DIANE DE BEER
When author/poet/playwright Jeanne Goosen died at the beginning of June, a unique voice was silenced.
But fortunately with writers, they do leave their voices behind and while Jeanne’s mother tongue was Afrikaans, one of her most acclaimed works, Ons Is Nie Almal So Nie, was translated into English by André P Brink who, in a twist of irony, had a few decades before slated her first poetry book. This, in turn, had paused the publishing of any new anthologies for quite some time according to her biography.
So crushed was the young poet that, while still writing, she didn’t want the humiliating results on any further public display of her poetry.
That’s who Jeanne Goosen was. She was one of the journalists at the interestingly staffed Oggendblad in Pretoria where I started my journalistic career in the ’70s and I was hooked. She was a storyteller and someone about whom stories were told – and still are.
Coincidentally, at the time of her death I had just started the Petrovna Metelerkamp biography Jeanne Goosen; ‘n Lewe Vol Sinne (Hemel en See Boeke) which I found absolutely fascinating. I knew enough about her to find an easy way in, but even though this book has been described as “skoongeskrop”, for those of us who didn’t know Jeanne that well, there’s enough to form a very vivid picture of someone who lived her truth – even though most of her friends would agree that the going was tough.
Having read a few of her works recently while also listening to a tribute production on RSG of Elders aan Diens with Luna Paige, Nicole Holm and a name I only recently encountered, Frieda van den Heever (who directed the most fantastic production at the recent Woordfees, Die Poet, Wie’s Hy?), it’s evident, while very funny and no holds barred, there’s always a tragic underpinning.
This is emphasised in an in memoriam former publisher Hettie Scholtz wrote for litnet of the gloriously wild and wonderful Jeanne (and with her kind permission I repeat):
In response to one of Jeanne’s short stories Hulle noem my Jean, she asked the author where she found the courage and she surprises her with the following lengthy quotation from Ania Brookner’s Look at me;
“When I feel swamped by my solitude and hidden by it, physically obscured by it, rendered invisible, in fact, writing is a way of piping up. Of reminding people I am here. And when I have ordered my characters, plundered my store of images, removed from them all the sadness that I might see in myself, then I can switch on the current that allows me to write so easily once I get started, and to make people laugh. That, it seems, is what they like to do. And if I manage this well enough and beguile all the dons and the critics, they will fail to register my real message, which is a simple one.
“If my looks and my manners were of greater assistance to me I could deliver this message in person. Look at me, I would say. Look at me. But since I am alone in this matter, I must use subterfuge and guile, and with a little bit of luck and good management this particular message will never be deciphered, and my reasons for delivering it in this manner will remain obscure.”
And now you begin understanding the melancholy, the willfulness and the discomfort in her own skin – always the outsider. But when you start reading Jeanne (in Afrikaans), it’s her understanding of the life she views from the sidelines, her determined and not unexpected iconoclastic view of the world in general, the frustration of even close friends because of an unpredictability that all come rushing through.
Hers was not an easy life to view but more than anything, a tough one to live when you read the biography.
And then she dies, a voice suddenly gone and the words are all around and they are magnificent. They always were, we just forget.
Apart from the biography which is a portrait of a true artist, an illuminating recent anthology Het Jy Geweet Ek Kan Toor (Hemel en See Boeke) as well as a book of stray sayings which the biographer couldn’t resist compiling titled Los Gedagtes (Hemel en See Boeke), a true gem and just for those non-Afrikaans speaking readers, I loosely translate a few that capture some of her truths. Metelerkamp notes that these were random phrases written down, the grammar unfixed, not filed according to topic, that highlight the amazing thought processes of a thinking artist:
Who wants a constructive relationship?
Stubborn women rule.
A postcard is an orgy in sepia.
All suffering is man-made.
One eye is always completely open. It considers, watches, and sees the silliness of everything.
Food spiced with the blood of killers.
The cold and poverty of this winter was gruelling and humiliating.
To write is like dreaming while being awake. It’s like being a magician.
Writing is like having a love affair with death.
Life is energy and a head filled with facts.
Materialism is a kind of psychological ideology and a lifestyle.
Dead: If you are dead, you are dead and that is that. If you are alive, you are dead most of the time anyway.
Don’t overestimate people’s intelligence.
Death is life’s healing drug.
Perhaps I was Tchaikovsky in a previous life. But what did I do wrong that fate dumped me in Parow amongst these people who don’t understand anything?
Total independence. Total freedom.
I will eventually reach the truth if I keep on making notes.
His beard starts in his nose.
I fail in the human world. I should have become a nature conservationist.
And she goes on…gloriously so, sometimes so sad and sometimes hysterically funny.
As a young journalist, to watch her in action was spectacular. She was larger than life and even years later when I had to review Trudie Taljaard in Kombuis-blues, I could still hear Jeanne’s unique gravelly voice in my head. If she happened to cross your path, you remembered her.
Similarly with her writing and there’s so much more. If at all possible, try to read as much of her published works as well as the biography. Who she is and what she wrote is extraordinary.
And there’s so much more than can be captured here…. her passionate love for dogs and other animals; her love of music, and ability to play piano and perform … and on and on.
If I could wish upon her star, cherish her words and honour the author. She deserved so much more.