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In conversations – serious, humorous, ironic, ribald – internationally acclaimed poet-scientist Douglas Livingstone and leading literary critic Michael Chapman struck up a warm, at times iconoclastic friendship. Over lunch they exchanged opinions, insights and anecdotes, not only on poetry, science and society, but also on personal aspects of modern life: love and loss, sexual and spiritual intimations, and city living; generally, on the value of our ‘uncommon humanity’.


Their conversations – recollected in this book – take readers through the black-and-white times of political turbulence in South Africa of the 1970s and 1980s to a climate, after apartheid, more attuned to Livingstone’s abiding concern: how, as both scientist and poet, to heal the Earth, our only home.

Along the way, we meet a cast from Jan Smuts, Mohandas Gandhi and Albert Luthuli to Alan Paton, Mazisi Kunene, Breyten Breytenbach and the ‘Soweto’ poets. We shift abruptly from Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka to the TV soap, Dallas.

With clarity and wit, Michael Chapman intersperses the conversations with a fresh consideration of a unique achievement: Douglas Livingstone’s journey into the ‘two cultures’ of art and science.

Douglas Livingstone worked at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Durban. His poems are collected in A Ruthless Fidelity: The Collected Poems of Douglas Livingstone.

Michael Chapman is affiliated to the Durban University of Technology and is a professor emeritus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. His publications include Douglas Livingstone: A Critical Study of His Poetry and, as editor, Douglas Livingstone: Selected Poems.

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