Loftus Marais was born in 1982 in Paarl, a small town just a forty-minute drive from Cape Town. Nestling at the foot of the second-largest granite outcrop in the world, Paarl is considered the birthplace of Afrikaans. It is a town with a quiet, suburban character, and Marais’s poetry often takes an ironic, satiric look at the complacency of the environment in which he grew up.
Although his teacher parents raised their family in Paarl, they still had a strong connection with, and spent a lot of time on, the family farm in the Karoo. Marais recounts these rural Karoo memories in his poetry, but in a way that rebels against traditional, romanticised Afrikaans evocations of this semi-desert landscape.
After completing his school career in Paarl, Marais studied literature at the University of Stellenbosch from 2000 to 2007. He completed his MA in Creative Afrikaans Writing under acclaimed author Marlene van Niekerk.
Marais’s debut collection Staan in die algemeen nader aan vensters appeared in 2008, and was very well received. It won four literary prizes: the Eugene Marais Prize, The University of Johanesburg Debut Prize, The Ingrid Jonker Prize and the Protea Prize.
He lives in Cape Town, and works for a publishing house.
Loftus Marais took the Afrikaans poetry world by storm with his exhilirating and glittering debut in a way that is reminiscent of Breyten Breytenbach's radical debut in the sixties, Die ysterkoei moet sweet.
However, unlike Breytenbach, Marais works with codes that are essentially traditional within the Afrikaans poetry context despite their radical appearance, and indeed despite his undeniable reinvention of those codes.
Marais is an enigmatic mix of the handed-down and the new. Readers were therefore already sufficiently primed for the poems and could easily understand their leaps. In a short time Marais has become a very popular poet. The poetry appears as fresh as dew, yet is recognisable and reminiscent of something already seen somewhere else.
This distinction is necessary in the literary context of South Africa, where the meanings of ‘renewal’, ‘originality’ and ‘uniqueness’ are often blurred and confused in current criticism, if not manipulated.
However, none of what I say above should detract from the fact that Marais is one of the most significant voices in decades in Afrikaans, and his scoop of prizes rightly testifies to this.
The five poems amply demonstrate the poet's style. The focus is on the throwaway moment, the unexpected illumination, the shy revelation – all of which shine through the muck and mutability and banality of everyday life with a charming persistence. And with reluctant love.
A hallmark of many of the poems are their gay themes, in turn related to a certain camp stance, a dandifying sweep of humorous exaggeration and a vulnerable dismissiveness that soon grips any reader. One could describe the poems as tongue in cheek, but only if you reckon with all the meanings of cheek.
The most noticeable aspect of Marais’s gay ethos is how he differs from his immediate gay forerunners in Afrikaans. His poetry seems ‘feminine’ in comparison, and confronts the paternalism of Afrikanerdom in which the gay poetry of Johann de Lange and Joan Hambidge still seems steeped to a degree. Gay life is one of resistance, per definition, especially in Africa, and the poetry of Loftus Marais heralds a new sobriety as regards the gay person's place in broader ‘straight’ society, as well as regards the unflattering aspects of gay culture itself.
There is an unmistakable ‘modern’ aspect to Marais' poetry. It is a world made up of surfaces without too much concern for the necessity of deeper meanings, yet the interplay of those surfaces creates something, maybe an exquisite illusion, that can only be called intrinsically meaningful.
Afrikaans poetry is not the same as it was before the arrival of this poet.
Staan in die algemeen nader aan vensters, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2008
2009: Eugene Marais Prize
2009: University of Johannesburg Debut Prize
2009: Ingrid Jonker Prize
2009: Protea Prize for Poetry
Links in English
The Ingrid Jonker Prize announcement on BOOK SA
The Eugene Marais Prize announcement on BOOK SA
The University of Johannesburg Prize announcement on BOOK SA
Loftus Marais video at Badilisha
Loftus Marais video on YouTube
Links in Afrikaans
Zandra Bezuidenhout's Commendatio at the Ingrid Jonker Prize award ceremony
Marius Crous’s interview on LitNet
Andries Visagie's critical essay and review in Volksblad
Two poems: Versindaba
Nine poems: LitNet