Ingrid Jonker - A Poet's Life
by Petrovna Metelerkamp
One of the most beautiful books to have appeared this year is the richly illustrated INGRID JONKER – A POET’S LIFE, by biographer Petrovna Metelerkamp. The cover design certainly deserves a prize! An art portrait of the poet is set against a background of beach and sea – the sea often being referred to as her ultimate lover – with one of Jonker’s well known poems written in her hand. The colour, with its tones of light against dark, sets the mood for a book that was clearly created with utmost care and dedication. More than 250 pages, large format, focusing on the well loved young poet who became a legend in her own lifetime.
Image of a poet’s life
of South Africas most gifted poets, Ingrid Jonker, committed suicide in 1965.
Jonker is perhaps best known for her suicide. She walked into the sea at Three
Anchor Bay, Cape Town, in the early hours of July 20, 1965 and so ended her
short, talented life as one of South Africa’s most gifted poets.
the time she was in the grip of an enormous emotional upheaval, not an uncommon
state in her life.
has become during the past half-century an icon for a number of reasons: her
anti-establishment political views (as expressed in her poems) and perhaps for
the passion and drama of her tumultuous love life.
the crowning glory of her fame came when President Nelson Mandela quoted her in
his inaugural address to Parliament on May 24, 1994, when he read her poem, Child
shot dead by soldiers at Nyanga.
went on to say: "She was both a poet and a South African.
was both an Afrikaner and an African.
was both an artist and a human being.
the night of despair she celebrated hope. Confronted by death she asserted the
beauty of life.”
Metelerkamp is the author of an earlier Afrikaans biography of her life, Beeld
van ’n Digterslewe, published 10 years ago.
edition, translated into English, is an expanded view of Jonker’s life and work.
contains much new material, as the biographer puts it: "A rich collection of
facts, photographs, letters, articles and memories.”
adds: "I decided to proffer all the material gathered objectively, without
is left to the reader to interpret the material here and the influences
surrounding her life.
recent years, two plays, a dance drama, documentaries and two films have been
based on Jonker’s life, and a number of her poems have been set to music.
had often been compared to Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf because of her
suicide, and even to Marilyn Monroe, because of her love affairs with novelists
Andre Brink and Jack Cope, among others, all of which ended poorly.
book deals successively with her childhood from 1935 to 1951, her life in Cape
Town between 1952 and 1965, and her brief marriage to Piet Venter from 1957 to
also deals with the "Clifton years” from 1960 to 1962, her trip abroad with
Brink in 1963 and 1964, and her tragic death in 1965.
is a book to be savoured, even though it is also attractive enough to be used
as a coffee-table book. But its real impact comes from carefully reading and
reflecting on the material within.
valued it immensely.
Ingrid Jonker: A Poet’s Life
Petrovna Metelerkamp (Hemel and See Publishers)
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