Don Beukes: An African Poet Living in Paris

Do you believe in the power of writing by hand?

Most definitely. It is a surging energy almost electrical. For me, holding a pen in my hand is like an artist, where I stare at a blank page, surveying notes and references as well as themes, scanning any footnotes, which will elevate the final version after numerous edits.

What kills the mastery of creativity and the flight and tenderness of the adrenaline of imagination? Particularly when the writer is in the “zone”.

What a challenging question! For me, I suppose it has to do with forcing myself to remain focused and not be tempted to veer off course whilst adrenaline is pumping at full speed but then I find myself doing just that! This for me happens frequently and as much as I want to go back to the source of my inspiration, I also feed on the rush of tumbling thoughts, which I have to respond to before the magic of thought vanishes forever. I need to constantly remain ‘in the zone’ to even adapt to my own ‘thought nerve system’, which is quite a challenge sometimes. I suppose I myself am capable of killing my own mastery of creativity and imagination when doubt creeps in about my ability to ignite thought for global readers.

Write or “steal” an excerpt from your diary as a writer and here talk about how you edit your work, where you write, what you treasure, do you participate in a particular sport. For Haruki Murakami it is running. What your morning, afternoon and evening routine are like?

My morning routine includes having coffee from a traditional Italian coffee percolator on a gas plate. I might have toasted homemade bread with French cheese and fig. Depending on the weather, I have a daily gardening routine, tending to plants and ensuring they can breathe without choking from invasive weeds. I would then gather my notes afterwards to either write new material or finish the editing of poetry or book reviews. I might even take a walk around the nearby lake or travel to the nearest canal network to cycle along various paths, before returning home to confirm if any edits have to be done before enjoying some free time, which might include trekking to the small stream down the hill to be inspired by giant trees and ancient moss. I even collect stones depending on if I am able to recognize a face or possible character, which is how my book ‘The Girl in the Stone’ was ‘born’, when one sunset evening in Spain, a stone perched on an old tree stump, revealed a girl’s face in the dying light of the day. Astonishingly, it also became clear she was in the company of a ‘wolf’ watching over her. I also collect stones that resemble the African Continent.

What television shows do you like watching?

I like watching gardening and property shows, especially renovations but I also like documentaries. I am a Nordic Noir fanatatic, as well as historical dramas, politics, and travel.

Where are you from?

I am originally from Belhar, Cape Town South Africa with German and black African, and possibly Khoi heritage.

Talk to us about who influenced you the most in your life?

Apart from my mother who inspired me to play the organ from a young age, as well as the Tenor recorder; and taught me about charity and giving to others in need in society, it was my sister, Ruth who opened my mind to literature from an early stage. She used to subscribe to Readers Digest and I used to peek into each delivery in secret, which prompted her to give me free rein to read to my heart’s content, even though Afrikaans was my home language. I soaked up short stories and articles. That culminated years later to study English Literature at The University of the Western Cape situated in Bellville, Cape Town South Africa.

Do you use emotional pain to write?

Yes, I do. I’ve written about primary school and neighbourhood bullies but also family emotional bullying. I have had to learn to be brave enough to share this theme in my writing and in a way it is quite healing as well. Not many people are able to verbalise their emotional pain. I find it therapeutical and healing to not only talk about it in writing but also hoping to let anyone else know that they are not alone.

How many hours do you write in a day?

At most six hours, broken up into active sessions but it may also include notes during the day and sometimes adding throughout the night.

Talk to me about your latest manuscript. What themes does it deal with.

It is entitled ‘The Girl in the Stone’, written in Spain. The title is actually based on a real stone, which I found in the garden of our summer home in Monte Arabi, a UNESCO Bronze Age Mountain Park, more than 3000 years old, surrounded by vineyards, olive and almond trees, not far from Castilla La Mancha, where the famous ‘Don Quixote’ foolishly chased windmills. The poetry in this special collection introduces readers to the sounds, wild life, typography, weather, African migrant workers and legends of the region but also themes of the environment, sustainability and the proud ancient wine industry in this particular region of Spain.

In the book, I attempt to walk in the footsteps of the ancient inhabitants, as their daily living is actually immortalised in the actual mountain, complete with indentations of cooking and storage in the rock. I attempt to make the reader smell the ancient rosemary bushes, hear the fauna at night with alarming hunting echoes and imagine the psychology of crows. This truly is a place of ancient wonder but also of historic significance, referring to the time of Franco, who also wanted to build his own communist empire in Spain and indeed, he did. Places exist today where the victims of Franco even still today are being discovered and for many others, they choose to forget it ever happened.

My neigbours on the mountain tell tales of horror and pain but also pride of who they are today, still honouring their traditions. I introduce readers to the areas I have been blessed to discover and the people. Nature conservation and the environment, as well as sustainable farming also feature throughout this collection. The book talks about a trip, in all its dimensions but also explores the human experience. The book deals with joy and loss, hope and despair, individuality and completeness.

Do you find it easy to write, what genres do you write in and how much work does it take to write a sentence for you?

I actually do but it depends on the mood I’m in and how much planning I do beforehand. Also, as an Ekphrastic Writer, I come onto my own responding to art as the ancient Greeks also did. I have established a proud and authentic reputation internationally. I also write about nature and the environment and how fragile the planet is currently, regarding renewable resources and time running out to meet achievable targets. I also write about womanhood and the role of women in society, as I grew up in a family with strong independent women. I also write about my experiences of Apartheid, having been born, raised, and educated in the last two decades of racist rule. For me, I might stare at a blank page before the first word spills onto the page and then I only stop when it feels right to do so.

How many books have you written?

I have written four Poetry collections and co-wrote an Anthology, with three South African authors from Gqerbeha. It is also available as an eBook. I also have an unpublished Afrikaans version of my first book, ‘The Salamander Chronicles’

How do you choose a title for a book?

I tend to choose a title from the most impactful poem of any collection or the main emotional thread of any collection.

Have you won any awards or grants or any other achievements and how important are they to you?

I have only been nominated twice for a Pushcart poetry prize in the USA, as well as ‘Best of the Net’ but never actually received a prize for any of my books. That does not deter me from submitting my books to the Glenna Luchei Prize hosted by Nebraska University for a writer from the African Continent.

I have been noted as one of two writers who currently specialise in Ekphrastic Writing.Where do your creative energies come from?

Nature, historic emotional pain, politics, people, culture, the climate, indifferences, and current affairs.

Recommend 20 books to aspirant writers and mention the book and the writer that transformed your life

The book that changed my life is ‘When She Was White’ by Judith Stone.

(I will have to draw up my list of 20 books and will let you know.)

Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

3 Responses to Don Beukes: An African Poet Living in Paris

  1. Don Beukes October 13, 2022 at 8:55 am

    Thank you to Abigail George and The Migrant Online for this interview.

  2. Joseph Windvogel October 13, 2022 at 3:57 pm

    Words, thoughs, emotions, records, physical things, spiritual things, everything would not be,not even this comment would not possible without the art of our being creative humans and in need of expression. Keep on writing, my friend, I love to follow your progress and I am learning a lot from observing and looking at the work you produce.Thank you for inspiring me and many other potential poets to venture on the road of creativity.

  3. Don Beukes October 19, 2022 at 6:30 pm

    Dear Joseph

    I am humbled by your uplifting feedback It makes my writing efforts so much more worth it.

    I thank you kindly and please feel free to connect with me.

    Here is my picolink –


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