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I spent last weekend surrounded by poetry, by poets and poetry lovers – a rare and special delight. The occasion is called Poetry in McGregor and is set in the beautiful wine lands of the Western Cape, in the village of McGregor, said to be ‘on the road to nowhere’ because its main street stops at the mountain and goes no further.
The voices heard here are rich, vibrant and varied, often deeply moving, and Grahamstown was well represented with local poets such as Vangi Gantsho, Dan Wylie and Andrew Renard, as well as UK poet Claire Trévien who read in Grahamstown just a few days earlier.
So many excellent things happened that it was impossible to attend every event – a good enough reason, I suppose, to go back again next year!
One event that I did attend was the launch of the McGregor 2015 anthology, a lovely book containing some superb poetry from last year’s festival, and in it I found a poem that says so much of what I believe the best poetry is good at: the celebration of what it means to be truly human.
It is by Cape Town poet Khadija Tracey Heeger and I offer it as a taste of the gems that McGregor showcases. If this is what ‘being on the road to nowhere’ means then I’m happy to be standing still.
When they come to ask me who these people are
The ones whose roots lie fibrous and convoluted beneath the surface
These people whose histories fall untidy onto pages
These people whose histories fall off pages
out of memory into ectoplasm
I will tell them your name, and yours and yours
I will say your name so loud the earth will split her tidy lips
And the sky will fracture her seams
I will scream you up into each crevice
so blush of you falls on all that is breathing
On all that is holy
I will say he was here, and she was here, and he was here
Once January, once February, van de Caeb and van Bengal
I will take my sinewy tongue and spell your true names
on the rapture of my skin
I will write you a proud voice in the hearts of babes,
on the walls of caves
I will name your presence
Speak the music of your births, your deaths, your desires
I will play it out across the arteries of time
and make you a monument beyond any stone or wood
When they come to ask me who these people are
I will say
These people are my people
They are your people
They are all people
In One people
This is my blood narrative to you.
Khadija Tracey Heeger
(From McGregor Poetry Festival 2015 Anthology, African Sun Press, 2016)
Voices on Fire! What a wonderful feast of expressivity that was - and such lovely people. And not only the poets ... all the organisers and workers were charming and friendly. Thank you.
From Mike and Jo
Than you for hosting such a marvellous event.
This was the first time ever ,and I’ll be back again.
Thank you to your team, for a wonderful festival. I think it was a roaring success, and I would love to return. It’s small, intense and vibrant.
Thanks very much! And it was great to present -- we enjoyed our interaction with the audience. I also enjoyed the open mic events where I read poetry and met other poets.
Frank Meintjies (Three-peace)
Thank you for making such a magical weekend in McGregor possible
Love from Flora Barrow (Flora’s Eating House and Gallery)
Once again we had a magical weekend in McGregor, it was such a pleasure to perform at the festival. Thank you for running everything so smoothly, we felt so welcome!
All the best
It was an absolute pleasure to be involved in the wonderfully stimulating "Voices on Fire" Poetry Festival. Li and are are "fired up" and we would love to assist you in next year's event - so put our names down!
You all deserve a massive pat on the back!
Margie and Li Deegan
Thank you so so much the opportunity to firstly hear such an inspiring weekend of words + good energy. And secondly to have the various open mic sessions as a vehicle to hear myself finally say my bit in public!
Hierdie Damphitheatre venue is unbelievable cute. So magical. Ek dink creativity hang in die trosse in die tuin en word gehoor in die voetstappe op die verouderde perskepitte.
I did enjoy Graham Dukas’s reading and will look forward to next year’s festival.
From what I saw, the committee did an excellent job and I think McGregor owes you all sincere thanks.
Can you be granted the Freedom of the Village, I wonder?
It was a pleasure hosting Rustum Kozain and Hetta and we’ll gladly do so again next year!.
A belated congratulations to you and your hard working committee for making this event such a success, as well as an amazing asset for McGregor – you certainly seem to have the formula well-waxed!!
Jeremy & Heidi
Thank you so much! It was a wonderful event, yet again. Looking forward to next year.
Attached find an article I've written for PEN.
