And now for something very different... Dawn Garisch and Ian Bell go to Langa to teach memoir at the Bridges for Music Academy. Ian tells the story:
"The Blues is not only an art form of African origin, but without it, there would be no jazz, no rock and roll nor a vast swathe of popular music of many genres. It also happens to have been the only means of creative expression of a people who were downtrodden and largely illiterate, capturing their own life experiences in song, a form of memoir.
I was delighted, therefore, to be invited along with Dawn, to present a memoir writing course for students at ithe Bridges for Music Academy in Langa. Dawn presented the memoir writing side of things and I gave a slide-presentation on the Story of The Blues, and also played songs on my guitar.
We were very well received and clearly, if the wonderful feedback is any measure, made a significant impact with the LRC’s message about the value of writing as regular creative practice. The students were both inspired and inspiring as they captured and shared insights into their lives. It was wonderful to witness their enthusiasm and the changes in facial expressions as their awareness grew of an ability to write their own life stories and there followed much useful discussion of the benefits.
It was a gratifying experience to hand on the baton in this way and keep alive this rich, vibrant, elemental human story; that out of hardship, cruelty and deprivation of the worst kind should come this music of transcendent beauty."
The LRC was out in force at the POETRY IN MCGREGOR festival in November. Many of the poetry events were held at Temenos - famous for their gorgeous lush gardens and equally splendid peacocks. (Did you know the collective noun for peacocks is a muster? Also an ostentation...we prefer that one :-)) The theme was "Touching The Wild" and The Life Righting Collective was represented by three different poetic happenings... Into the Wilderness; Growing Wild(er); and Wild Fruits…
So many diverse poetic themes emerged: nature, wilderness, climate, friendship and eros. A special thank you to Giles Griffin, Julia Norrish and Inge van Niekerk for the major behind-the-scenes organisation and admin involved in shepherding poets into the wild.
Although winning competitions is not the primary focus of the LRC, it is good for morale and for getting our organisation known… congratulations then to LRC members Carrie Kuhn, Giles Griffin, Heidi van Rooyen and Lise Day (who won two prizes!) for their accolades. And congratulations to ALL the LRC members who flew under our banner to promote the healing power of poetry.
All the poets who read at McGregor were self-funded. We are delighted to announce that we've begun a special Poetry Fund to raise funds specifically to bring LRC poets to McGregor. Transport and accommodation are the big expenses that not everybody's budget can manage. We'd like to give exposure to many more LRC poetic voices at McGregor. We are very grateful to the two LRC members who have individually initiated this new Poetry Fund. A big thank you for this much-needed financial assistance!
This is how it is
Not a cult
But a colorful quilt
Painted with words
Beaded in ink
This is what it is
A collection of old and new stories
Carrying special memories
Where prose and poems thread together
Captured feelings would not wither
This is why it is
Righting, its uniqueness and identity
Evoking an image of creativity
Despite the challenges
Rhythms of tales bring changes
How often do you come across a range of letters and wonder what on earth is that? No, it is not an acronym. I learnt this at the FUG only yesterday! To be an acronym it would need, like FUG, to form a word. Of course we could insert an “a” and Larc, - not quite the bird but almost, or we could insert a “u” and lurc – not quite a word but almost. Or we could leave them alone and just have fun playing with them, letter by letter.
L - is for life, love, light, laughter – all of these were there as we celebrated our annual general get-together. We sat around the circle greeting those we knew by name and those who we only just recognised from courses along the way. A smile, a face, a warm flutter of remembrance as we recalled what we had learnt and shared on that course.
R - is for right on!, restful, response, relief – Oh! There you are. I am so pleased to see you again and your heart opens up just a smidgen more. Someone else to welcome in, another heart beating in unison, another room where everything feels just right.
C – cloth,cumbersome, cheeky, chest, charm, cold, calculating, cut - there are the soft C's and the hard. One softened by the vowel or consonant with which they have linked arms. The hard C's stand aloof, uncomforted. We however, are a Collective. Together we weave the magic, the stories, the telling of how it is. We welcome in, we do not judge, we link arms and gather in. We listen to the wonderful world of another's story. We tell our own, hearing our words as they fall, comforted in the sharing.
A – Annual of course. Animated, allowing, alright, abundant – all of that flowed as we met, mingled, listened, shared and ate delicious food.
G - Great, gorgeous, gainly – surely we can have a gainly if there is an ungainly, growth – we all want that for this collective of ours. To reach out, to spread the word, gather in others as yet not part of us. Like ripples on the water we want others to feel the pull of the tide, the acceptance, the relief of knowing that out there, there is a community, a collective where one belongs.
M – Mmm! The 'M' dropped for the P of Party but who can resist mouth, mind, most, music, muse, magnificent - the sensuous pleasure of running your tongue around your lips catching the last drop of something delicious, that feeling of being well fed by food but with your mind ablaze, nerve endings tingling, every part of you alive to the creative possibilities. We not only met and mingled we -
P – partied! Profound, possibilities, particle, prefer, pretext, pleased or just “pre “ on its own. Yet it cannot stand on its own. It knows the wisdom of linking arms.
'pre' – before. So it is with the LRC – life before LRC and after! The difference, the opening up, the opening out, the recognition, the knowing that your tribe is safe and well and you belong. The way life rights itself in the collective sharing.
