Ntate Keorapetse Kgositisile would have been proud of the poets who bravely shared their truth at this year’s Keorapetse Kgositsile Poetry Café held almost two weeks ago in Jozi.
The mind-blowing poetry session had poets and writers from as far as Sweden touching down on African soil, was the highlight of this year’s South African Book Fair.
Ishmael Sibiya, who I describe as the young father of poetry, produced this year’s poetry café session and together with his team curated a thought-provoking and heart-wrenching event. Sibiya is also the founder of poetry movement, Hear My Voice. I know him as a poetry advocate whose passion has afforded him the skill to organise poetry sessions that have the power to impact and change the experiences of those who might have the privilege of attending.
Vangile Gantsho doesn’t read from her hard-hitting poems which are reflective at most times, she shares her experiences. And that is what I mean by choosing the right poets to deliver what I call poetry. Sibiya has good taste in selecting the right poets. Through the poetry competitions and workshops he runs throughout the year, Wits is where (I am convinced) Sibiya gets these amazing poets
Gabi Selloane said: “Their poems leave you searching your soul.”
I guess that is why I ended up at the poetry café session, beause I was searching for some soul and truth – only poetry can give that and yes, Jazz too.
One of Gantso’s poem’s left me paralysed. She asked why women and children were not safe in present South Africa and why men were inflicting so much pain in their bodies. That made me a bit uncomfortable as a young man who has never beaten a woman before or intentionally hurt a child. But I needed to hear those questions and ask myself what have I done to prevent the continued violence on these harmless innocent bodies?
The truth was still lingering in the air.
Looking at how things are, the number of women who were read about and whose stories grabs newspaper headlines each week, I had to really ponder on why we as men are so angry. And why we take out that anger on those we should be making happy than scared.
Swedish poet and writer Jenny Hogstrom shared a story that talked to race within romantic relationships. Hogstrom interrogated the idea of an interracial couple, who seem to be happy on the outside but are fighting a quite inner war with each other.
The poem she read contrasts our different backgrounds – our clashing worlds. But because we love each other we stick together, creating an unhealthy type of a relationship which is caused by our skin colour, our privileges or lack of (depends on which side of the world you are viewing this from).
I love what poetry does – it has this ability to give a million meanings to different people, even when Gothenburg-based poet Nino Mick read some of his poems in Swedish, those in the room could understand what he was saying. The infusion of slam poetry, which was a surprise at the fair was enjoyed by fair-goers.
Just like Gantsho and Hogstrom, Upile Chisala made me think deeply about the role we as artists, storytellers have, which is to bring the truth forward. Africa is a place filled with darkness and sorrow as much as it is with joy and successful stories. US based rapper Noname described Africa as forever dying. And that for me is the truth – uncomfortable as is.
Chisala delivered some truth when reading some poems from her debut collection, Soft Magic.
Jamaican-Canadian born poet D’bi Young Anitafrika launched her new collection of poetry and interacted with some of the people who attended the fair.
The fair has been known to attract thousands of people annually with the aim of inspiring a reading South Africa. Since its inception almost 14 years ago, it takes place during the national book week-first week of September. According to Elitha van der Sandt, chief executive of the South African Book Development Council (SABDC), the Fair has been able to get more than a million new South Africans readers.