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Blog – Page 2 – Poems, Pictures & Prose by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

ZIKR wins 2020 Ingrid Jonker Prize

Press Release
Ingrid Jonker Prize 2020 goes to a poignant collection of poems distinguished by a
photographer’s instinct

The winner of the Ingrid Jonker Prize for a debut volume of poetry in English published in
2018 and 2019 has been announced. The winner is Saaleha Idrees Bamjee for her
collection, Zikr.

‘Bamjee writes poignantly of longing and loss. She figures the female body—her own and
that of others–and explores the difficulties of being Muslim while also celebrating her
reverence for her religion and the Arabic language.’ (2020 Ingrid Jonker Prize judge)

“I’m very proud of Saaleha. Her collection came to me during uHlanga’s open submissions
period in 2017, and I was immediately impressed by the texture of her poems, her
photographer’s instinct for image, and her composure in writing about heart-wrenching
experiences. Zikr is a testament to poetic restraint, steady hands, and gentle eyes – three
rare and powerful things in these times.” (Nick Mulgrew, founder of uHlanga Press and
publisher of Zikr)

Eleven entries were received by the committee for this year’s award, and the competition
was stiff. Zikr made it to the shortlist along with All the Places by Musawenkosi Khanyile,
Everything is a Deathly Flower by Maneo Mohale, and Skeptical Erections by Mxolisi Dolla

Bamjee will receive a prize of R10 000, donated by the Pirogue Collective.

According to the rules of the prize the judges have to be published poets, since it is a prize
from poets to poets. This year the judges were Vonani Bila, Wendy Woodward and Sindiswa

Ronel de Goede convenes the Ingrid Jonker Committee. Finuala Dowling is the convenor of
the English prize. The other committee members are Vincent Oliphant, Kobus Moolman and
Marius Crous. A former chairperson Danie Marais acts as advisor to the committee.

The prize is alternately awarded on an annual basis to a first volume of poetry in Afrikaans
or English – the two languages in which Ingrid Jonker herself wrote.

Publishing News: ZIKR is here

ZIKR is my debut poetry collection, published by uHlanga Press.

This work has had a long gestation and incorporates poems founded during my Masters in Creative Writing programme at Rhodes, as well as more recent work.

It should be out in bookstores soon. Copies can also be ordered via

There will be two launches in Johannesburg. Details below. We are still working out the logistics for Durban and Cape Town.

Frankenfood Ideas To Steal That I May Or May Not Have Already Stolen

Coming soon to an artisanal food market near you:

  • Toasted chocolate cake ice cream sandwiches
  • Croissant bunny chows
  • Deep-fried macarons
  • Deep-fried macaron ice cream sandwiches
  • Ice cream bunny chows
  • Marshmallow-stuffed choux
  • Deep-fried choux stuffed with anything
  • Brioche ice cream sandwiches
  • Croissant waffles
  • Basically just deep-fry or stuff confectionery that has no business being deep-fried or stuffed.
  • Burfee in a cone
  • Cheesecake in a cone
  • Jalebi ice cream sandwich
  • Jalebi waffles
  • Katayef stuffed with ice cream
  • Katayef stuffed with burfee
  • Deep-fried waffle sandwiches
  • Bao stuffed with Indian sweatmeats.
  • Butter chicken bao
  • Biryani sushi rice
  • Biryani in a bao
  • Mac and cheese bao
  • Biryani rice dolmades
  • Mac and cheese samoosas
  • Curry leaf ice cream in a papadum cone
  • Kitchrie arancini


Larger than Life

I was going to title this; “How I Was Complicit In My Own Body Shaming” when I realised that to even suggest this is to apportion blame incorrectly and to imply agency when there was none.
The context is this; I was at a family function when I was told, within the course of the benign sort of nothing-conversation you have with elderly people at rare family events, that I needed to do something about my weight. I can’t even relate this exchange verbatim because a part of me still wonders if this really happened or if it was part of an elaborate fever dream. I found myself agreeing with this man, nodding emphatically, saying I would Google the miracle weight-loss bean his wife is selling. I was so polite* through it all because it’s not like what he was saying was any kind of revelation to me. I have picked up weight, quite a bit of it, over the last four years. I struggle with impulse control, unruly hormones, work that is to a large extent sedentary, psychological crutches, a complicated relationship with food etc. etc. etc. And even as I write this, there is this need to explain myself. Why? I don’t owe this to anyone, not least an uncle who is almost legally blind but who could miraculously see me in all my abundance well enough.
At the time of this exchange, I was more than a little amused. This was after all unsolicited advice from someone who, even before his dotage, was barely taken seriously. But as I think back to it, I become angry. I did not invite this. It’s none of his business. That my struggles manifest in a more physically apparent manner, than say someone with a painkiller-dependency, does not open me up to unrestricted judgement.
I know what I need to do to fit into my old jeans again. Anyone who has ever struggled with weight is a nutritional expert. Sugar is evil mmmkay. Exercise more. Thanks Admiral Obvious, maybe you can have this conversation with my adrenal glands? It’s not like I’m not trying (again with the explanations, also, if you try and sell me Herbalife I will delete you from my life).
For a long time I’ve been putting out disclaimers, cushioned myself in self-deprecation.
I’m not going to do this anymore.

