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The Poetry Africa week-long festival, from your couch

Maverick Life


The Poetry Africa week-long festival, from your couch

A general view of a mural on Albert Road in Woodstock on July 10, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa. Woodstock is considered the most densely packed urban art spot in the country. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Nasief Manie)

This year’s entire festival programme will be presented online. Here is what you need to know.

The 24th annual Poetry Africa festival, presented by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal from 12 to 17 October 2020, will be held virtually this year. You can view the festival in its entirety for free on Poetry Africa’s Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages, as well as via  Zoom. The six-day programme will be presented over three slots daily, featuring performances, competitions, book launches, seminars and workshops.

“This year has been devastating; we lost our loved ones, hope, jobs… However, we do need all things lost, restored. Through the power of poetry we aim to bring hope to the world… The lockdown has kept everyone isolated, Poetry Africa aims to bring us all together digitally and reflect on our societal ills and bring about change,” says festival curator Siphindile Hlongwa.

“Some of the highlights for this year’s festival include the opening event on Monday at 11am, where we are going to have a special keynote address by [poet and actress] Lebo Mashile, and we are proud to be the first festival to debut [poet and theater practitioner] Koleka Putuma’s latest project, ‘Collective Amnesia’ [The Audio Experience] to an audience. We will also be hosting the late poet, Mafika Gwala’s memorial lecture, and we have two cross-genre collaboration projects between poets and dancers, as well as poets and jazz artists.”

The focus of this year’s festival is “poetry as the voice of social change”.

Hlongwa elaborates: “There are so many societal ills: gender-based violence, human trafficking, poverty, corruption, body shaming, and much more. Poetry advocates for change.”

Daily proceedings

The festival kicks off at 11am and finishes at 7pm, from Monday until Saturday. Some events to look out for on the programme include the Myesha Jenkins Tribute, a Creative Writing class with author Chris Abani from Nigeria and the US, the children’s programme with the Windybrow Arts Centre.

On the final day, don’t miss the Drama For Life Theatre Company’s “My Ouma, my Gogo and the Zebra who had horns”, directed by the University of Witwatersrand’s Drama for Life art centre, Warren Nebe.

From Monday to Thursday at 7pm, the festival will also feature a four-part series titled “Poetry For Social Change”, featuring six poets presenting in each of the four sessions.

This year, expect to hear the powerful words of Safia Elhilo (US/Sudan), Nikki Giovani (US), Maria Sevilla (Catalonia) and Nnane Ntube (Cameroon). The fourth-and-final edition features an almost all-international line-up with Ostap Slyvynski (Ukraine), Lisette Ma Neza (Rwanda), Tolu Agbelusi (Nigeria), Feling Capella (Mozambique) and Poet Asa (Zimbabwe).

Poetry, slam poetry and music

Headlining South African poets include award-winning poet, playwright and theatre director Koleka Putuma, 2019 Poetry Africa Slam Jam winner Tory Saint, actor, writer and performer Nomakhwezi Becker, Menzi Sibiya and poet, writer and singer Natalia Molebatsi.

Some of the artists on the music line-up include jazz musician Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane, vocalists Senzo Gumede and Mandisa Cebekhulu, indie R&B artists The Acoustiq Assassins and iscathamiya artist, Zoliswa Mchunu.

“This year we have partnered with Hear My Voice to deliver the slam poetry competition on an online platform, the winner stands a chance to walk away with R 10,000 cash prize,” says Hlongwa.

The Open Mic sessions taking place from Tuesday to Thursday, from 12:00 till 12:30pm, will also have a cash prize winner.

“This is one of the popular slots in the festival, we have invited poets to submit their recorded original poems to the festival and stand a chance to win cash prizes. The top three winners will receive R2,000, R1,500, R1,000, respectively,” says Hlongwa. DM/ ML


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