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
Monica Rorvik’s photos of this article’s contributors
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.
Poetry Africa regrets to announce the cancellation of Indian poet Sunil Gangopadhyay’s participation in the 13th Poetry Africa Festival which runs in Durban from 5-10 October. There has subsequently been a programme reshuffle and legendary Malawian poet and this year’s opening night keynote speaker David Rubadiri will now also present his poetry during Gangopadhyay’s slot. Poet, novelist, playwright, university professor and diplomat, Rubadiri was born in Liuli, Malawi, in 1930. He attended King’s College, Budo, in Uganda from 1941 to 1950 and thereafter studied at Makerere University, where he graduated with a BA degree in English Literature and History. He went on to the University of Bristol in England (1956-1960), where he obtained an MA degree in English Literature.
5 to 10 October promises to be a stirring week of words, rhymes, performance and ideas, as the 13th Poetry Africa international poetry festival ignites Durban with poetry from around South Africa, Africa, and the world. Hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts, Poetry Africa’s intensive week-long programme kicks off with a pre-festival showcase of Durban-based poets at The Workshop Shopping Centre’s Amphitheatre on 4 October at 11h00.
The poets performing at the showcase were chosen from a week-long open audition held at the Centre for Creative Arts. Some of the selected poets will also perform curtain-raising poems on three separate evening at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre as well as battle it out for the Durban SlamJam crown on 10 October at the BAT Centre. The festival week encompasses introductory performances by the full lineup of participating poets at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on Opening Night, 5 October. Opening Night will also include a Keynote Address by legendary Malawian writer and poet David Rubadiri. The week will thereafter feature 4 poets every evening, through to 4 October, before the perennially rousing Festival Finale at the BAT Centre on 10 October. (more…)
The second evening of the 12th Time of the Writer saw two compelling panel discussions, featuring eminent writers from across the African continent, hold the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre audience rapt. Assessing the role that writers should play in relation to crimes against humanity, and the relative merits and implications of the term “Magical Realism” as a literary genre in African writing, formed the basis of the thoughtful exchange of ideas. (more…)
The Time of the Writer programme consistently ensures that South African writers are well represented at the festival – but this concern extends also to the rest of the African continent. The African presence at this year’s festival includes the celebrated Ugandan writer Moses Isegawa. Isegewa’s two novels, Snakepit and Abyssinian Chronicles, are breath-taking in scope and ambition and have established him as one of the giants of contemporary African literature.
Kole Omotoso (Nigeria) is widely known from his role in Vodacom’s Yebo Gogo ad campaign, but he is also a writer and scholar of tremendous stature. An author of five novels, one short story collection, two plays, three historical narratives and three books of literary criticism, Omotoso’s classic historical narrative The Combat, first published in 1972, has just been republished as a Penguin Modern Classic. He will also deliver the festival’s Opening Night Keynote Address entitled “In Sickness and In Power: African Leaders, Insanity and the Need for Politically Correct Behaviour among African Writers and Intellectuals.” (more…)
The written word again takes centre stage as twenty writers from nine countries arrive in Durban for a stimulating week of words, books, ideas, and talk at the 12th Time of the Writer International Writers Festival. The week-long festival, which takes place from 9 to 14 March, 2009, is coordinated annually by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), and has developed an extensive programme that draws perhaps the most diverse literary audience in the country, cutting across race, class, and age. The festival features a customary strong South African and African presence this year, with a diverse gathering of novelists, short story writers, journalists, cartoonists, and political commentators, presenting their ideas in the public arena. (more…)
The Durban International Film Festival, now in its 29th year, opens a window on the world, provides access to many different cultures and provides a space in which the cinematic art form transcends national boundaries. This is particularly relevant in view of the xenophobic attacks that swept South Africa, highlighting, more than ever, the need to disseminate and celebrate the cultural and artistic diversity of the African continent. African films have traditionally been a central pillar of the DIFF programme, the core of which is the presentation this year of 71 South African films, comprising 10 feature films, 29 documentaries and 32 short films which indicate the steady growth of filmmaking in this country. While South African filmmakers struggle to make films and get audiences for them, DIFF is a proud showcase for the brave and talented filmmakers who continue, often against the odds, to make engaging and relevant films. A further 38 films from the continent underscores the broader African presence at DIFF 2008.
DIFF opens with the African Premiere of Jerusalema, directed by Ralph Ziman, a gripping look at the rise of a Johannesburg gangster and that touches on the topical issue of hijacking buildings. The festival will also present the World Premieres of Nothing But The Truth by John Kani, which is based on his popular play; My Black Little Heart by Durban’s Claire Angelique, a dark look at Durban’s underbelly, shot by the famed cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle; and uMalusi, directed by Mlandu Sikwebu and produced and shot in the Eastern Cape by Jahmil X.T. Qubeka. (more…)