McGregor Poetry Festival 2016, for PEN
By Justin Fox
The fourth McGregror Poetry Festival took place from 26 to 28 August 2016, coordinated and run by a local team led by Billy Kennedy and Jennifer Johnson. McGregor hosts this intimate festival each year in a number of venues throughout the town, ranging from restaurants and churches, to art galleries and libraries. With the focal point at Temenos Retreat, all venues are within easy walking distance of one another and there’s a convivial and intimate atmosphere in the town.
The festival kicked off with a programme for schools on Thursday, 25 August. David Magner presented a poetry reading to a group of children at the McGregor Waldorf Primary School: classics such as ‘Jabberwocky’, ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ and ‘The Highwayman’.
This was followed up on the Friday with the festival hosting more than 700 children from local schools, including farm schools within a 20-kilometre radius of McGregor. There were puppet shows, story readings and a session in the town library with a group of volunteers who recited poetry. Older pupils were treated to a show, Ons Ko Vandaan, presented by a drama group from Wellington. To wrap up the morning, everyone gathered in the NG church for a performance of poetry and dance by McGregor’s The Next Step Dance Company and First Step Ballet.
Then it was the time for the festival proper to get under way. Dozens of poets read from their work or put on recitals of song and dance over a very creative and innovative 48 hours. One of the highlights was a young, visiting poet from the United Kingdom. Claire Trévien is the Anglo-Breton author of The Shipwrecked House (Penned in the Margins, 2013), and Astéronymes (Penned in the Margins, 2016). The Shipwrecked House was the reader’s choice in the Guardian First Book Awards and toured the UK as a one-woman show.
A number of PEN board members and authors took part in the festival. Adré Marshall and Geoff Haresnape presented a piece entitled Poems of the Third Age, in which they read a selection of their poems, which not only explored aspects of the grief and loss experienced as we grow older but also celebrated various compensations.
PEN member Patricia Schonstein was particularly busy with presentations that included the launch of the latest edition of Stanzas (the poetry quarterly that she co-edits with Douglas Reid Skinner), a session in which she looked at how she weaves poetry into her novels, as well as the launch of the third McGregor Poetry Festival Anthology, which Patricia also edits.
The festival featured poetry’s big guns and award winners, such as Kobus Moolman, Rustum Kozain, Athol Williams and James Matthews, but also new voices such as Nick Mulgrew, who presented for the first time a piece called biography, a 30-minute performance-poem interspersed with original guitar instrumentation. There were also performances by the likes of Mak Manaka, Hermien de Vos, the duo of Francois le Roux and Joke Debaere, as well as the Shaman’s Pilgrimage by television personality Ashley Dowds (which takes Pippa Skotnes’ digitized archives of the /Xam as inspiration).
This festival is growing from strength to strength and deserves the patronage of all those who love poetry. Cold starry skies, log fires and good red wine only add to the warmth of this delightful little festival.
Francois and Joke
Thanks again for inviting me...it was special!
Well done to all of you on an excellent event!
I hope you have had some good rest after the w~h~i~r~l~w~i~n~d of the festival.
I just want to take a moment to specially thank you for the time you spent to come to my events and the crazy little shoot in the dusty road ~*~
AND I really appreciate and cherish your warming feedback you gave me after my performance.
I have had a wonderful trip after we left McGregor.. concerts have been going really well. and now to reflect back on the Poetry Festival. so much gratitude for all the joy and beauty. ooi.. my heart is full so full.
Well done to you Jennifer and all the organisers.
It was a wonderful privilege to take part.
Thank you and everyone who assisted and volunteered in making the McGregor Poetry festival so special. You all put in an enormous amount of work to ensure that things went smoothly. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and hope to be back next year. Thanks again for putting so much time and energy into poetry!
All the best
I just wanted to say a huge thank you to you and your team for the wonderful poetry festivities and all the energy, love and effort it took to pull it together. It was my second visit and first time as a participant and it was a wonderful experience. I met so many lovely people, reconnected with some old poet friends, and most of all enjoyed meeting all the McGregor-ites again and building new friendships. What a gift for someone like myself who is largely in the home with small children, to go away to something like this and have my creative soul fed and have grown-up conversations. It is also just such a warm, supportive and enthusiastic audience to perform to! A safe space for voices new and old to emerge and be heard and appreciated.
Anyway, thank you once again for a fabulous Poetry Happening! I look forward to returning many times.
