Nadine Botha was born in 1979 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and holds an Honours degree in Theory of Art from Rhodes University. She currently works in Cape Town as editor of Design Indaba magazine. Her poems have been published in various magazines in South Africa, including Donga, Southern Rain Poetry, Litnet, Sweet, New Coin, Ons Kleintjie, Laugh It Off and Botsotso.
In 2003, she performed her work at the Crossing Border Festival in The Hague, for which she self-published a book entitled Compared to not eating tuna or chocolate. Following that, in 2005, Deep South published her collection Ants moving the house millimetres.
Reviewers of her work have focused on the original edge inherent in Botha’s poetry. Marike Beyers in Wordstock wrote, for example: “The poems deal quite directly with modern urban life and an off-centre experience of the self . . . a playful and sometimes flippant grin at notions of belonging, of finding meaning in work and relations which can only be incidental”, while Kate Kilalea of New Coin reflected: “I cannot particularly compare [Compared to not eating tuna or chocolate] to anything I’ve read in South Africa recently, something simultaneously intensely refreshing and daunting . . . poetry which surprises not only in its logic, but in the visibility of the manner in which that logic is apprehended . . . like waves oscillating around an invisible centre, rather than by building on or dissecting an obvious point. [Nadine Botha's] poetry has a knack of knottng your head into itself.” Stacy Hardy, of Litnet, had a visceral response: “[Nadine Botha's poetry is] so fucking cool and hip, but at the same time it makes me squirm. It’s like confections that dissolve into sensations on the tongue, a sticky substance that gets caught in between my teeth.”
Botha’s lines seem torn from submerged contexts and pasted together randomly. But the effect is certainly not random. Though combinations might at first seem coincidental, an instantaneous shock picture soon emerges from this resonant chaos, like iron shards that coagulate around a magnet, yet remain tentative. In the best poems, a feeling of arresting cohesion is conveyed, of which many a “classical” poem can be envious. But the poems never reveal their context entirely, nor the contexts that feed into them.
Nadine Botha issues from an experimental branch in South African poetry, but unlike most of her forerunners, she creates lasting work. In South Africa’s insecure critical environment, which is inclined to equate the form of poetry with its value and meaning, Botha often receives either empty praise or undeserved neglect. She takes chances, and some minor poems do falter. But the truth is that in her best poems she is a world-class poet of striking originality. She cuts across the superimposed categories that South African poetry is supposed to be – to what it really can be. In those poems, she does not present style in the place of voice, as so many experimental poets do, and she does not seem interested in the iconoclastic. Her work has a gritty humour and an erotic vein that moves just beneath the surface. This disarms the lurking mystery, but never renders it harmless. In South Africa, there is nothing like this for miles around. I sometimes think of her as the Gert Vlok Nel of South African English. With less sentimentality, and more irony.
But just like Vlok Nel, she owns her own desert. And that goes a long way.
Compared to not eating tuna or chocolate, Self-published, Cape Town, 2003
Ants moving the house millimetres, Deep South, Grahamstown, 2005
Nadine Botha’s poetry at Deep South
Nadine Botha’s poetry at Southern Rain Poetry
Nadine Botha’s poetry at Litnet
Nadine Botha’s fiction at Litnet
Michelle McGrane interviews Nadine Botha