Project Description

Bart Wolffe


Bart Wolffe was born in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1952 and left in 2002 for exile in Germany via London. He is currently in exile in London. He is a Zimbabwean leading playwright with work performed in nine countries. His fourteen plays include The Sisyphus Road (2002), The Art of Accidental Stains (2002) and Killing Rats (2001). He worked extensively, not only in Zimbabwe, but throughout the countries of Southern Africa as well as in Edinburgh running theatre and play writing workshops and touring shows as well as performing. He has several published books, mostly poetry, including of coffee cups and cigarettes (1991) and Changing Skins. His work has been included in numerous anthologies such as New Accents, a joint anthology of five African poets and his collection of short stories is entitled A Twist of Tales (1989). His novel Eye of the Witness (1995) is unpublished for fear of political repercussions. His novel Worm Head was published in 2006. Persona Non Grata, is a collection of stories based on exile and alienation and his biography is Bastard of the Colony. He was a freelance journalist and was involved in the media in film, television, print and radio. Sitcoms and features included observations on society and its issues in Zimbabwe. Waiters, Dr Juju and many more, and his theatre columns commented on the use of stage as a social platform where government control had not altogether taken over the artists’ voices. However, the banning of all independent newspapers and the jamming of radio stations curtailed his freedom to continue to make a living as a writer and free thinker. The lack of freedom of expression meant that continuing as an artist in Zimbabwe became impossible.


Pin-prick of dull hope, smallest coal
Clutched in such cold night;
African, the soul, sucks out his prayer
From a tobacco-stub’s comfort zone
Whose hands cup a memory about the glow
Of an old fire of home;
But it is not warm in his chill soul
Where this ill of other worlds is now.

– That other place where huts circle
And swells the sweet smell of woodsmoke
Round roasted maize’s warm cob in the hand
Is very far away, history, another day,
A perfume of acacia pollen and rain kissing dust
And the lost pounding of a distant drum…

It is something the wind blows through hollow bones,
A dead man’s flute, a broken reed,
Gone, in a far-off land, from the dream of another room
With an open-always door unlike here
Whose strangers know not his ways nor he theirs

For no horizon beckons the low of his boyhood cattle
Beneath the blanket stars and other-way moon.
No frog familiars nor fruit bat songs
Fulfil these dead walls where wild buffalo-horns bellow
Their electrical blaze of London or beyond.

Understand how simply he wishes,
How he wishes without words,
Without his own tongue even,
How he only wishes he could go home

But there is no now return to the life-joy stolen
And he knows no here belonging
Neither beckoning back.

Instead he cramps, coughs, gasps his last straw
Clutching for ancestors in a cancer of limbo
In the country we all call – No-Man’s Land.

© Bart Wolffe

Germany 2006

Listen to his poetry