
The Nitty-Gritty
New Dawn
Inherent and Inherited Mistrusts
Bandung Dance
For Afroamerica
No Celebration
In the Nude
Of Yesterday’s Tomorrows
Like the Tide: Cloudward
No Tears in the Tide
Towards a Walk in the Sun
The Spearhead Wind Strides
The Gods Wrote
The Long Reach
The New Breed
For Eusi, Ayi Kwei & Gwen Brooks
Point of Departure: Fire Dance Fire Song
I. The Elegance of Memory
II. Lumumba Section
III. Fire Dance
IV. Spirits Unchained
For Sons of Sonless Fathers
Notes from No Sanctuary

The Present Is a Dangerous Place to Live (1974, 1993)
For Ipeleng
The Present Is a dangerous Place to Live . . . One
I. In the Mourning
II. Beware of Dreams
III. Without Shadow
IV. Mirrors, without Song
There Are No Sanctuaries except in Purposeful Action . . . Two
2. When Things Fall Apart
3. Exile
4. Perception
5. Logistics
. . . Three
Blues for Some Literary Friends & Myself
Home Is Where the Music Is . . . Four
For Billie Holiday
For Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
For B. B. King and Lucille
For Hughie Masekela

Places and Bloodstains (1975)
Requiem for My Mother
Epitaph for Can Themba
For Gwigwi
For TW
For Otis Redding
Here We Are Like the Present
Letter to Skunder
For Zeke and Dennis
For Cecil Abrahams
After Mongane
Son of Mokae
Song for Ilva Mackay and Mongane
For Montshiwa & Phetoe
Open Letter
Places and Bloodstains

Heartprints (1980)
Letter to Ipeleng on Her Birthday 1976

When the Clouds Clear (1990)
The Long Arm of the Blues
The Same Strip of Land
Rites of Passage
Morning in Tunis
Sharper Than Any Blade You Know
Bleeding Red
Luthuli Detachment
When the Clouds Clear
Red Song
From Now On. . . .
For Olinka
An Injury to One Is an Injury to All
Every Patriot a Combatant
June 16 Year of the Spear
Chimid: A Memorial
Here You Almost Started
A Luta Continua
New Age
South Africa Salutes Uzbekistan

To the Bitter End (1995)
Coil of Time
What Time Is It?
In the Wheeling and Dealing Time
Rites of Passage: (1991)
I Am
When the Deal Goes Down
Years without Tears
Strange Rituals
Grand Papa Dhlomo
For David Rubadiri
For Bra Ntemi
Montage: Bouctou Lives
Heart to Heart
We Are All Involved
Even Skin Disappears

If I Could Sing (2002)
If I Could Sing

This Way I Salute You (2004)
For Johnny Dyani
Cassandra Wilson Will Sing
Where Her Eye Sits
For Gloria Bosman
For Our Mother of the Heavy Names

Homesoil in My Blood (2018)
No Boundaries
No Serenity Here
Letter from Havana
In the Naming
Anguish Longer Than Sorrow
Wounded Dreams
I Am No Stranger
We Are All Involved (2012)
Of Shadows and Chameleons
Festive Heart
I Know a Few Things
New Day
For Fernando, Gloria, Eduardo and the 2012 Team
For Sterling Plumpp
For Hu Xiancheng

Uncollected (1971)
Carbon-Copy Whiteman or Sexual Refugee
The Awakening
Manifesto (1971)
‘Yes, Mandela, We Shall Be Moved’
Fruitful Seed (1971)
Freedom Train, 1965
Introduction to a Future History Book

Source Acknowledgments

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