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Poetry Africa 2009: Special Report from Sarah Frost, with Photos from Liesl Jobson

A special report from two regular BOOK SA contributors. Text by Sarah Frost, images by Liesl Jobson.

The 13th Poetry Africa International Poetry Festival, hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts, was, as usual, an intense conflagration of poetry, ideas, and people, from SA, Africa and beyond. As one of the poets selected for the Durban Showcase, I participated in the pre-festival performance of 12 poets and slammers representing Durban, at The Workshop Shopping Centre’s Amphitheatre. I was struck by the vitality of the young Zulu poets who performed, and saddened that the bulk of their subject matter was promiscuity, HIV, and social/sexual violence. Good that the poets are grappling with real issues though – and that they were given a platform for this.

David Rubadiri, eminent Malawian academic and diplomat, set an appropriate tone for the rest of the fest with his keynote address at the opening night, in which he explained how excited he was to be part of a Creative Writing Programme at UKZN, honouring African writing with his dignified words. The lineup from Africa also included Poetry Africa returnee Susan Kiguli (Uganda), who last performed in Durban in 2000. Kiguli, an academic and widely recognised as one of the most important poets in East Africa, grabbed the audience’s attention with her sincere delivery, her strong narrative style, and her accurate and loving descriptions of life in Africa.

Odia Ofeimun, from Nigeria, and dubbed the “gentleman poet” by Ewok (two-time Poetry Africa SlamJam champion, participating poet and compere), delighted the audience, particularly with his lyrical love poems. Nina Kibuanda (Democratic Republic of the Congo), poet and actor, made the connections between theatre, musicality and poetry explicit in his performance. Tania Tomé (Mozambique), poet and singer, also mirrored a sense of theatre plus an interest in traditional culture in her poetry. Malawian singer and poet Chigo Gondwe cast herself as an “ethno-urban-hiphop-soul-poetess”, revelling in the positive aspects of the Africa continent.

The strong SA lineup this year included poet and novelist Mogane Wally Serote, although – for this listener, the great man seems to have lost some of his earlier (idealistic, yet hard-hitting) impetus. This was certainly not the case for Lesego Rampolokeng, an influential contemporary SA poet, whose political and emotional edginess I found energizing and challenging. Jennifer Ferguson, a multi-award winning performer, composer, poet, and classically trained pianist, wowed us with her powerful voice and evocative lyrics, focusing (overstepping her time limit occasionally) on landscapes of the spiritual. Diminutive in stature but not in energy or voice, Sindiwe Magona, already known as an author and playwright, launched her first anthology of poems at the festival, Please, Take Photographs (Modjaji Books). Liesl Jobson, an established SA poet, charmed the audience with her quaint, yet ascerbic, poetry using humour to convey basic home truths. Loftus Marais, whose debut collection of poems, Staan in die algemeen nader aan vensters, has been received with critical acclaim, won me over with his poem about politics and a poetry “engagee” – clearly a poet with vision and potential, and a keen eye for describing his mother city, Cape Town. Bongani Mavuso, poet, radio presenter, and senior producer at Ukhozi FM launched his latest anthology, Zibuyela Ezimpandeni (Shuter and Shooter) at the festival. His commitment to developing Zulu community identity is commendable.

From further afield, Indian poet Anindita Sengupta, an emerging voice in Indian poetry, read interestingly subtle (rather than didactic) feminist poems. İlyas Tunç, from Turkey, but with a strong SA connection, having just finished work on a mammoth anthology of contemporary SA poetry in Turkish translation, read quite curiously resonant poems, exploring language and imagination.

All the poets mentioned above were heard at evening performances taking place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre during the week. Apart from these, a packed daily programme included performances, seminars, workshops, poetry competitions, and school visits. The CCA must be complimented on its efforts to integrate Poetry Africa with the broader, and less advantaged, eThekwini community. The last day of the festival, Saturday, saw a full day of activities at the BAT Centre, which included poetry workshops, open mic opportunities, the Durban SlamJam all culminating with the Festival Finale on Saturday night. Leading Zimbabwean protest-poet Outspoken, together with his band the Essence, rhymed truth to power, and played the Festival out. Here’s to the 14th Poetry Africa Festival in 2010, long may this vibrant cultural event make Durban a poetic landmark!

