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POETRY AFRICA ’99 (article first published : 1999-05-11)

Poetry certainly proved that it is an arts discipline with a major following at last night’s opening of Poetry Africa ‘99 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.

Hosted by the Centre of the Creative Arts with generous sponsorship from local as well as overseas organisations, Poetry Africa ‘99 is now in its third year and will run until May 15 featuring a range of top South African and international poets. The evening began with Bryan Clarke leading the St Mary’s Steel Drum Band (showing improved prowess and an increased repertoire), followed by a song from Cape Town poet Loit Sôls, who is included in the Poetry Africa ’99 programme.

The evening was hosted by KZN regional manager of the SABC, writer, poet and director Khaba Mkhize who began his address by saying that he was going to `slaughter the myth that prostitution was the oldest profession in the world” by proving that “the first profession of the world was wit which makes the art and science of language”. He then decried the use of profanity and bad language in art and poetry stating that “freedom of speech didn’t mean freedom of spit and freedom of expression did not mean freedom of excrement”.

The three poets appearing last night were London-based Adrian Mitchell and South Africans Karen Press and Lesego Rampolokeng, well-chosen for their completely different styles and attitudes,

Karen Press’s gentle, humorous and contemplative short poems were a good foil for Adrian Mitchell’s more energetic and dramatic approach. Sweeping aside the lectern he proceeded to demonstrate his ability as a performance poet with pieces that strongly appealed to the emotions. Loose-limbed and cool talking Lesego Rampolokeng has a refreshing biting energy, sometimes attacking his poetry with a rapid-fire speed and fluctuating rhythm that was positively mind-blowing.

A bonus for the evening was a performance by Senegalese poet Lamine Konté on the kora, a fascinating 20-string traditional African guitar. This instrument is apparently the fore-runner of the harp and has warm deep tones, occasionally sounding like a balalaika.

The line-up for the week is as follows: May 11: Gerrit Komrij, Jack Mapanje, Nuno Júdice,and Lorna Goodison. Presenter Edward (Ted) Chamberlin and music by Shiyani Ngcobo (maskanda)

May 12: Louise Wondel, Clinton du Plessis, Jeremy Cronin and Syl Cheney-Coker. Presenter Pitika Ntuli and music by Patrick Ngcobo (Indian Karnatic singing)

May 13: Dan Wylie, Matthew Sweeney, Jacques Roubaud and Freedom Nyamubaya. Presenter Krijay Govender and music by Syd Kitchen (guitar)

May 14: Willem M Roggeman, Lamine Konté and Loit Sôls. (Lisa Combrink has had to withdraw as she has been seconded to the office of Thabo Mbeki.). Presenter Alex Sudheim with music by Nkashankasha Ngcobo (concertina)

May 15: Poets Parade with presentations from all poets and presenters. Presenter Gita Pather with music by Nomashizola and John Gcaba (one-stringed undloku) Tickets R15 (R10 students and pensioners) at the door from 18h00. Details from Clare on 260-2506/1145.


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