Last week, then Sarie Marais-Nell Needing sunshine and the writer’s muse equally urgently, he chooses his course to Wellington, to the twelfth Garden of Poets. Saam with poets and singers, as well as sculpture and instrument artists of size, she was able to enrich her spirit. And even though the sun’s rays were still giving way, she was able to return home with refilled ink in her veins.
Language lovers owe it to themselves to attend Wellington’s Garden of Poets every year; promptly every September. Turn a deaf ear to any other request, invitation, threat, deadline and conscience. Because within the twenty hours that this festival lasts, one experiences a simmering pot full of creativity – with words as a passport and sounds from the heart.
Last weekend, while poems flowed as easily as cars in the sea, I spent the whole Saturday regretting not being able to attend Friday’s opening night. Dr. Diana Ferrus (veteran poet and publisher) was honored as poet of the festival on Friday evening – shortly after her 70th birthday.
I was surprised to experience how lovers of the word could socialize with artists and this in the historic Bôrdienghuis full of atmosphere – the building and garden where Breyten Breytenbach’s parents ran a boarding house. With a focus on words that nourish and because this poets’ festival is smaller than many other festivals, never-ending rain showers pass almost unnoticed.
When festival-goers complained early in the day because Ferrus and the Mengelmoes poets made the tears flow, Ferrus’ quick answer was: “Then we succeeded – we wanted to touch your heartstrings”.
Mengelmoesdigters are a handful of ordinary people who have grown and developed as poets under Ferrus’ mentorship over the last ten years. They tell how Ferrus taught them to write from a place of authenticity, how one writes from one’s heart. The result is soul verses that are not afraid of the challenges of our day.
In an environment where Ferrus is appreciatively called Lady Di and ‘the mother of many poets’, the young poet Pieter Odendaal calls her ‘Ma’ during a group discussion. About which she later put her hand on her heart and declared how deeply it affected her.
Bernard Odendaal talks to Daniel Hugo about Verse & Chapter ll; about his love for sounds, his fear that printed poetry might not survive: “The tower is collapsing from the top down as Afrikaans teaching at universities and schools crumbles,” and “Every poet is the weaver of words – words with structure and color .”
This year’s edition of The Klyntji is festively launched, experts try to reflect on artificial intelligence and ChatGPT; emerging poets get the opportunity to read their poems, Tom Dreyer talks about Now in InfraredPieter Odendaal sheds light Degenerate, we hear poems from Ashwin Arendse and Veronique Jephta. And repeatedly the poets emphasize: Word and sound remain the core; it’s important to enjoy the support of creative friends – people who think and dream like you.
Breyten Breytenbach and Pieter Odendaal chat during an informal moment on the Bôrdienghuis’ porch. Matters of the heart, judging by their facial expressions. I am patiently waiting for a photo of this doyen of Afrikaans poetry together with the exciting young poet who combines music with his poems and thus attracts hundreds of new eyes to his writing.
Glass in hand and ready for the camera, Breytenbach refers to Odendaal as “the young ram who threatens to knock me out of the camp”.
About a compliment.
The rain is still falling and nobody gets cold, because the pizzas and coffee are running and wine is sold by the bottle. After all, Bolanders know how to mix word and grape culture with taste.
Prof. Louise Viljoen as conversation leader helps us understand how the South African Canadian dr. Klara du Plessis’s debut collection Grandpa Win a Canadian prize. An Afrikaans cover with English poems? English poems sometimes mixed with Afrikaans? Du Plessis’ latest collection of poems, G is also unique – poems where she combines sound and meaning in Afrikaans, English and Persian.
Under a budding rosebud in her hair, the gifted pianist and poet Lara Kirsten tells of her penchant for bare-ass cycling and stage performances without clothes. ‘But it’s hopelessly too cold today’, she points out between her poems.
Dominique Botha receives the Ingrid Jonker prize for “Donkerberg”; the audience is treated to Breytenbach reading his poems himself as well as Riku Lätti – the soul food just keeps getting better.
The most striking of the festival? Diana Ferrus’ humility. Plus the way musician Frazer Barry and his band, Tribal Echo, set the poems of Ferrus to music and dedicated them to her. “Her poems are easy to set, they sing well,” is Barry’s conclusion between Ferrus’ poems.
As Ferrus helps recite the last poem, Barry tells how elated Ferrus was the night before with all the flowers she received. “Just a pity Sara Baartman never got a flower, but luckily you went to get her.” (Referring to the role played by Ferrus’ poem Sara Baartman played to bring this missing person’s remains back to South Africa).
And right there Ferrus demonstrates her lessons to her students – that poems must come from the heart. When she finally sang the last verse fully and convincingly, tears rolled again:
I’m here to take you home
there where the ancient mountains call out your name!
I have prepared your bed at the foot of the mountain,
your blankets decked out in boogey and mint.
Where the proteas show off in yellow and white,
there the river sings your welcome song.
I’m here to take you home
where I will sing to you
for you have also brought peace to me;
for you have also brought us peace.
At the thirteenth Garden of Poets, I might have to go and sell snuff, because if you can’t feel the art, you’ll never mean it.