An Interview with Don Beukes
Don Beukes is originally from Cape Town, South Africa and is the author of ‘The Salamander Chronicles’ and ‘Icarus Rising – Volume 1’, who only started to have his poetry published since August 2015 in various international literary magazines and journals, after writing poetry part-time over ten years whilst working as a Teacher of English and Geography in both South Africa and the United Kingdom. He also appears in various Anthologies by Creative Talents Unleashed and also featured in ‘In So Many Words : A Collection of Interviews and Poetry from today’s Poets’ by Adam Levon Brown of Madness Muse Press, ‘Selfhood’ by Transcendent Zero Press edited by Dustin Pickering and ‘Apple Fruits of an Old Oak : A Collection of Contemporary Short poems, Micro Poetry, Haiku & Photography’ and ‘Where are you from’ edited by Soodabeh Saeidnia, as well as ‘Headlines and Tragedies edited by Shannon Lynette of Lady Chaos Press. His poems have been translated into Afrikaans, Farsi and Albanian and he has received a ‘Best of the Net 2017’ nomination for his trilogy ‘Esorfo Ygolirt/Triloigy of Rose' in Scarlet Leaf Review (Canada). He also writes short fiction.
01.Tell us a bit more about yourself. What got you started as a writer? Was poetry your first choice and what drove you to writing poetry?
To begin with, my name in French means ‘to give'. I used to do charity work as an active youth member in my church, which took me into the depths of society and consequently met a range of colorful and animated people who had me in fits of laughter and tears. I guess characters who made a lasting impression on me find their way into my poems, as well as those in my visual memory from travelling in South Africa, the UK and Europe.
Regarding what actually ignited my writing, I used to have pen friends as a teenager, which gave me an opportunity to write in English, my second language as well as in Afrikaans my first language with pen friends in Holland, Poland and Belgium. I guess I did a lot of descriptive language to explain where I was from, which is Cape Town, South Africa.
Regarding my passion for poetry, I guess I got that from my language teachers and becoming a teacher myself. I started jotting down lines of poetry as a young teacher after mountain hiking trips in South Africa and places of interest, some of which I gave to close friends.
Ultimately, I started my first collection about 12 years ago inspired by my personal history and the history of Cape Town and South Africa. My poetry became more intensive after I began writing about my experiences as a young teenager during the last 10 years of Apartheid through secondary school until the end of my degree course at university, chronicling my memories of racial abuse, attacks at school by the racist government police and army and the swirling waves of revolution permeating through all our lives.
02. What is your writing process like? Are you a 5AM writer or do you prefer the late night hours? What works best for you when you start drafting a new poem or story?
I have a notebook with me at home, which is always in reach of a pen whilst watching the news, a documentary or a film. A word, a song, an image, a reference or any auditory or visual stimulus makes me grab my pen, frantically opening my notebook and locking a thought, a line or even a possible title. Generally, I always add future titles to unwritten poems and keep it all on file.
I tend to write or submit late afternoon and catch up with submissions or finding new publishing opportunities late at night. I also commit to doing research for my poetry for longer, intense poems with challenging philosophical themes and ideas.
For my short fiction writing, I prefer to be visually stimulated to make my imagination explode and even plan story lines whilst walking along a canal or being out in nature generally, looking at abandoned cottages, obscure and derelict properties or even strangers walking or cycling.
03. How would you describe your work to a new reader?
I would describe my work as sensory, personal, political and historical as well as lyrical writing. I sometimes feel the need to use factual references in my writing to make it more authentic and realistic infused with poetic devices to heighten the effect of my words and to enhance the reading experience. Unknowingly sometimes, even I get goosebumps all over when I stop writing a new poem and sit back to read it. It is like being possessed with passion and determination and letting ink spill furiously on paper without realizing what is being created.
My work is mostly my reaction to an ever increasing dystopian global society in need of honest and capable leaders with a moral compass.
04. Your latest book came out last November through Alien Buddha Press. How did you put the collection together? What artists inspired you when writing the poems for this collection?
First of all thank you for following my writing career and for giving me this opportunity to get up close and personal to those investing in my words and for being with me on this humbling creative journey.
I would say that my second book was meant to be, as I am a visual learner and have always responded more passionately to visual stimuli in writing. ‘Icarus Rising – Volume 1’ is the exclusive culmination of all my ekphrastic poetry written in the last two years in close collaboration with artists from South Africa, America and the UK. I use the word ‘close’ because I personally contacted the artists to indicate my interest to respond to a work or more of theirs in poetic form. I never knew before my writing career what ekphrastic meant so yet again, this was purely organic and came naturally to me, as I am moved and inspired by any form of art or artistic expression. Most of my ekphrastic poetry is exclusively published in the monthly Glomag but also appeared in Indiana Voice Journal edited by Janine Pickett, Duanne Vorhees' Poetree and Scarlet Leaf Review edited by Roxana Nastase.
This book became a reality when I stumbled across the phenomenal artwork by Luke Borrill from Cape Town, South Africa, which had to be the front cover for my first ekphrastic collection. It literally took my breath away and it would remain unseen until its publication as the image for the title poem of the book.
