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POETRY AFRICA 2007 (article first published : 2007-09-9)

Twenty poets from 10 different countries will descend on Durban for an exhilarating rollercoaster of words, rhythms, and ideas at the 11th Poetry Africa international poetry festival which takes place from October 1 to 6. Hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts, Poetry Africa kicks off with a series of pre-festival performances at Flavours of Durban, a Celebrate Durban initiative, on September 29 (Main Stage – outside City Hall at 20h00) and at the Awesome Africa Music Festival at Midmar Dam on September 30. The intensive week-long programme starts with introductory performances by the full line-up of participating poets at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on opening night (October 1) and will thereafter feature five poets every evening, through to October 5, before the Festival Finale at the BAT Centre on October 6.

The eclectic mix of poetic voices, styles, forms, and cultures includes the nuanced verse of acclaimed writer, theatre and film director/producer, Nathalie Handal (France/Palestine) and the visceral power of Oni the Haitian Sensation (Canada/Haiti) whose colourful poetry focuses significantly on social concerns and sexuality. The strong musical thread in this year’s Poetry Africa incorporates the uniquely resonant voice and maloya blues of musician and poet Danyel Waro (Reunion Island) in his long-awaited first visit to South Africa, and accompanied by group members playing island percussion. With a string of poetry awards to her credit, the prolific young Korean-American Ishle, has been described as “brilliant, fiery, intelligent, raw, funny” and she too, with guitar, brings a musical approach to the performance of her poetry.

The striking line-up of participants from Africa this year includes Stanley Onjezani Kenani (Malawi) whose poetry encompasses the rhythm of African life in a mesh of metaphors, folklore and song; the popular Senegalese poet and arts activist Habib Demba Fall; and theatre practitioner Keamogetsi Joseph Molapong (Namibia), whose incisive poetry critiques the harsh inequities of post-independence Namibian society. From East Africa comes the dynamic Kenyan poet and spoken-word theatre artist, Shailja Patel, whose show Migritude has played to packed houses and standing ovations since it was launched in December 2006.

Poetry Africa this year includes a special Zimbabwean package entitled Hello Zimbabwe. This comprises the iconic performance poet Chirikure Chirikure, author of three volumes of award-winning poetry, and the beautifully voiced mbira player Chiwoniso, winner of the UNESCO Prize for Arts, and KORA Best Female Vocals of Africa Awards nominee. Completing the Zim trio is Comrade Fatso, a purveyor of “Toyi-Toyi Poetry” – urban street poetry that mixes Shona with English, mbira with hip-hop, and poetry with the struggle to survive.

The diverse array of South African poets at the core of Poetry Africa include respected poet and playwright Angifi Dladla, whose hard-hitting and complex poems have been published widely both locally and internationally, and the equally established Arja Salafranca, whose lucid poetry offers us intimate glances into intensely personal worlds. The multi-talented Napo Masheane, currently enjoying great success and acclaim with her play My Bum Is Genetic Deal with It and Haidee Kruger, a poet of startling technical ability and lyrical finesse, in addition to gracing the Poetry Africa stages, will both be launching their poetry collections at the festival. There are further launches of poetry books by Vonani Bila, Kobus Moolman and Gail Dendy.

The festival line-up also presents the evocative and provocative poetry of television writer and stage actress, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers; Danie Marais, whose stunning debut poetry collection In die buitenste ruimte (2006) has been awarded the Eugène Marais Prize, the UJ Debut Prize and the Ingrid Jonker Prize; and Durbanite Syd Kitchen, whose success as a musician should not overshadow his prowess as a poet. Kitchen published a cult-hit poetry collection in the 80s, and has “four more in the oven”.

Other Durban participants include versatile young poet and theatre actor/dancer Zorro, and Mphutlane wa Bofelo who, eschewing the American slam stylistic and thematic template, twice won Poetry Africa’s Durban Slamjam title. The festival also includes special guest appearances by poetry luminaries Dennis Brutus, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Ari Sitas, and Kobus Moolman.

Special festival components include a focus on local Durban poets and the promotion of indigenous literature. The pre-festival showcase, hosted by Gcina Mhlophe, at Flavours of Durban on September 29 includes a fantastic array of young and experienced Durban talent. Poets include Bullet, Ayanda Chamane, Baxolile Dimane, Nokulunga Dladla, Busiswa Gqulu, Syd Kitchen, Sthembiso Madlala, Mxolisi Mtshali, Sakhile Shabalala, Furrah Simbeku, Mphutlane wa Bofelo, Siphamandla Xaba and Zorro. The programme also includes Madala Kunene and Danyel Waro.

October 6 sees a full day of activities at the BAT Centre, which includes poetry workshops, open mic opportunities, a special focus on praise poetry entitled Emkhathini neziMbongi (Time Travel) choreographed by local poet Miracle, and the Durban SlamJam, all culminating with the Festival Finale on Saturday night. The Finale begins with the Durban Poetry Showcase, a collaborative platform that incorporates the talents of poets from numerous active poetry organisations in the city, including: Live Poets Society, Keen Arts, Nowadayz Poets, Young Basadzi, Poets Corner, and Pour a Tree. The upbeat SlamJam is also constructed around poets from these organisations.

Apart from the evening performances at the Sneddon and the BAT, a packed daily programme includes performances, seminars, workshops, poetry competitions, poetry in prison, and school visits. The full programme of activities, plus participant bios and photos, is available on www.cca.ukzn.ac.za Enquiries to 031 260 2506.

Poetry Africa is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), the 11th Poetry Africa festival is supported by the Department of Arts and Culture, Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS), Royal Netherlands Embassy, Stichting Doen, French Institute of South Africa, Ethekwini Municipality, and the City of Durban.




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