*One day I will write about why we shouldn’t raise our daughters to be nice/polite.


I recall a recurring dream from my childhood. I am locked in a room, sometimes it is a jail cell, with a monster. I will be fine as long as I can count everything the monster eats from the pile set before him. One, two, five, ten, twenty-five, sixty. The horror descends when he eats at an exponential rate, I can no longer keep up the count. I wake with my heart lurching across the floor.
It’s been decades since those visitations, and yet the monster is closer than ever. This fur-kid sits in its corner and everyday I attempt to audit its intake.
Some days are better than others. Most days, I am teetering on the brink. Just one more thing, and my breath shorts, a current drills through to my bowels.
I used to be a regular girl-wonder, able to keep any number of trilbies spinning concurrently in mid-air. Now I am simply overwhelmed. To regress to juvenalia; I do not have my shit together.
Have you ever watched episodes of My 600-lb Life or Hoarders and wondered, “How could they let it get so bad?”
Let me walk you through it. There are things that need to get done and so you do them. Then there are other things, maybe not as exciting or gratifying as your other tasks, but they do need to be attended to, and so they end up on a list of Things-To-Do. Everyday, there are new Things To Do. The list gets longer and even the really amazing things you’ve been dreaming about being asked to do all your life, find their place next to a check box. And then it’s the next day, and there are more Things To Do. You work through the list as best you can, sometimes feeling like you’re petting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. You’ve bought into the lie that is Multi-Tasking. And then it’s the next day, and there are more Things To Do. Time becomes something you never have enough of. And still, more Things To Do. It gets to the point where just looking at the To-Do list becomes a Thing-To-Do. Some things don’t ever get done. Gym is where you go for twenty minutes of treadmill four times a month to retain a Vitality discount. There are paper cuttings and a laminator on the dining room table from a craft project you began five weeks ago. Imagine if there were children to feed. Making children. Another Thing To Do.
At any given time, I am a browser window with 21 tabs open.
I know it’s a blessing to be busy. Purpose is a holy, wonderful, thing. And I am being ungrateful.
But I do not like this sensation of skidding through weeks, just a handful of ticked boxes on a list to show for all my piecemeal attention. I want presence, I want time to think about my words. I want to do so much more.

Project 365: Complete

At the beginning of 2016, I committed to completing a Project 365 (366 for the leap year); a pledge to take one photograph a day, every day for the entire year.

To make this goal more achievable, I allowed myself some slack. I could shoot with my DSLR or my phone. I didn’t assign any particular theme to the photography and if I found myself in situations where I was absolutely unable to take a good photograph (transit days or tight work deadlines), the concession was that I could take an older unprocessed photograph and give it a fresh treatment. Out of 366 days, about 8 were older images that were processed on challenge day. My rationale; post-processing is as vital a part of image-making as clicking the shutter button, especially if you shoot in RAW format.

Completing a Project 365 is challenging, frustrating, fulfilling and instructional.  There were times where I was an hour or thirty minutes away from midnight and just beginning to conceptualise my shot. And there were instances where the photo just created itself before me. There’s a meditation in that somewhere.

Take on a Project 365 and you will learn:

  • Light. How to read it, use it and create it.
  • To recognise patterns and incongruities.
  • To see the soul of a thing.
  • To slow down.
  • To be patient.
  • What your photographic clichés are.
  • How to coax out the magnificent from the mundane.
  • That your first shot is often your best shot.
  • Your true passions.
  • How to document those passions.
  • To embrace risk and take chances on new techniques and equipment.
  • To be brave and talk to strangers.
  • That the best camera is the one you have.
  • That self-portraiture is not always an exercise in vanity.
  • To anticipate moments.
  • To see with your eyes first, and then your lens.
  • That there is always something around you worth taking a picture of.
  • Confidence in your craft.
  • To embrace the weird.
  • That it’s worth getting up close to your subject.
  • That as in life, it all depends on the angle you take.

And at the end of it all, you will have something to show for every single day of the year. Apart from maintaining a daily written journal, there is no better way to document 365 days of living.

