Poetry Africa 2010 Opens not Cautiously, but with Cautions (Galleries)
Peter Rorvik, director of the Centre for Creative Arts (CCA), opened Poetry Africa 2010 with a sombre warning, reminding the audience that SA’s excellent constitution does not protect its citizens from censorship, such as is threatened by the government’s proposed Protection of Information (“Secrecy”) Bill. He encouraged people to sign the ‘Right to Know’ petition, emphasising that a collective effort is more powerful than individual voices in fighting silencing of any kind.
A heavily pregnant, but nonetheless highly animated host Lebo Mashile thanked the CCA for creating a haven for poets – which is difficult in the current economic climate – saying Poetry Africa was the ‘best festival currently running in SA’.
And then the poetry began. Exiled Malawian Frank Chipasula was supportively clapped in, and read a delicate tribute to his son, accompanied by guitarists Ernie Smith and Concord Nkabinde. Souleymane Diamanka from Senegal read a thoughtful poem about writing, where he innovatively compared reality to a ‘trampoline’. Busiswa Gqulu, from Durban, did not need a microphone as she rendered her forthright poem about the child of an abortion gone wrong, while Ronelda Kamfer, from Cape Town, read a simple but far-reaching poem about a domestic worker – an unapologetic riff on Koos Kombuis’s song ‘Katie’. Meena Kandasamy’s provocative piece about the colonised status of the English in India prompted rapturous applause, and her books sold like hot-cakes at the books stand afterwards.
Jayne Fenton Keane from Australia read an edgy syncopated piece about Miles Davis, ‘birthing cool’, followed by the dignified Mama C, who managed to avoid falling into cliché as she grappled with the notion of African identity. The beautiful Ngwatilo Mawiyoo’s spirited performance of her poem ‘Goatmeat’ stood as a passionate criticism of poverty and displacement, while well-loved Durban poet Gcina Mhlophe played with an old poem, ‘Sometimes when it rains’ – appropriate as the spring rains had just begun that day. Natalia Molebatsi sang her poem too.
Kobus Moolman, regarded as one of SA’s ‘finest lyrical poets’ gave us a shock when he said ‘I’m here to scare the pants off you, we’ve been laughing too much tonight’, choosing to read a dark poem about a sinister empty house, and a dysfunctional electronic gate. Rastafarian Mutabaruka had the audience in stitches as he declaimed a poem challenging Darwin. His tenderness balancing some of the at-times overpowering energy of the evening’s feminists, Jorge Palma, from Uruguay, read what I thought was the best poem of the evening, a sad simple elegy to the dead of the Iraqi war. Mari Pite honoured her home town with a witty pastiche of Tekwini taxi names, followed by Italian Claudio Pozzani, who read a poem about shadow – ‘Ombre’ – in a wonderfully deep operatic voice. Barolong Seboni, from Botswana, although himself bald, read a humourous poem paying tribute to African hair, and how it represents the continent’s ‘hairitage’. Mashile completed the evening reading a poem about the ‘fractured mirror’ of SA, which bordered on rhetoric at times, and got me wondering about how far the definition of what constitutes a poem can stretch.
But all in all, a rich fascinating panoply of poets, in what promises to be a stellar week, providing contrast and colour and many new experiences from all over the world.
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Group photo courtesy the Poetry Africa blog