The spiritual home of poetry in South Africa is, without doubt, Temenos in the village of McGregor, where the annual Poetry in McGregor Festival takes place.
Temenos, which has a garden designed and nurtured with prayer and contemplation in mind, is the hub of the festival. The generous residents of McGregor offer their galleries, studios, recital halls, courtyards and restaurants as venues for poetry readings. The magnificent Groote Kerk also lends its ear, granting space to poets and their muses.
So it was fitting that the Intimate Launch of Absolute Africa! the fourth in the Africa! series should be held in McGregor, and equally fitting that the first person to receive a copy should be Billy Kennedy – he whose vision it was to create a festival that celebrates poets.
Those of you who watched The Game of Thrones might remember Ygritte’s memorable lines to Jon Snow: You know nothing, Jon Snow.
In my mature years, I might say this of myself: I know nothing, really, of the why and wherefore of life. Except I sense that we have an obligation to contribute toward humanity’s Greater Good, now, in these apocalyptic times.
My understanding is that we ought to contribute Light, in a metaphorical sense. Poetry could be seen to be such Light, for it is quite capable of illuminating the dark chambers of the human heart.
The Intimate Launch was attended by the small, hard-working Festival Committee who raise funds and organise this celebration of the generally-neglected poor sister of published literature.
We sat at a long table in the home of Jennifer and Martyn Johnson, spread with bowls of soup, vegetable curry, olives, cheeses, breads, dips, glacé figs and wines. I read two poems from this wonderful anthology – Goldfields 1980 by Vernon Collis and Testament by Alda Lara, (translated from the Portuguese by Marinella Garuti). The first is about going down to the depths of a mine and then coming up into the light; and the second is about deep giving.
On the way back to Cape Town, as a storm gathered, we stopped at Die Pampoenstal to buy pumpkins and dates. I read the two poems again, because there was generosity inside the padstal – it was full of home-made jams and biscuits and needlework, including lovingly knitted and very pretty coat-hanger covers. The Afrikaans-speaking ladies who served us were smiling and big-hearted. And then I had a sense of maybe I do know something about life. Life is about creativity. Life is about there being poetry everywhere. You just have to look out for it.
Absolute Africa! An anthology of poems
Selected by Patricia Schonstein
Dedicated to Margaret Evans and Ester Falconer, vocational teachers of my early childhood. From them I learnt that whatever one creates in the form of story and poem should always to be directed toward the Greater Good.
Dedicated as well to Billy Kennedy, the ‘Gardener of Temenos’, for conceiving and bringing to life the annual Poetry in McGregor festival, allowing for the celebration of poetry in its many forms, and thus directing diverse creative energies beyond the personal and indeed into the great pool of humanity’s soul.
African Sun Press