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Centre for Creative Arts

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Poetry Africa 2012, Fourth Evening: Siddiq Khan, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Rustum Kozain, D’bi Young and More!

Poetry Africa

The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Volume II was launched at the Wellington Tavern on Thursday night. Later, at Poetry Africa 2012’s main event, in the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Oswald Mtshali, renowned poet, and chair of this year’s selection committee noted that “poetry has immeasurable range. It is enriching spiritually and emotionally”. He commended the publisher of the collection, the Jacana Literary Foundation, for promoting poetry, saying as an adjudicator it took “superhuman” effort to choose between the two finalists for this year’s award.

Neels Jenssen from the EU took the mic, commending all the poets published in this year’s anthology. He said “your work is another stepping stone towards a common culture in SA”. He announced that Vonani Bila had won second prize with his poem, “boys from seshego”, while Siddiq Khan was the overall winner with his poem “Anthem for Old Nations”. An insouciant, confident Khan then read his poem.

The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IIThere is a PlaceHandsome JitaThe Makings of YouGroundworkRivers...and Other Blackness...Between Us

Ghanaian poet Nii Ayikwei Parkes set a low-key, mellow tone for the main evening’s line-up. He brought in a musical element, asking us to “compare the weight of a guitar string / to the weight of the people it moves”. Although he tackled difficult topics, like slavery, his melodious voice, and nuanced lyrics stood in sharp contrast to some of the angrier poets attending this year’s festival who also wrote about racism. In a humourous poem called “This is not a love poem”, Parkes wrote “this is not a love poem – it’s a sexed-up dossier … a lingering breath of hot air / as it creeps up your thighs / it’s a game, a solo, while I riff a plan to strip you of everything you own”. In the next poem, called “This is a love poem”, Parkes cajoled the woman of his dreams to let him make “you a part of me”.

Niels Hav, from Denmark, the next poet up on stage was funny too, but not erotic. He explained that for him, poetry must be “emblematic. A reader must feel at home with his own feelings in my poem”. He wrote about falling in love with five consecutive women he sees on a bus, who don’t notice him, concluding wryly: “It always ends up that way, you are left standing on a curb, sucking on a cigarette, mildly unhappy”. I loved his poem about a pen where he said: “Poetry is not for sissies / a poem must be a Dow Jones index / a mixture of reality and sheer bluff”. He congratulated SA on “moving in the right direction”, reading a poem he wrote about the country years ago, focussing on the “butterfly effect”, how a small change in one part of the world can create ripples far away. A pragmatic poet, Hav concluded: “if you want something said / you’ll have to say it yourself”. His last poem, concise, pointed, dealt with the end of Western society: “we’ll be gone / they’ll be gone / Hallelujah”.

Last up before the interval was beloved SA poet, Rustum Kozain. His poetry, a mixture of earnestness, passion and melancholia, never fails to cut to the quick. Reading a poem about his first lover, he referred to the “failed algorithms of heartbreak”. Although aware that “it’s not done to apostrophise some romantic absence”, he focussed on the perpetual presence of hurt, both politically (as in apartheid) and privately (romantically). He premiered two new poems not performed publicly before. The first one, “Gods of War”, inspired by a photograph of two sisters in contemporary Syria, was raw and intense, questioning the existence of God in a world tainted by the brutality of war. Kozain asked: “Who wants to rule this tired republic of shame and men in suits smirking / when God dies in Syria, where he was made / what does it matter?” His poetry evinces a visionary element, he is in search of something sacred, as revealed by the last poem he read, “Kingdom of Rain II”, from his second collection Groundwork. This poem shows ecological thinking as the poet explores his feeling of kinship with a leopard: “Yes, I want to let that leopard know / that it is part of me / and I am part of it / in all the ways that that could mean.”

After the interval, D’bi Young, a bold warrior poet from Jamaica (currently living in Cape Town), arrested the audience with her provocative poems about taboo topics, such as incest, slavery, HIV/AIDS and menstruation. Sounding a little like Joan Armatrading, she sang about her need for acceptance, and a revolution of love.

Closing the evening session was Tumi Molekane, a well-known SA rapper. Members of the audience, knew his songs by heart, interjected as he spoke about Gangsters: “this one’s a rebel / could kick start a coup d’etat”. Molekane was a performer with panache, thanking Peter Rorvik and the Centre for Creative Arts for “making me collide with all these intellectual people and sex-bombs”. He had the crowd up and dancing with his rendition of “I can’t decide if it’s the money”, before MC Carol Gumede wrapped up, thanking all the poets, and sending us home.

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