Dear McGregor poetry
What a magnificent Voices on Fire!!
Dear Festival Committee,
What a lovely weekend that was! I would like to thank you and all involved, with making Poetry in McGregor possible. Not only possible, but well-organised and delightful.
I want to mention Madie here. She was friendly, helpful and efficient every time I spoke to her on the phone or in person and when I saw her briefly on Sunday, she was STILL smiling. Please share with her.
I think we surprised ourselves and were very relieved to experience the positive feedback from the audience.
With a heartfelt thank you,
Dear Jenny / Billy and the entire Poetry Festival Committee,
Chris and I would like to congratulate you on this past weekends’ festival. I think this was one of the very best attended festivals I have EVER seen in McGregor and to top it all probably overall the most successful festival in McGregor.
To the entire team and organisers – well done and congratulations – and the most important – A WARM THANK YOU from us.
Chris and Nicolaas
Old Village Lodge
I just want to express my thanks for everything this past weekend: being invited, your forbearance with my slow emails, placing my partner and me with most excellent, gracious and generous hosts.
I realise it's a difficult task putting on a festival, and doing so without adequate funding and sponsorship, so, from one participant: It is greatly appreciated.
Please pass on my wishes and gratitude also to Billy and to the rest of the festival team.
Hi Festival Team,
Hope the festival ended on a high and that you're now having a restful time after all the crazy poets have left.
I just wanted to send you a note to thank you for everything you did for us and everyone during the McGregor Poetry Festival weekend. Thank you for your endless kindness and grace, and for being such wonderful hosts. The festival was nothing short of magical.
We will definitely return next year.
With Warm Regards,
Dear Colleague Poets and Admirers of The Riches of the 4th McGregor Poetry Festival,
What a great experience it was. The after flow will inspire us for another year.
Find the promised set of links about Ukrainian and Russian Art in the link. Feel free to share it with others.
I had many uplifting responses to my presentation. I hope that it will inspire many people to inject life into the dialogue of peace in the Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
Through BRICS we in South Africa could do more to establish positive links, away from the conflict that is strongly dominated by aggressive politics and military interest.
In the link you will also find the two poems I wrote myself.
The first one is an elegy, to honour the victims of Flight MH17shot down on 17 July 2014 over the Eastern Ukraine near Donetsk.
The second poem is a response to Anastasia Dmitruk's poem 'Never will we be brothers'.
Let us continue the conversation.
With warm regards
Dear McGregor Poetry team
Just a quick email to say how much I loved the festival! And thank you for inviting me.
There was just say a beautiful spirit pervading the weekend.
And the poetry was of a top top quality!
Julia loved it too.
All the best. And strength to you all and blessings!
Dear Festival Team
The members of Pleached Poetry would like to thank you and your team for all the hard work you put in to make this past weekend memorable.
We all enjoyed ourselves a great deal and were happy that we had a good response to our How to Hone a Poem session. It was also wonderful being able to spend so much of our time in the lovely gardens at Temenos. The weather played its part as well!
I hope that you are all having a well-deserved break knowing that your devotion to poets and their poetry is highly appreciated.
Pam Newham, Angela Prew; Annette Snyckers; Cornelia Rohde; Elaine Edwards; Elizabeth Trew; Lise Day; Michael Keeling
Dear Festival Team
Thanks to each of you for this wonderful 2016 Festival.
Every moment felt rich, in every sense, and I came away feeling deepened.
Poets were so generous with their words, their inner-searchings and understandings. So much was shared. The ground was fertile. The atmosphere was at times pensive, at other times, jubilant.
All in all, it was a magnificent show of this evocative genre.
I very much look forward to Festival 2017, whether it will be
‘Ten-poets-and-no-money’ or ‘Full-funding-with-one-hundred-poets’.
Dear Festival Team
A HUGE thank you for a wonderful weekend of poetry.
With love and appreciation for the enormous amount of work it must have been for you all.
Dear festival team
Congratulations on organizing such a memorably successful poetry festival. It must have taken a great deal of work to get everything running so smoothly, and what a wonderful ambience you created! Even the weather gods played along this time, with balmy days adding to the delight of being in that magical place. Geoff and I felt privileged to be participants.
With warm regards and thanks