A POEM called Night on Glossop Road, evoking the sound of bottles being emptied into a skip after closing time, has been read all round the world. Next week it will be heard in the city which inspired it when South African-born Gabeba Baderoon appears at an Off the Shelf event.
The now American-based poet and academic lived in Sheffield in the early Noughties and credits it with kick-starting her writing career which has since achieved three published anthologies.
Baderoon first came to do a Phd in English at the University of Sheffield and ended up completing an MA in creative writing.
“It came about because I was looking for a poetry evening class but couldn’t find one. Because I was living round the corner from Hallam on Collegiate Crescent I got to hear of the course and managed to get together a portfolio of poems for the interview but I didn’t have much hope.
“I was a bit of a late developer as a writer, having started in 1991, and saw my future as a literature scholar.
“I saw poetry as an evening class activity, a place where you could make stupid mistakes, so had only had a few individual poems published. What Hallam allowed me to do was build a body of work and it also gave me confidence.”
Baderoon moved on to the United States, the home of her film-maker partner, and is about to start teaching African Studies at Penn State.
In the meantime she has had three anthologies published, won the DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Poetry 2005 and held the Guest Writer Fellowship at the Nordic Africa Institute in Sweden in 2005
Night in Glossop Road, a short poem about hearing the sounds outside her flat late at night, appears in her first book, The Dream in the Next Body.
“I lived right next door to a restaurant and found the rhythm of the streets very comforting,” she says.
“My year in Sheffield was one of the happiest times of my life and one of the most important.
“I could walk into the city at any time after working all day and go and see some theatre at the Lyceum or Crucible and enjoy other cultural experiences. I fell in love with the city and made new friends at an important time in my life.
“I think that the fact I knew I wasn’t going to be there forever gave me a freedom to write. Often South African writers are under pressure to write about racism and big issues. I like to write about whatever hits me hard, moves me emotionally or whatever speaks to me as a human being.
“That may well be about war or racism but I have also written poems about picking mushrooms or my partner’s former lovers.”
Sheffield also provided the first experience of reading in public. “It was the launch of the Hallam anthology in a bar – Bukowski’s on London Road – and I had to ask the others questions like who comes to readings, what do they wear and do you look the audience in the eye?
“They were very sensible and told me to just try and create a connection and I soon realised that the words were the important thing and that would take care of your relationship with an audience.”
At the Showroom on Saturday Gabeba Baderoon will be appearing with the distinguished Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Galway Kinnell, professor of creative writing at New York University.
“I am excited about meeting and hearing him,” she says.
“That’s one of the pleasures of going to literary festivals. You find yourself meeting other great writers.”