Saturday, 28 May 2011

A tribute to Stephen Watson

I recently found out that oneof the lecturers who most influenced me in my time at UCT, Stephen Watson, passed away in April. He was 56.

Although I was only taught by him directly for one semester, he made such an impact on me that I will never forget him. Stephen Watson was the man who helped me to fall in love with poetry.
He was the man that convinced me that writing is what I want to do with my life.

Before I took his poetry class, I had enjoyed the odd poem or two, but generally found that poetry was beyond me. He unlocked the magic of rhyme, rhythm and metaphor for me and I began to devour books of poetry. Critically, I began to write my own.

I looked forward to his class all week. And I was never disappointed. Pablo Neruda, William Wordsworth, Margaret Atwood - we read them all. And we wrote. Every week there was a poetry assignment and we had to keep a poetry journal. I carried mine with me everywhere.

Nervously, at first, I scribbled away. Boredom, anger, contentment - every emotion was transformed from some watery feeling into the concrete of words on pages. And then Stephen Watson gave my self-confidence a massive boost. His red-penned "Yes!" on my tentative first poem of the class gave me the guts to keep writing. And he kept encouraging. He recognised in me an eager student and he pushed me.

Once, I happened upon him in the corridors of the English faculty and as we walked he asked me about my majors. Film and media. "Why?" he asked me. "Why would you study film and media?! You should be writing!" I told him that film and media left me the most options and that journalism was top of my list. It seemed practical.

"You should be writing," he repeated. "You must continue with your creative writing. It is something that you can do."

That conversation is one of the few that has shaped my life to date. Stephen Watson, poet and teacher, believed in me. He believed that I could write and he was the first person I'd ever met who thought that I could make a living out of doing it.

I still cry when I think of the immense feelings and the many decisions that those few words have prompted.

There have been many others along the way who have shaped my writing journey, but I might not have had the courage to continue follow my dream had it not been for that brief conversation.

I got the top marks of our poetry class. And I have never stopped writing. Sometimes I have stopped hoping, but I've never stopped writing.

Thank you, Stephen Watson, for your passion and poetry, which has left a mark on my life and the lives of so many others.

I'm not a sentimental person, but I have kept my poetry portfolio from your class. And when I doubt myself and my writing, I still look back at your treasured notes and remember that you thought I could do this.

A poem, then, from my little collection...

Today's Shadow
by Tamara

Today's shadow
Stretched long in front of it
When we knew we had to
Fix what they had done,
That the world was waiting
For our answers to their problems.
So we looked ahead, into its darkness

Today's shadow
Disappeared from under it
When we realised we had no
Name to call our own,
That the names had all been used up.
So we looked around, into nothingness.

Today's shadow
Trailed at last behind it,
And we could see that we had
Shaped and changed it -
That our lines had made it substance.
So we looked back, as at a lesson.

Today's shadow
Now is waning, its edges already fading.
So we look ahead, into uncertainty.
So we look around, at each other.
So we look back, into ourselves.
And we step confidently into tomorrow's shadow.

RIP Stephen Watson


po said...

Wow. Love that poem. One of my lecturers from UCT died too a while ago, in a small plane crash. I hope they knew that they had an effect on people's lives.

Damaria Senne said...

thanks for sharing. It's wonderful to meet people like Stephen Watson, who more than teach, but inspire their students too. Teachers who get to know their students, their strengths and weaknesses and help them find their calling.

Nadia said...

I didn't know he passed away :(. Never had any tuts or classes from him, but somehow he made quite an impression. Thanks for sharing... a beautiful tribute!