Rustum Kozain

Rustum Kozain is a South African poet and writer from Cape Town, South Africa. He was born in Paarl in 1966. He studied at the University of Cape Town to which he would later return (after a stint at the Bowling Green State University in Ohio on a Fullbright scholarship) as a lecturer. His first collection, This Carting Life, appeared in 2005, and won the Ingrid Jonker and the Olive Schreiner Prizes. His second collection, Groundwork, was published in 2012, and won the Herman Charles Bosman Prize for best English literary work across all genres 2013. Seven years to chisel the second book into existence.

I met Kozain in Paris in the first third of 2013 when he was in town, with many other South African poets, for South African writer readings at scattered venues in and around the city. I got to hear him read twice, and out of pity, or concern, for me, for the second reading he selected two of the poems that had first pulled me into his writing. They are “Kingdom of Rain” and “Stars of Stone.” He read them as I knew he would: naturally and directly without any frills, the emotion or feeling being already in the words. This is how I decided I would read, also. The lesson was not lost on me … put the feeling into the words first. It’s like Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

This lesson of putting what you as a writer want to put into words (please forgive the pun) had started way before I heard Kozain read in Paris, when he commented on a poem of mine, on one word, “woman” instead of “lass” – the poem stood to gain much more by using the word woman, I realized, with all previous and present implications of the word, with all the baggage a woman can carry into or out of someone’s life, the maturity of the word … woman … even just its sound, than it would by leaving in the word lass which, it is true, chimed with another sound higher up in the poem. Losing the chime and gaining meaning was what the poem had actually needed. That’s the kind of writer whose work keeps inviting itself into my head, and I keep welcoming it and shutting the door and putting a kettle on the fire.

We will let you discover or re-read a selection of his poems that he has allowed us to present here at Canopic Jar. Further reading may be found at, as well as in his two books, This Carting Life (Kwela 2005) and Groundwork (Kwela 2012).

—Rethabile Masilo