23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023

Ingrid de Kok

Portrait Ingrid de Kok
© Poetry-Africa

Ingrid de Kok was born in 1951 in Johannesburg, and she grew up in the gold mining town Stilfontein, in South Africa.  At the age of 12, she, with her parents moved back to Johannesburg, where she first studied English and Political Sciences at the University of Witwatersrand and then at the University of Cape Town. In 1977, de Kok emigrated to Canada, where she studied at Queen’s University in Kingston, and in 1984 she returned to South Africa.  There she became active in a pedagogical foundation, setting up university courses for black students who at the time were excluded from the »white« universities.  Currently, she is an Associate Professor in the field of adult education, planning and coordinating numerous cultural programs and seminars in her job at the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies at the University of Cape Town.

Her engagement in the field of cultural education is also evident – admittedly in a subtler form – in her literary work, in which she tackles the possibilities of shaping the future through dealing with the past and taking stock of the present. »Transfer« (1997), the second of her three poetry volumes to date, contrasts the political changes of South Africa in the first section of the book with the second, containing a personal, specifically feminine view of experiences, in which love and familiar relationships take a central role.  However, de Kok in no way places the ugliness of politics in opposition to an idyll of the familiar: each relates to the other.  In addition, she succeeds in maintaining a cautious optimism in the future, which can be seen in her skillfull poems, even when describing horror.  In free as well as formal verse, with many internal and occasional end rhymes, de Kok succinctly gives form to manifestations of evil and the incomprehensibility of pain.  »There is still lyric poetry after Auschwitz, and on the cusp of a new century, facing backwards to the barbarism of South Africa’s recent apartheid past while eyeing the ongoing catastrophe of the AIDS epidemic, Ingrid de Kok’s flawless lines and un-illusioned observation suggest that without such stubborn hope the terrible beauty of tragic events is lost and we are left with meaningless, inexplicable calamity«, writes the critic Simon Lewis.  The title of de Kok’s latest poetry volume, »Terrestrial Things« (2002) alludes to a poem by Thomas Hardy, in which the possibility of grounds for hope is posited, even when the »terrestrial things« don’t seem to offer any reason for hope at all.

De Kok’s poetry has been translated into several languages and has appeared in various national and international newspapers and anthologies. For her work she has been awarded fellowships abroad and prizes, such as the Dalro Poetry Award and the Herman Charles Bosman Award for English Literature.  She is also the editor of several scholarly books and anthologies, a member of various poetry juries, and the author of critiques and articles. De Kok lives in Kapstadt.

© international literature festival berlin