Click here to view all my Project 365 – 366 posts on Instagram.

Notes on Writing as a Writer in Residence I

It’s a complicated time to be at a university in South Africa. It feels like an act of detachment to sit in an office on the fifth floor and write while men in padded riot gear accessorize the buildings. I can not be unaware of what it means to be in this space when others are protesting the price of their access to it. The careful thing to say is the cause is legitimate, the violence is not. Buildings and bodies are under threat. A militarized campus ticks with sharp menace. Writers do not exist out of the context of their time, even genre writers. World-building is about presenting alternatives to the status quo.

A month’s worth of uninterrupted writing time is Writivism’s most generous gift. At first, I am giddy at the luxury of pure writing hours set before me. Stellenbosch is wine country and it’s just as well that I do not drink, for I would celebrate every evening with abandon. After I come to terms with what it is I am to write, paralysis sets in. My story seems too big for me. It sits before me, the highest peak in the Boland mountains and I do not have the agility or the endurance to begin the ascent. These are the excuses writers make for themselves. What is failure really? Evidence of effort, at the least? Writers block is the fear of the ugly sentence. I have written and will write many bulky things. I just have to keep reminding myself that, before an edit, no one else will ever have to read them.


When I’m stuck in a writing ditch, I skim through books and go through cupboards. I open a drawer in the office assigned to me and it’s full of rolled up socks. I pull another one open and find hairdryers among other appliances. The closed storage under the bookcase contains rows of shoes and black bags filled with things I am too polite to rummage through. Does someone live in this space when I am not here? I really must ask someone. I think about how this could be the premise of a short story. When i am meant to  be writing one thing, I am writing another. Like a paragraph of writing that looked like it could dress up as a poem and pass.

I settle into a writing rhythm after a eureka moment on the first Thursday of the residency. I’ve worked out a way to incorporate into a new manuscript some of the experimental writing I’ve been doing over this year and last. I don’t like wasting writing in the same way I will never throw out a jar of Nutella without scraping it clean with exacting precision.

A month is hardly any time at all. I must mine it for all it’s worth.

24mm Pancakes and Krispy Kremes

I got Naeem a Canon 24mm f/2.8 pancake lens for our wedding anniversary. What’s his is ours, what’s ours is ours, isn’t this construct of a life-long partnership magical?

The 24mm is pocket-friendly both in size and price. It’s sharp, wide enough to fit in all the details, and is also good enough for close-focus. Though not made for portraits, you could get away with photographing people at a bit of a distance to avoid distortion. I think it’s ideal for travel; light and unobtrusive, especially if you’re into street photography. Prime lenses may not always be practical, but they force you into carefully considering each of your frames and I’ve found them to be quite versatile. And the image quality is always on-point; with sharp details and beautiful bokeh from the benefit of wide apertures.

I was invited to a Krispy Kreme Sandton Gautrain experience today. You only need to mention coffee and doughnuts for all three of my wobbling chins to be there. It also seemed like a good opportunity to take the 24mm through its paces.

Marlboro Gautrain Station
Krispy Kreme West Street, Sandton
Fixated on these whisk lighting fixtures











And again


The Krispy Kreme Sandton Gautrain station on West Street branch is the second outlet to open in South Africa. At least six more stores will open in Gauteng before the end of 2016. Original glazed nirvana for everyone!

Other images taken at Rosebank Mall:


Shopping Ghosts
Shopping Ghosts


Toasted Cheese at WW Cafe
Toasted Cheese at WW Cafe

Photography Project 366: Days 16-31

16/366 Artifice. #project365 #dslr #ifttt #selfportraiture

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on

18/366 How the light gets in. #project365 #dslr #ifttt

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on

20/366 The Dance. #project365 #dslr #ifttt

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on

21/366 Cape Constellations. #project365 #dslr #ifttt #clarendon

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on

22/366 Fanfare. #vsco #XperiaZ3Compact #ifttt

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on

23/366 The view. #project365 #dslr #ifttt

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on

24/366 Coffee coaster ism. #project365 #dslr #lensconverter #ifttt

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on

26/366 Tomato Tomato. #project365 #dslr #ifttt #vsco

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on

27/366 Pancake stacks. #project365 #dslr #ifttt #foodphotography

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on

28/366 Cashew & cinnamon milk. #project365 #dslr #ifttt

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on

29/366 Curl up and dye. #project365 #dslr #ifttt #selfportraiture

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on

30/366 The sartorialist of Senekal. #project365 #dslr #ifttt #operationhydrate

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on

31/366 Evergreen. #project365 #dslr #ifttt Yesterday’s shot, today’s process.

A photo posted by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee (@saaleha_b) on