Grocott's Mail - - ARTSLIFE - HARRY OWEN

A cou­ple of weeks ago, and for the third year in a row, I spent a tremen­dously en­joy­able few days at a fes­ti­val in the Western Cape winelands called Po­etry in McGre­gor. As on pre­vi­ous vis­its, it was a ver­i­ta­ble feast of po­etry, spo­ken word and mu­sic. On the Satur­day af­ter­noon, a crowd of po­etry lovers filled the McGre­gor Back­pack­ers for an open mic/open floor event called Ground­ings, based on a reg­u­lar event of the same name held in Cape Town and hosted by the ef­fer­ves­cent Roché Kester.

I was more than pleased to join this lively throng. And what an oc­ca­sion it turned out to be. The di­verse voices, styles, sub­jects, lan­guages and per­for­mances made for a truly ex­cit­ing af­ter­noon – and all of it in cel­e­bra­tion of po­etry.

Rhyme locked hands with free verse; anger rubbed shoul­ders with song; pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal themes danced along with light­hearted verse; laugh­ter and pain sat to­gether in mu­tual re­spect – and ev­ery­one left nearly two hours later feel­ing, I am cer­tain, so much bet­ter about them­selves and about the world we share with one an­other.

Near the end, as the event moved to­ward its nat­u­ral con­clu­sion, a fe­male voice from a sofa at the side of the room be­gan to speak: not a read­ing, but a dec­la­ra­tion of such pas­sion­ate power and ver­bal dex­ter­ity, such po­etry, that it filled ev­ery cor­ner of the venue. All eyes turned to­ward the speaker and ev­ery per­son there was held rapt.

Yes, it was po­lit­i­cal; yes, it was hot-blooded, fer­vent and in­censed; yes, it was a call for so­cial jus­tice from a world and a gov­ern­ment that does not speak for the ma­jor­ity – but it was no cheap rant. It was far more than that. Rather, it was a care­fully con­structed, metic­u­lously crafted and deeply com­pelling piece of spo­ken lit­er­a­ture per­formed from and with the heart. I con­sider my­self priv­i­leged to have been there to hear it, and the pro­longed ap­plause for the speaker at the end showed me I was not alone.

The poet? Vangi Gantsho, daugh­ter of the East­ern Cape and grad­u­ate of the Rhodes Univer­sity MA in Cre­ative Writ­ing. Watch out – and lis­ten – for her.

As a taster of her in­ci­sive, so­cially pen­e­trat­ing tal­ent, here are two short po­ems from the 2016 McGre­gor an­thol­ogy:


a trol­ley that strays too far from Pick n Pay may never find its way back its stick­ers will fall off the sil­ver will rust an old se­nile man will be the only one to find use for it when the wheels fall off he will wrap it with a black plas­tic bag make it home

and when he dies it will wait up­side down in a gov­ern­ment al­ley morgue un­claimed

on dy­ing

In grade one, an epilep­tic fit put me into a coma. A boy in my class told my fa­ther I was dead.

A woman in my mother’s church drives into a truck. She breaks her arm. Dies two weeks later from other wounds.

A sin­gle star leads a young man to the blade of a noose. He chokes on his blood and dies.

The first time I thought about dy­ing, I was five years old. My grand­fa­ther had a heart at­tack driv­ing back from school.

When I was twenty-two, I walked thirty min­utes to the train tracks In my py­ja­mas. A train never came.

My box smells of cheap wine and sleep­ing tears. This wind threat­ens to strip me of all my walls.

VangiGantsho (fromMcGre­gorPoetryFes­ti­val2016An­thol­ogy, AfricanSunPress,2017)

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