Liesl Jobson’s 2009 Poetry Africa photos

Anindita SenguptaAnindita Sengupta & Estelle David RubadiriBongani Mavuso leads the crowd singing Mshini Wam Jennifer Ferguson Lesego Rampolokeng Mongane Wally Serote Tiny Mungwe, Nina Kibuanda & Lesego Rampolokeng Mathabo Kunene & Sindiwe Magona Rose Mokhosi Loftus Marais & Jennifer Ferguson Zuki Vutela & Odia Ofeimun Angela Spencer, Corinne Sandwith & Susan Kiguli Contributors to Zibuyela Ezimpandeni Jericho Myekwa, Lwazi Dlamini & Emanuel Luthuli Andries Gouws, Ingrid Winterbach & Corinne Sandwith Ewok Yewande & Kole Omotoso At the launch of Zibuyela Ezimpandeni Peter RorvikChatsworth Youth Centre teens read their poems Ilyas Tunc & Pravasan Pillay Njabulo Nyembe, Professor Zulu, Mistral de Robillard, Mongane Serote, Sibusisiwe Buthelezi, Thashini Moodley, Nosipho Mngadi Mongane Serote Oriel Buntting, Karen Pearce & Cedric Sissing Anindita Sengupta & Susan Kiguli Lesego Rampoloken & Jenifer Ferguson Loftus Marais, poet Ilyas Tunc Original manuscript of Mazisi Kunene Mathabo Kunene Lesego Rampolokeng Tania Tome Outspoken The tide is out - the view from the Royal Hotel Odia Ofeimun Bongani Mavuso Loftus Marais Chigo Gondwe Zuki Vutela Sindiwe Magona & Germaine Kitchen Mrs Rubadiri & Susan Kiguli Jennifer Ferguson, Loftus Marais & Anindita Sengupta

Monica Rorvik’s photos of this article’s contributors

Sarah FrostLiesl JobsonLiesl Jobson

Poetry Africa 2009 was oganised by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), the 13th Poetry Africa festival is supported by the Department of Arts and Culture, Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS), National Arts Council, French Institute of South Africa, Pro-Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, African Synergy Book Café and the City of Durban.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    October 14th, 2009 @14:37 #
     
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    Great overview, and glorious pics -- thanks. The background art looks so intriguing, and Liesl, that last photo of you reading is amazing.

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    October 14th, 2009 @15:24 #
     
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    Lovely overview Sarah, and brilliant pictures Liesl. Thanks so much for this.

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  • Sarah Frost
    Sarah Frost
    October 14th, 2009 @16:16 #
     
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    Glad of the opportunity. Thanks Ben, thanks Liesl.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    October 14th, 2009 @16:44 #
     
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    Mashini Wam is poetry?

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  • <a href="http://liesljobson.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    Liesl
    October 14th, 2009 @16:59 #
     
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    According to Mavuso, Mashini Wam is the great anthem that "liberated" Zulu poetry.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    October 14th, 2009 @17:20 #
     
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    What did Zulu poetry need liberating from? It seemed perfectly fine to me - the pieces I have heard in translation. Liz Gunner's collection of women's work songs is wonderful. And anthems have that horrid little totalitarian we-are-all-in-this-together-and-if-you-aren't-then-there's-something-wrong-with-you tendency. And they kill people, machine guns.

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  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    October 14th, 2009 @22:03 #
     
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    Mm-mm-mmm to borrow from Ewok – lucky to see/hear him in action at Book Lounge last night, and Liesl looking forward to hearing you reading someday very soon (at the Book Lounge, when?) Forever in my head is the image of a woman perched on the edge of a bath like a pelican – it’s in one of your poems, it always comes back to me. That and your view of the mother looking through a shop window for a Matric dance dress. Recently there was an exhibition at the Joao Ferreira Gallery, photos by Araminta De Clermont, a series called Before Life, Cape Matric students all dressed up for their dances (anyone who bought the Big Issue last month would have seen some of the pics), anyway when I went to that exhibition, Liesl, your poem kept going through my head. If I could make films, shorts, I’d want to make films of your poems Liesl.

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