The day of our AGP was all of this and more. See all you 'life righters' next year and at the FUG's and courses in between!
Poets – spanning the full spectrum from self-proclaimed novices, to the published and multi-award winning – gather annually on even ground in the small, dusty town of McGregor for a festival in celebration of the true hero: Poetry.
2021 was the first time the festival was held in November and not in August, and warmer weather and longer days were especially welcomed by those eager to fit as many poetry-related events as possible into a single 72-hour weekend. The Temenos Gardens sit at the centre of the festival, and in homage to this holy grail of peace and poetry, the theme for this year’s festival was “The Garden of the Beloved”.
This theme also gave itself to the theme for the annual Poetry in McGregor competition. Over 200 entries were received across various categories, showing that poetry is indeed alive and kicking in 2021. Winners were announced at the opening event at the Temenos Library, Caritas. This Friday-evening event also served as the launch of the McGregor Poetry Festival Anthology. “Poetry should be read aloud”, LRC-founder Dawn Garisch often reminds us, “we must give it our breath” and it was a triumphantly breath-filled beginning with a variety of poems read by the authors, as well as an intimate account of the early-stage judging process: each submission read and honoured by a group of gathered poet-readers, surrounded by candlelight before the shortlisted poems are passed onto the final judges.
Julia Norrish, LRC member, was announced as the winner of the Open Adult category in English for her striking poem, “I never knew I would love”. In accepting the honour she thanked the LRC community, citing the LRC Poetry Workshop led by Dawn at the Grail Centre in Kleinmond earlier this year as the site and source of inspiration for the poem. It was written in response to the poem “Things I Didn't Know I Loved” by Nazim Hikmet. Those in attendance were absorbed by Julia’s reading of the poem that achieves what a great piece of writing does: shares that which is deeply personal in a way that feels universal and speaks to a connection between humans and words, humans and the natural world and, of course, humans and humans. What a magical start to a weekend filled with many more moments of joy to come.
Saturday morning included a workshop held by Dawn entitled “Take Root, And Wait: The Poet As Gardener - Entering the garden the garden enters us”. The condensed three-hour workshop took place at The Wisdom School: an inspiring venue on the outskirts of the town, bordering the famous McGregor Krans and housing a collection of local artistic creations in large, light-filled rooms. Here a group of poets spent the morning being still, listening, observing their inner and outer worlds, and ultimately learning how to capture something of that on the page. The theme of the workshop, “the poet as gardener”, tied in wonderfully with the festival theme and reminded all present of the importance of regular creative practice, patience, observation and nurturing our beings just as one might a plant. If we do it regularly, over time our innate creativity can’t help itself but bloom.
The delightfully-packed schedule left poets the difficult task of weighing up a book launch against an open mic; taking part in a group experimental poem or visiting the Clarke’s book tent to browse the work of attending poets and more. It simply wasn't possible to attend it all! Luckily as far as scheduling conundrums go, it’s a good problem to have and even if you found yourself not having acted quickly enough to scoop tickets to attend John Maythem's poetry-reading, you were rewarded with the free time to spend in the wonderful, peaceful gardens of Temenos, the heartspace of the festival.
Many a poet has tried to capture the essence and importance of the Temenos gardens. It is impossible not to be inspired by the garden and want to offer an ode expressing gratitude for its existence. The garden during this time of the year offers the keen observer an array of delights:
peacocks earning their reputation as proud creatures,
bougainvillea of all shades of warmth,
paradise flycatchers complete with a nest of chicks calling to be fed,
cursedly curious cats,
tealight candles and incense awaiting in tiny temples,
hidden treasures at all forms of altar,
tranquil water fountains flowing,
poems decorating the garden like Christmas,
Clemengold gin and creative energy on tap
a full moon,
lush tree canopies.
As Saturday’s sun was setting, Giles stood up to the task of herding an LRC-‘flash mob’ at the inaugural ‘Hugh Hodge’ open mic event. As poetry-sized glasses of warming sherry were graciously passed around, the poetry library provided the stage for poets who were brave enough to share their work. LRC members made quite the impression by participating en masse and prefacing their reading by proudly pledging their allegiance to the LRC. Giles’ poem “Flight Path” was honoured with an “On the spot” award, and Heidi’s poem “Eggs” was shortlisted for the Hugh Hodge Award - a new prize to honour Hugh’s passion for open mics, it is awarded to the poem that made a particular impression on the judges at each of the three open mic events held over the weekend.
On Sunday mid-morning, the heat of the weekend broke and McGregor clouded over -- perhaps also sad that the festival was coming to a close. A small LRC contingent could allegedly be seen enjoying a game of boules in the church parking lot, glasses of wine in hand (also alleged) before a final poetic lunch on the lawns under the Ash trees at Temenos to close the festival. Evidently, eccentric behavior like this is tolerated once a year by local churchgoers – all in the name of Poetry!
After too many months of dutifully gathering on Zoom and sharing Poetry in various virtual forums, the joy of being in McGregor and of sharing in the physical company of others (all COVID-protocols notwithstanding) who revere the power of the poetic word as much as each other was palpable. We’ve set the bar high now, and hope to have an even stronger cohort of LRC-poets present to enjoy the festival next year.