It was my pleasure recently to give a first reading from the Poetry in McGregor 2022 Anthology, Touching the Wild. This is in final manuscript, ready for publication and launch in late November.
The venue at which I read has hosted poetry readings for many years. It’s a convivial place for good food and drink. There’s always background noise of people enjoying themselves and this adds to the sense of ‘locale’ and ‘trattoria’. The poems are heard in the thick of things, rather than from an undisturbed stage. Sometimes the sounds from the bar eclipse a salient line or two but, even so, the essence of an evening of poetry is never lost.
On this occasion, I presented the words of twenty-one Capetonian poets to my audience of ten. Between them, the poems drew attention to the human heart’s response to all that the Earth grants us. So, there was beauty, awe, wonder, delight, and descriptions of creation’s majesty, with an underlying sense of the threat that human existence poses to the natural world.
We had just concluded the evening, and were feeling justifiably mellow and enriched, when two armed men stormed the room, waving their handguns at the still-seated audience, violating our creative space like devils.
As tends to happen in such dangerous situations, time stretched but also seemed very slow. Each of us had snap seconds in which to assess; to respond in our various ways; to memorise the unmasked faces; to shout out when the most at risk in the group was manhandled; to physically fight; to gauge whether the weapons might be toys; to sense the ever-real possibility of death by gunshot for want of a cell phone.
Later, back home, I found I could not speak. All I could say to my husband was: “Something bad happened, but no one is dead.” He made me some chamomile tea. I stayed awake all night, thinking of the power of the poems I had read; of the courage I’d witnessed; of the Angel of Death looking hard at the small audience and then tripping up the assailants so that they fell on their own miserable swords and severed what small measure of decency they may once have had.
I had closed my presentation with two ‘Woven Poems’. These are composed from lines taken from poems presented at the 2022 Festival. I share them with you together with a blessing, ‘May you be safe in these dark times.’
Woven Poem: The Bridge
There was a time when,
wild, lonely, lost and restless,
we crossed the bridge, leaving home.
Wilderness had quickened all our senses.
We tramped along the contour path,
with the waves’ constant roar enfolding us.
In your blue shirt, you turned to point out the sun,
backlighting the young blue gum saplings.
The sky has summoned me, you said,
to show the beautiful things that life has to offer.
We should listen to what’s being written by blade and blossom and stream,
look at the words that wild lavender waves in the wind,
listen to the quiet nobility of it.
Now, on this day in January,
when all is lost and Earth is no more,
I see that a banished angel huddles
under that very bridge.
My thoughts turn to the winter of life,
and the great silence that awaits us.
Already, all I can hear is the sigh of the sea.
Woven Poem: Portals
Evening floats over day, casting shade before light.
I am carrying along,
on the hidden path of the universe.
Shadows climb, and my soul wanders out into the night.
I become enmeshed in darkness.
Slowly learning to see in the dark,
I start to disappear, but then the sun creeps up,
and light floods from a hastily opened door.
Now, once again, I sit at Lear’s table,
while night air still inhabits my body.
I can’t hold this beauty on my own anymore, so
my tongue’s imagination enters your mouth.
I wish I’d told you,
that black holes are merely portals to the infinite,
but it’s not always appropriate to talk
when you start a new page of life.
The lines of “Woven Poem: The Bridge” are drawn from poems by Cheryl Traub Adler; Sally Argent; Hani du Toit; Angela Hough; Phelelani Makhanya; Kris Marais; Adré Marshall: Bothlale Matjila; Lesley Miles; Nondwe Mpuma; Bridgette Muller; Harry Owen; Douglas Reid Skinner; Layla Staegemann; Archi Swanson; Stephen Symons; Heidi van Rooyen; and Robin Winckel-Mellish.
The lines of “Woven Poem: The Portal” are drawn from poems by Michael Alfred; Eduard Burle; Jacques Coetzee; Trudie Coetzee; Lise Day; Jane De Sousa; Hani du Toit; Bronwyn Egan; Elisa Galgut; Kerry Hammerton; Angela Hough; Lara Kirsten; Joseph Koetsier; Oksana Kutsenko; Estelle Minas; and Kambani Ramano.
Image: Untitled (Blue, green and brown) by Mark Rothko. 1952