What is unknown is that my first ekphrastic exhibition happened in May 2015 in collaboration with South African artist, comedian and online radio host Casper De Vries after I responded to 9 artworks for his ‘Aapstrak Vat 5’ abstract art exhibition at the Alice Art Gallery near Johannesburg (in absentia). I have subsequently been a regular guest on his ‘Casper Radio Show' on Cliffcentral.com which has been the only media outlet in South Africa which acknowledged my achievement. Unfortunately as an expat mixed race writer, I have not had any support or publishing success with publishers in South Africa. Other artists include Shameeg Van Schalkwyk, a young visual artist from Heideveld in Cape Town, who I collaborated with initially in Indiana Voice Journal in a special edition issue to celebrate this young talent. I also worked with internationally renowned Indian cartoonist Nanda Soobben from Durban, South Africa who established his own centre for arts and animation. Other collaborators include Dr Amitabh Mitra, an artist and medical doctor from East London, who is also a publisher and Jonel Scholtz from the north of South Africa, whose work has been exhibited in major overseas venues and with whom I have the biggest collection with. Finally, I had the rare opportunity to work with the extraordinary Vanity Pop artist from Los Angeles, Vakseen, who is also a producer for one of the biggest K-Pop boybands in South Korea who went to the top 5 on the American Billboard international category.
05. I noticed the collection is called “Icarus Rising (Vol. 1).” Is a Vol. 2 in the works?
Good question! Honestly? Volume 2 has been a reality even though the poems are still being written. The year is still young and you can be assured that a second volume will feature new collaborators and an invitation to my regular artistic partners to return for this ongoing project. I will even go as far as to say that as long as there is art I will endeavor to continue this ekphrastic legacy of mine. It all depends on which publisher wants to support me in this venture.
06. How has your experience been with the publisher of this book? Would you recommend them to other authors seeking publishers?
A fair question. I was drawn to Alien Buddha Press after realizing that a couple of very good writer friends of mine managed to publish new collections accompanied by the artwork of the owner, Red Fox. I saw an opportunity I did not know was possible to have my ekphrastic poetry published, which was to become my second published book since my debut collection published by Creative Talents Unleashed in December 2016. I decided to make contact but not before I had a manuscript ready. I had to ask specific questions to convince myself that for this particular project of mine I felt that it had to come to fruition, whatever the contract was going to be. I am aware that publishing poems with imagery is expensive especially in colour so in this case I ensured that at least one at most two of the artists' work was published. Any recommendation would depend on the publisher’s contract but I must commend Red Fox for making this publication happen.
07. What are your favorite literary journals and publishers you submit your work to?
This could be a long list but I will highlight key ones.
As Creative Talents Unleashed published my debut collection, ‘The Salamander Chronicles', I have to commend the CEO Raja Williams for her excellent work ethic and professionalism. She promotes all her authors personally on the CTU blog and through the publication of anthologies, new authors like me could have my first book published, as all sales go towards the publisher’s ‘Starving artist fund'.
Indiana Voice Journal edited by Janine Pickett, has been instrumental in publishing my autobiographical poetry related to my childhood and background growing up in a racially divided South Africa during the last two decades of Apartheid and has continued to support my writing. I will return the favor in the January 2018 issue of Glomag edited by Glory Sasikala with our debut collaboration.
Glomag of course is where my Ekphrastic collection is mostly published. The ezine has recently won a prize for one of the most influential literary publications in India and beyond.
I must also mention Roxana Nastase, the editor and CEO of Scarlet Leaf Review, who has supported my literary journey and also nominated me for this year's Best of the Net and last year's Pushcart poetry prize.
Additionally, I want to thank Soodabeh Saeidnia for publishing and translating my poetry into Farsi and including my writing in her anthologies, as well as Michael Lee Johnson and Ken Allan Dronsfield for including me in their anthologies.
As for my favourites, that would include Dissident Voice, Tuck Magazine, Duanne Vorhees' Poetree, Whispers, Prachya Review, Section 8 and Our Poetry Archive. If I've left anyone out I humbly apologize.
08. What other plans do you have for 2018? What are you eager to do this year?
I am currently editing my third poetry collection. I have a publisher in mind but again, it depends on the contract and how much a publisher helps promote the author. This collection is particularly poignant for me, as it is semibiographical in part and a response to the changing society in South Africa both socially and politically, as well as a message to the global village. Unfortunately the original English and Afrikaans version of this manuscript was rejected by an established publisher in Cape Town, South Africa, which convinced me that my mixed race background is still a factor in supporting new authors in a country still obsessed with a racial divide.
I am also busy with a chapbook in English inspired by a unique UNESCO national bronze age park in Spain, where I spend some time during the year. My intention is to have this translated into Spanish, which I have no clue about how to make this happen but that is my big project for this year. If you have any advice, you know how to contact me.
09. Where can folks find you online? Social media, twitter, website?
Here are the links:
Check out Don Beukes (@DonBeukes): https://twitter.com/DonBeukes?s=09
10. What advice do you have for writers just starting to get their feet wet?
Keep dipping your toes into unknown creative waters. You never know when a publisher or editor will bite on your creative hook but when they do, you should have prepared yourself by having done the necessary research in which publication will suit your writing and your ethos, even your moral compass.
Be realistic and accept the fact that not every publisher will invest in your work. Persevere in your efforts to ensure any manuscript is ready for submission. Build up your contacts and keep writing!
Lastly, be willing to adapt your writing style and ethos, go beyond your own limitations. Always aspire to reach new horizons and to reach more corners of this ever expanding global village. You are the master of your own destiny.
I would like to thank Don Beukes for participating in this interview. If you're interested in Beukes' work, you can find his books on Amazon at the links below.
If you are an author, poet, artist, vagabond, etc. and want to participate in an interview, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org