Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Ansa Smit and the McGregor Poetry Festival

I will always remember the first time that I rolled into McGregor Village. It was 4:42 am on a cold winter’s morning in July 2013. I cannot remember what day of the month it was because days blurred into one. Days consisted of riding my mountain bike, carrying my bike on my back - up some unforgiving mountain, eating and sleeping. On this adventurous journey, there were many moments of astonishment - for the natural world, the vast spaciousness, for friendships made with other riders and for the open-hearted people that live in this beautiful, diverse country. There were tears of fear - fighting within not to give up but mostly, there was laughter. Plenty of laughter. McGregor was one of the villages we passed through on the annual event called The Freedom Challenge - the Race Across South Africa. In short – you ride, hike, crawl and roll from Pietermaritzburg to Cape Town via the most remote and spectacular route. You have 26 days to complete this non-stop race of 2300km. No technology allowed, you have to navigate compass style and be completely self supportive. You have your maps, all your gear on your back, hopefully a sense of humour, a good dose of passion for your own insanity and bum cream. Lots of bum cream.
I vividly remember pedalling through McGregor’s short main street. There was something particular about this village that I could not put my gloved finger on. It was different and I like different - a warmth. Welcoming verandas. McGregor stimulated my imagination and I would even go as far as to say that I felt a beckoning. The route takes you through the village, then up and then up some more on a gravel road before we turn right, to follow electrical lines to get to our next stop - Trout Haven Farm outside Rawsonville. We left Montague early that morning – eyes and hearts set on getting home – we were so close to the finish line and we were racing to try and beat a storm pulling in. At some point, not too far outside the village, we stopped to eat breakfast next to the road. The sun was coming up and I could see the village nestled in the bottom, covered in mist – only the church tower sticking out. Magical. Surreal. Little did I know that I would return. 

Following the crumbs of my longing, I returned to McGregor about a year later. This time - no bike. No gear. Only myself. I was still yearning for something which I could not name. Much to my surprise, an even more challenging pilgrimage unfolded – the journey of navigating the valleys and mountaintops of my inner world. Looking back, I realise I was aching for silence and balance and for the need to cultivate simplicity and stillness into my life. The obsessively busy mechanical world overwhelmed me and I was becoming severely disconnected from my source of creativity and nurturance. An overgrown path appeared and I blindly followed. Eventually, I did find a lamp in my darkness. I arrived at the dream fields of Temenos, the heart of McGregor. Resting in their garden, I discovered these shimmering words in a little book saying:

Temenos, Temore and the Treasure
In the heart of a small country village
lies a garden that is more than a garden,
dreamed into being by a gardener who is more than a gardener,
whose eyes and heart sees the hidden treasure
in all things and beings,
and brings the inner beauty to light.

It felt like coming home – a sense of belonging. I did find silence and I rediscovered the gift of poetry. Rekindling the old flame.
Poetry has the ability to penetrate past the ego and thinking mind and straight into the soul. That is why it often stirs us deeply; reawakening parts we did not know are asleep.


In the silence that follows
a great line
you can feel Lazarus
deep inside
even the laziest, most deathly afraid
part of you,
lift up his hands and walk toward the light.
David Whyte – The Lightest Touch.

We can try to grasp and analyse poetry with our logical minds but by doing only that, we cut ourselves off from one of the greatest sources of nourishment.  There is also the invitation to feel poetry come alive within your own flesh. To allow your entire body to become an ear – to soften and receive words, the lines, the substance within. Poetry lives in the body like music. We come to embody poetry - be it heavy, light, humorous or mystical. Like myths and stories, music and art – poetry delves into the collective and individual underworld. Often, we do not even know we need poetry until we hear those lines - until a poem slices through the topside world, down into the flesh and bone of being human.
Unbeknown to me, these two aspects of my life would combine - McGregor and Poetry. The journey unfolded in an unexpected way - introducing The McGregor Poetry Festival. Unaware, the village of McGregor are lovers of poetry. Billy Kennedy had a dream – to host a Poetry Festival and to welcome all lovers of all things poetic - a weekend to indulge and nourish. That year, the village hosted its’ first McGregor Poetry Festival.  Everyone was and still is involved, the whole community. I received an invitation to present my Weaving Word with Sound at the festival and what a heartening gift that was to me.
I labour my creative life in isolation. It is the fertile soil where I explore that which wants to immerge.  A time to pay attention to the world outside and equally essential, within. Yet our lives, like the seasons, moves in cycles. The great path of spirals. The Poetry Festival creates a welcoming and supportive platform for poets to share their craft – ears that are willing to receive, celebrate, contemplate and indulge. The programme is a spread of various poets, presentations and topics – literally something for every mood. Listening to the poets is one of my highlights, I try to go to as many readings as possible – leaving the festival saturated in creative stimulation. Inspired, I return home to reflect and digest everything given and received. In a world starved for soul, where most of us are constantly rushing around attaining some goal – poetry and a festival to nurture poetry  is something to be treasured. May we cultivate the poetic in our lives and in our world, giving sustenance to many a hungry heart.

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?


Book of Hours, I 2
Rainer Maria Rilke.

Weaving Word with Sound by Ansa Smit. www.ansasmit.com
Experience poetry at the McGregor Poetry Festival:
Read about the Freedom Challenge, Race Across South Africa: