POETIC LI­CENCE

Grocott's Mail - - ARTS NEWS - HARRY OWEN

I’m writ­ing this in the beau­ti­ful vil­lage of McGre­gor, deep in the winelands of the West­ern Cape. Fine though its wines and olives un­doubt­edly are, how­ever, it is not they that have brought me here. Rather, it is po­etry.

Six years ago, a group of far-sighted in­di­vid­u­als, led by the re­mark­able Billy Kennedy, were in­spired to be­gin an an­nual fes­ti­val of po­etry which would in­volve the whole com­mu­nity and con­trib­ute some­thing spe­cial to the lit­er­ary and creative life of South Africa. By dint of Billy’s en­er­getic and charis­matic pas­sion and the lib­eral sup­port of large numbers of peo­ple, in 2013 the first McGre­gor Po­etry Fes­ti­val was held.

Nec­es­sar­ily small scale to be­gin with, it was nev­er­the­less an im­me­di­ate suc­cess – so much so that this year, its fifth, the ex­panded and re­named Po­etry in McGre­gor is al­ready a na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally re­spected high­light of the po­etry cal­en­dar.

From the start it was de­ter­mined that the po­etry and po­ets show­cased here should have a life be­yond the fes­ti­val it­self, so the equally ex­cep­tional Pa­tri­cia Schon­stein took it upon her­self to pro­duce a high-qual­ity an­nual an­thol­ogy.

Each one con­tains some su­perb po­etry, the work of both es­tab­lished and lesser known po­ets, and is pro­duced to the high­est pro­fes­sional stan­dards.

The 2016 an­thol­ogy launch took place on Satur­day and many of the po­ets rep­re­sented read some of their work at a spe­cial event in The Book Tent in the cen­tre of McGre­gor. It was a won­der­ful and up­lift­ing oc­ca­sion.

So many of the po­ems res­onated with me, but I can, alas, se­lect only one. It is by famed South African con­ser­va­tion­ist and trail­blazer Ga­leo Saintz, who works for na­ture, peace and trails in re­mote places across the world.

This poem tells of a long quest in the far west of the USA fol­low­ing in the tracks of a lone old grey wolf as it trav­els south into Cal­i­for­nia. The mes­sage is that, as ever, hu­man be­ings have much to learn from this ma­ligned yet mag­nif­i­cent an­i­mal.

To Walk in the Wake of a Wolf

To walk in the wake of a wolf is to walk into the si­lence of stealth and the feast of fear­less­ness, it is to fight for your­self and never for­get the pack.

To walk in the wake of a wolf is to know the dif­fer­ence be­tween greed and hunger, be­tween the vil­lain and the hunter, it is to taste un­for­giv­ing wild­ness and the loy­alty of kin, to breathe the spirit of a howl­ing cho­rus and to remember what it means to stand alone in the for­est and cry out.

The tracks of a wolf are the tracks of a brother wait­ing for you to find the old bond of blood in a land where ground is the only com­mon ground.

To walk in the wake of a wolf is to see your­self in the shadow of the moon as a rogue al­ways on the run, it is to know where you be­long, and to know be­fore the wind speaks where op­por­tu­nity lies, where the se­crets of sur­vival are hid­den in the night ready to re­veal them­selves only in your dreams.

It is to lis­ten to the fierce de­sire to be who you are in the world and to be it fiercely, loyal to your name and ready.

To walk in the wake of a wolf is to know the world is still wild and that you be­long in it as much as the wolf.

Ga­leo Saintz (from McGre­gor Po­etry Fes­ti­val 2016 An­thol­ogy, African Sun Press, 2017)

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