This is a translation of a general introduction to an anthology of poetry by Olga Kirsch. Major themes and motifs of her work are outlined, as well as a short biography of the authoress is presented. The selection from the poems of Olga Kirsch was published to celebrate her 70th birthday on 23rd of September 1994 as Nou spreek ek weer bekendes aan: ’n Keur 1944-1983 [Now I’m Again Addressing Familiar Ones: A Selection 1944-1983]. For the purposes of the translation the ending of the original introduction has been altered.
Centrality and marginality are important concepts in polysystem theory, and also in network theory. This article examines Olga Kirsch’s position in the Afrikaans literary system by taking into account data spanning from 1900 to 1978. Overall centrality is discussed from the perspective of network theory and related to polysystem theory, and the concept is also applied to the literary system through the use of the Fruchterman and Reingold (1991) force-directed layout algorithm. It is indicated that Kirsch is positioned on the edge of the core or in the semicore, mainly because there are not so many people from the core who had paid attention to her works, but also because she, according to this data set, did not write on the works of others. It is also indicated which important critics, literary scholars and literary historians paid attention to her works, which contributes to her not being positioned on the periphery.
Olga Kirsch’s life and work was dominated by three men: her father Schmuel M. Kirsch, her youth lover Ellis, and her husband Joseph Gillis. Their presence can be felt throughout her oeuvre, both in her published Afrikaans and in her unpublished English poetry culminating in a collection of seventy-seven poems written in the months that followed the death of her husband. Through these poems the reader is introduced to a passionate side of Kirsch’s personality that was rarely seen by those who knew her in the normal course of her life. These three relationships resulted in some of Kirsch’s most beautiful poetry, of which her “Vyf sonnette vir my vader” is probably the best known.
The article traces the lasting alienation of Olga Kirsch (1927-1994), a Jewish-born South African poet, as represented in her seven volumes of Afrikaans poetry published between 1944 and 1983. Growing up in a devoutly Christian, Afrikaans-speaking rural community, she found herself an outsider. The conditions at home brought little comfort, while the awareness of the racial discrimination which permeated society further contributed to her isolation. Seeking for a heimat, she emigrated to Israel at the age of 24. Reading her poetry, it becomes clear that here, too, she remained a stranger, continuing to write and publish in Afrikaans.