In 1960s SA the remarkable poetry of “the skinny man with the green jersey”, as he introduced himself in Afrikaans on page four of his first book of poetry, set the world on fire. Breyten Breytenbach’s images on the pages of the book also gave readers a visceral charge. Die Ysterkoei Moet Sweet, published in 1964 (the translation can’t relate the unsettling surreal drama conjured up by the image of an “iron cow sweating”) had a quaint, eye-catching picture on its cover. The cow/human with a third eye — an enduring Breytenbach image — illustration had a whiff of Picasso’s absurdity, a dash of unsettling surrealism, while a bogeyman lurked in the small corner of the back cover. The art was also the work of the then 25-year-old Paris-based poet.

In 1967 Die Huis van die Dowe (House of the Deaf) confirmed the sestiger poet’s remarkable and dynamic word skill in a volume declared to be the finest poetry in Afrikaans in the decade. It remains one of the great books of Afrikaans poe...

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