Poetry International Poetry International

Petra Müller

Petra Müller

Petra Müller

(Zuid-Afrika, 1935)
Petra Müller was born in 1935 in the small enclave of Botrivier, where her father was the village policeman. One of five children, the family moved to Swellendam when she was ten years old, and her father turned to farming, on the farm Eenzaamheid.

A hugely prolific and fully bilingual writer of short stories, novels, children\'s books and poetry, Petra Müller\'s book of love poems, Die Aandag Van Jou Oë (2002) was voted one of the ‘top 30 African reads’ according to an informal poll run by the Centre for the Book in collaboration with the Cape Town Book Fair in 2007.
In 2005, Müller was awarded the Herzog Prize by the South African Academy for Science and Art, the highest honour for Afrikaans poetry in the country. Although the bulk of her output has been written in Afrikaans, with four grandchildren living in North America who don’t speak Afrikaans, she decided to write a collection of poems for them.“I set out with a good heart to write a book for them in English,” she explains. The result was Night Crossing (2006), which, Müller acknowledges, “is not suitable for children. Maybe when they’re older. In the mean time, I\'m still trying to write a collection of poems for my grandchildren.” Nonetheless, Night Crossing was the first English-language poetry collection to be published by publishing house Tafelberg. The manuscript was sent to poets Ingrid de Kok and Patrick Cullinan (previously featured on Poetry International Web, South Africa), and they made a glowing recommendation.

In fact, her first published poetry, featured about 40 years ago in Contrast magazine, was a series in English and Afrikaans on the death by drowning of her younger brother. Reflecting on her choice of language when writing, she says, “It makes no difference. I don\'t always remember which language I’ve written in.”

Among her poems featured here on Poetry International Web is ‘David\'s Hands’, a poem about a visit to Florence. Müller explains, “I was transfixed by the statue. My husband took a photo of me, staring at David. I stood with my fingers in my mouth, like a child. Later, looking at the photo, I imagined David discovering speech.” ‘Michelangelo’s Marksman’ picks up on themes in that first poem.

“If you want to make poetry,” Müller tells us, “you need to do it with the simplicity and self-sufficiency of a pebble, or a drop of water – an object as perfected by nature.”
© Liesl Jobson


Obool, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1977
Patria, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1979
Liedere van land en see, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1984
My plek se naam is Waterval, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1987
Swerfgesange vir Susan en ander, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1997
Die aandag van jou oë: gedigte vir die liefde, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2002
Night crossing, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2006

Short-story collections
Werf in die rûens, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1980
Voëls van die hemel, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1982
Die dwerg van die Infanta en ander verhale, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1993
In die omtes van die hart, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1995
Desembers (saamgestel deur Rachelle Greeff), Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2007

Verlore vallei, Dagbreek-Boekkring, Johannesburg, 1962
Die windskerm, Human & Rousseau, Cape Town, 1963

Children’s books
Die kind van konings, John Malherbe, Cape Town, 1968
Klein Wiek se groot pampoen, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1980
Reënboog vir Hannatjie, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1990

Novels published as Magriet Smalberger
Die elande van Kruisberg, Dagbreek-Boekkring, Johannesburg, 1963
Hy wat die goud bring, Human & Rousseau, Cape Town, 1966
Die koue vuur, Human & Rousseau, Cape Town, 1970
Tant Madeleine se somer, Makro, Pretoria, 1974
Die Magriet Smalberger-omnibus, Human & Rousseau, Cape Town, 1982

1974: Sanlam Prize for Afrikaans Drama   
1980: Eugène Marais Prize
2005: Herzog Prize for Afrikaans Poetry


Stellenbosch Writers’ Web Page

Top 30 South African Reads

Article about the launch of Desembers
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Lira fonds
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère