Gary Albyn - Poet and Conservationist - Manzovo, the Place of the Elephants

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by Jen

I heard Gary Albyn recite his poem Manzovo at the South African Pavilion at the London Book Fair. I estimate it took about twenty minutes, and I can only estimate because I was so caught up in the unfolding story and rhymes that I forgot to check my watch. Gary's lilting accent brought sounds together with a depth of musicality beyond the average British English tone (respite and desperate - become 'respit' and 'desprit'). His words evoke both the size and magnificence of the elephants and the landscape which they journey across, meeting predators and gangs, flora and fauna. We are invited in to experience the wildness of Africa through the imagery and rhythms of his poetry, you can smell blood and feel the heat of the sun. So much so, that an expat in the row in front of me was in tears, and said afterwards that the poem had "taken her home". That feeling, the depth of reaction of an audience is what Gary hopes will raise awareness and bring about action, in support of his deepest passion, conservation.

Gary reminded me somewhat of the character played by Robert Redford in Out of Africa. In his gentle voice I could hear a deep respect of the land and its animals, and a passion for its life and preservation. He said that as a child, "I knew I would write a book about elephants. I didn't realise it would take me thirty-five years." His writing is an outpouring of his love and an expression of his whole way of being. The poem is a torch to illuminate the issues and pass on to others in his race against time.

"Each generation pays a debt in advance."

Gary started writing Manzovo in late 2003 and completed its writing in about 18 months. He took a further three months to memorise it, and started to recite the epic poem to audiences of friends. Encouraged by their response, he considered publication but struggled to get an illustrator which he wanted in place before approaching publishers. He finally went to a meeting without artwork, seeing 'their eyes roll' when he explained his work was a poem. But after he recited a passage, the publishers 30° South were hooked. They asked the artist, whose work Gary had long admired, Craig Bone to do the paintings which illustrate alternate pages of the book.

Manzovo: Place of the Elephants was released in 2008 as a hardback gift edition. It is a richly illustrated 110-verse poem, that comes with a DVD recital performed by the South African Shakespearian actor, John Whiteley.

The balance between the paintings and the poetry echoes the balance between nature and man which Gary wants to achieve in the world. The coexistence between written word which is best appreciated aloud, and the highly realistic and detailed pictures of the African bush enhance one another and bring the epic odyssey, the untold story of the elephant Thandi and her herd to life. The illustrations set this work apart as more than an object of beauty, it is a testimonial to Manzovo, the place of the elephants and a call to action.

Gary Albyn was born in the old Rhodesia in 1960 and grew up in Umtali on the eastern border with Mozambique. An avid outdoorsman, he quickly developed a keen appreciation for the beauty and allure of the African bush—a passion that endures to this day. Upon leaving school he managed to satisfy one of his other passions—aviation—by gaining admission onto one of the Air Force’s exacting trainee pilot programs. With the advent of Zimbabwe, he adopted South Africa as his new home in the early 1980s. Soon after graduating in civil engineering he began a successful career in the industrial sector. With a personal philosophy that values life balance, Gary shares his time between family, career, flying, travelling, responsible 4x4 off-roading, research, sketching and writing. He lives in Johannesburg with his wife and family.

His poems have been featured the anthologies, Forever Spoken (International Society of Poets, 2007) and The Best Poems and Poets of 2007 (International Society of Poets, 2008). Gary is currently working on his next book in a similar style, Izwi Lami, in Zulu 'my voice.'


The artist
Craig Bone was also born in then Rhodesia in 1955. In the Light Infantry in 1977 he was critically wounded and whilst recuperating he started painting. In a short time he was to be recognized as an artist of some repute. With his passion for wildlife, and the Zambezi Valley, he was to become an internationally acclaimed artist with his paintings being sold worldwide. A painting of his was recently auctioned on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans’ Association and now hangs in the Pentagon. He is the official artist to the Court of King Zwelethini of the Zulus, and is resident artist for the new luxury Zoo Hotel in Dubai. He lives in Florida, USA but still manages to spend several months of the year in the Zambezi Valley.


30° South Publishers was launched in September 2005 with the express objective of servicing niche markets in the fields of southern African non-fiction, focusing primarily on history and memoirs. Their Southbound imprint specializes in genres such as culture, eco-tourism and travel.

image Manzovo © Craig Bone

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