Cronin, Jeremy 1949-
CRONIN, Jeremy 1949-
PERSONAL: Born September 12, 1949, in South Africa; married; first wife's name, Anne Marie (deceased, 1977); second wife's name, Gemma. Education: Attended University of Cape Town; Sorbonne, University of Paris, M.A.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, David Philip Publications, 99 Garfield Rd., Claremont 7700, South Africa.
CAREER: University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa, lecturer in political science, until 1976; imprisoned, 1976-83; exiled in London, England, then Lusaka, 1983-90; African National Congress, member of national executive committee 1991—; South African Communist Party, member of central committee and deputy secretary general, beginning 1989; member of South African Parliament.
AWARDS, HONORS: Ingrid Jonker Prize, 1984, for Inside; Sydney Clouts Memorial Prize for Poetry, for Even the Dead: Poems, Parables, and a Jeremiad.
Inside (poetry), Ravan Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1984.
(With Raymond Suttner and others) Thirty Years of the Freedom Charter, Ravan Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), c. 1985.
Even the Dead: Poems, Parables, and a Jeremiad, Mayaibuye Books (Bellville, South Africa)/David Philip Publishers (Cape Town, South Africa), 1997.
Inside and Out: Poems from Inside and Even the Dead, David Philip Publishers (Cape Town, South Africa), 1999.
Contributor of articles and poetry to anthologies, including Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, Norton (New York, NY), 1993. Editor of African Communist and Umsebenzi.
SIDELIGHTS: Jeremy Cronin is a politician and poet whose writings are inextricably tied to his political activism. Born into a middle-class, white, English-speaking family in South Africa, Cronin grew up relatively insulated from the troubles of South African apartheid, which separated black and white in society. As a youth, he read primarily European and North American poetry and began writing his own poems when he was around fifteen years old. After entering university in 1968, he became involved in anti-apartheid political activism. Cronin told Helena Sheehan in an interview on the Dublin City University Web site that the assassination of the South African intellectual Rick Turner "really marked my entry into political intellectual activity and, quite quickly after that, organizational political activity as well."
In 1976 Cronin was arrested by South African security police for his participation in the then-outlawed African National Congress. He was sentenced to seven years in the Pretoria Maximum Security Prison. In the second year of his sentence, his wife died. "It was in prison that my first seriously sustained compulsive effort at writing poetry took place," Cronin told Barbara Harlow in an interview in Alif. He also told Sheehan that he began writing poetry "as a survival activity in prison without much sense of an audience."
The result of Cronin's writing efforts in prison was his first book of poetry, Inside, which was published in 1984, the year after his release. "Inside, These poems illegally recorded in prison and either smuggled out or memorized for later reworking, bears testimony in its strongest constituents to a surprising symbiosis of autobiography, lyricism, narrative, oral performance, and political commitment," noted a contributor to Contemporary Poets. The title of the volume clearly refers to Cronin's incarceration, but, as noted by the Contemporary Poets contributor, it also "refers to the autobiographical interiority of love poems written for the wife who died." Writing in Research in African Literatures, Rita Barnard noted that this "first collection emphasizes from the start the location of writing." She went on to comment that Cronin has often stated that prison gave him a sense of place from which he could speak, and wrote, "To claim prison as a privileged 'speaking place' is not to minimize the pain, frustration, and terror of incarceration—experiences which Cronin's poems movingly testify. They record also an acute sense of spatial disorientation, which the poet attributes to the paucity of visual stimuli in the gray, enclosed world 'inside.'"
It would be more than a decade before Cronin's next collection of poems was published. He wrote most of the poems appearing in Even the Dead: Poems, Parables, and a Jeremiad after South Africa held its first democratic elections in 1994. The poems in the collection range from the lyric to short narratives. They focus primarily on the complicated transition within South Africa following apartheid and pay special attention to giving justice to the present and the past. "Even the Dead argues on behalf of a narrative in lyric form that would re-tell the translations of the political struggle in and for South Africa from a national liberation movement in league with the internationalism of socialism to the new imperative of meeting the demands of globalization and the free-market economies," wrote Harlow in Alif. Harlow went on to note that "'Even the Dead,' the title poem, closes the volume with powerful admonitions against the collapse of amnesty in amnesia—syntagmatic or paradigmatic, CNN's globalised amnesia, the Gulf war's lobotomized amnesia, Third World structurally adjusted amnesia, Hollywood's milk of amnesia. Amnesia, 'even the dead' insists, 'has no cut-off date.'"
Inside and Out: Poems from Inside and Even the Dead is comprised of selections from Cronin's two previous volumes of poetry. Sharif Elmusa, who participated in the Harlow interview of Cronin for Alif, noted that in reading these selected poems "the reader notices a change of outlook or even of world-view" between the prison poems and Cronin's later poetry, which he penned as a free man.
Although Cronin's poetry gained international recognition through the publication of these three volumes, it has become better known through his public readings. He has read his poems in a variety of contexts, including political rallies, where oftentimes he read his poems over the din of police helicopters, the smell of tear-gas, and the din of a rambunctious audience. In Alif Cronin explained to Harlow the difference between reading his poems in book form and hearing the poet read or present them: "Poetry performance needs to be understood in part, in the social context of South Africa. There are very high levels of adult non-literacy in our society, but, on the other hand, there are strong oral performance traditions—singing, village meeting-place oratory, funeral speeches, and praise poetry."
The Contemporary Poets contributor noted that Cronin's poetic voice has been influenced "partly by international voices," but added that "its dexterity has more profoundly been coached by the many tongues of South Africa." The essayist also wrote: "Despite the dangers of sentimentalism and ideological dissimulation that might be expected to attend a project like Cronin's, dangers that do threaten some of the poems, the turning inside out, or metamorphoses, from isolation and despair to community and hope typically produce a remarkable record of resilience and beauty."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Attridge, Derek, and Rosemary Jolly, editors, Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970-1995, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1998.
Contemporary Poets, seventh edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Nethersole, Reingard, editor, Emerging Literatures, Peter Lang (Bern, Switzerland), 1990.
Alif, 2001, Barbara Harlow, "A Chapter in South African Verse" (interview), p. 252.
Ariel, April, 1985, Sheila Roberts, "South African Prison Literature."
Index on Censorship, June, 1984, Stephen Gray, "Inside."
Monthly Review, December, 2002, John S. Saul, "Starting from Scratch? A Reply to Jeremy Cronin," p. 43.
Research in African Literatures, spring, 1994, David Schalkwyk, "Confessions and Solidarity in the Prison Writing of Breyten Breytenbach and Jeremy Cronin," p. 23; fall, 2001, Rita Barnard, "Speaking Places: Prison, Poetry, and the South African Nation," p. 155.
Dublin City University Web site,http://www.comms.dcu.ie/ (November 4, 2004), Helena Sheehan, interview with Cronin.*