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Centre for Creative Arts

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Poetry Africa 2012, Second Evening: Rustum Kozain, Mbali Vilakazi, Ordsprak Poets, Saul Williams and More!

Poetry Africa

Poetry Africa The second evening of the 16th Poetry Africa Festival in Durban kicked off with Cape Town poet Rustum Kozain launching his second collection, Groundwork, at the Wellington Tavern.

Following on from here, Nkolo Madidi, the host for the evening, took to the stage and welcomed University of KwaZulu Natal Vice-Chancellor William Makgoba, who was in the audience.

The line-up of the main event started with Mbali Vilakazi, a performance poet from the Eastern Cape, who at times used voice-overs and reverberation to give her poetry more clout. Clearly, the personal is political for Vilakazi, a feminist, as she vowed “however I crash and burn / there’s always enough faith to begin again”.

Her poem about the girl assaulted for daring to wear a miniskirt to Noord Station in Pretoria was particularly striking, as she described “sixty grown men encircling children,” and the fact that the girl may never wear the skirt again as “it has become a scar across her heart”. In another poem she explored how the power of the patriarchal system has succeeded in making women unfamiliar to themselves, but reminded us that “we must always remember that we have survived”. Vilakazi’s last poem focused on the wonderful image of the phoenix who never dies, reminding those who suffer from crises of identity that comfort can be found in the routine: “Ordinary people, there is solace in this…it is an everyday of who we are”.

GroundworkConquest and ConvivialityChorusThe Dead Emcee Scrolls

Next up were the Ordsprak Poets, a collective from Sweden. All four poets shared a common humour, although their subject matter diverged. Sam Kessel recited a rambling narrative poem for his grandfather (who came from Lithuania to Pretoria) – although he never met him, he said he felt closer to him by travelling to South Africa. Laura Wilborg’s poem about social alienation was enhanced by her fragmented, nervous delivery. She read a poem she wrote when she was seven, explaining that she is trying to reach out to the child in her, as she is working on a children’s play. Oskar Hanska rapped a spontaneous and hilarious poem about falling in love and being dumped, which resonated with the audience.

Following on from the Swedes, Tolu Ogunlesi, a Nigerian poet, set a far more considered, even tone, as he read poems set in various countries of the world. After the interval, Werewere Liking, from the Cote d’Ivoire, charmed the audience with her spirited delivery of songs and poems in her native French (with the help of a translator at times). A spry grandmother, clothed in a pants suit made from African fabric, and adorned with beads, she danced as she declaimed: “I want African women’s dreams for a better life / even when they sound sentimental, as long as they speak and carry from afar”. Her poetry was refreshing. As she invited us to Walk for Peace, she reminded us of what UNESCO says: one should rather walk for, rather than against – as if you struggle against something, it saps your energy.

The last poet up, Saul Williams, from the US, was clearly the most charismatic of the performers on stage that night. His dynamic poetry mirrored the anger of Mbali Vilakazi, in that both poets challenge social norms that perpetuate racism. Williams had a certain fiery evangelism as he proclaimed: “I am you, but I am also me / pastor of sheep that graze in the street”. He warned us “this nigger bites”. Although fierce, Williams also evinced tenderness as he spoke poetry about his children. He challenged the audience, asking us: “What is your mind’s immigration policy? Are you certain you are not a victim of identity fraud?” concluding in the same poem: “Fuck your thought police / fuck you reality show / fuck your faction”. We were mesmerised, but not surprised as he said he would like to write a “burning book”.

Williams said that he always forgot how “cool it feels to be at a poetry festival – it does something wonderful, to add this city, this country, these people – to a festival”.

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