The Life Righting Collective runs courses to encourage self-exploration through life writing, raises funds for course fees and brings people together to share their stories and grow community.
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This week, a small band of LRC members attended the McGregor Festival Weekend (23-25 August 2019). Themed The Heart of the Moon, this festival celebrated the 7th year since McGregor Poetry Festival’s inception and its survival in spite of funding constraints. We missed our ’15-strong-company-of-LRC poets-from-2018’, in part the result of the LRC’s own funding constraints, in part because we didn’t have a new anthology to launch. Next year, let’s hope we’ll have one, and a stronger presence of LRC poetry-life writers. And by the way, some of us concluded that most poetry is life-writing.

That’s not to say that the LRC was invisible though – with Dawn at the helm, and Giles Griffin and Hani du Toit by her sides, the LRC was out there celebrating our achievements and our potential. For some of us, the festival began in creative connection with Dawn’s poetry workshop - a fundraiser for the festival - which drew 20 participants, some well-established poets and a good smattering of LRC members. From the beautiful verandah of festival co-ordinator Jennifer Johnson’s home, with the sounds of peacocks, horses and bird twitter, the special value of communities gathering to write and hear each others’ work came home again. The poems ranged widely in voice and topic, and offered a remarkably sentient way to kick off the festival.

At the Connect session the following morning, the LRC was also strongly present. This poetry performance created by Dawn, Giles and Hani was a wonderful compilation of poems of ‘disconnect’, with the three presenters ‘triangulated’ across the venue, backs turned, reading their own and others’ work; then gradually they moved towards ‘connection’ in front of the audience and read a series of ‘connection’ poems. And at the end, LRC details were distributed via a pamphlet with a gift poem from Hani, and a request to sign up to the Woolworths My School fundraiser for the LRC. Naturally we were so absorbed that we forgot to take photographs!

So what else did the festival offer? To start with - a windless and sunny McGregor, a hard-to-choose-from programme of poetry from some well-established poets, some brave and new; a tantalising selection of books, mother-tongue open mike sessions, awards to young poets from nearby schools, and some adult poets who presented at last year’s festival; not forgetting the sponsorship by Clemengold  Citrus Gin which flowed freely between sessions. Some poets touched on the moon as a theme, others just used it as a springboard, but love, earth in crisis and heart were strong themes across the festival.

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Scenes from McGregor Photo credit: Hani Du Toit

And driving home, we explored possibilities for 2020, amongst them, to call for help from our membership to plan the LRC gig to McGregor early enough to make it happen, and to urge our poet-membership to keep writing - and submitting their work for a future anthology. Any offers of help to ‘Get LRC poets to McGregor’, for example, each one, sponsor one  – please contact Dawn!

And having been to the moon, Giles sent us a touch-down poem of his particular experience of the weekend. The photos tell the rest.

Back to base, to earth

After pointing to the moon

No more clear blue air.

Apprentice poet

Newly inaugurated

On festive programme.

Time gone so quick

Bitter-sweet experience

A taste of something.

Like guava crumble

From the boys at 51

Options come tumbling.

Buoyed by poet-friends

To seek out new connections

I find a ‘reader’.

Identity shifting

Poetry as mind-soul-food

Please keep feeding me.

A memoir from within Bipolar Disorder - An Unquiet Mind

Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir (subtitled of moods and madness) was first published in 1995, and yet feels like mandatory reading for anyone whose life has been affected by their own or others’ mental illness, in her case Bipolar Disorder. It is a memoir structured in four parts, from the onset of her illness in high-school, through resistance to medication and “failed” suicide, to her PhD studies in Psychology and appointment as faculty of the Psychiatry Department of UCLA and her acquired conviction of the life-saving capacities of lithium; she tells this story through her family life and career story, her loves, mental suffering and the stigma she bore from her illness, as well as its reception by researchers and health professionals.

It is her outsider reflections on insider experience which makes the memoir so extraordinary: she is frank, vulnerable, funny and always lucid, with little recourse to self-pity.  She does not dramatize her illness, but provides essential understanding of its hereditary nature, its brain physiology, the abysmal depth of her depressive events, and the seldom-named positive experiences which still managed to break through. In closing, she considers whether, given choice, but only with the benefit she has of lithium working for her, she would choose to have the illness: she resolves that she would, because “of the intensity it gives to things and the perspective it forces on me … The countless hypo-manias, and mania itself, all have brought into my life a different level of sensing and feeling and thinking”. How else could one consider this to be possible without hearing it from the pen of a survivor of bipolar disorder who at the time was Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and recipient of multiple awards? The memoir is published by Picador.

Some other great books on Bipolar Disorder can be found here: a fantastic list compiled by an online mental health startup called Choosing Therapy

lerato signing books

No one has sold as many copies of ‘This is How it is’ as Lerato Annie Lehlabathe, one of our Life Righting Collective members and a contributor to both the anthology and the LRC website. As of 6 August, Lerato has sold 46 copies! Since she brought us all to tears at our launch at The Book Lounge with her poem, ‘Mama, My Hero’, she has marketed and distributed the anthology with extraordinary energy and passion. Within days of the launch (31 May), she ordered 22 books for one of her past employers, Lauren, who was en route to the United States. Lauren had taken a short video of Lerato’s reading, and orders for the book poured in.  Here’s Lerato signing Lauren’s orders!

Next came Khayelitsha - Lerato’s home turf -  where interest was growing; as people watched the video on her mobile phone, more books were ordered. I delivered two heavy bags of anthologies to our meeting point over lunchtime; watching this slender elegant figure heaving two bulging bags of anthologies from the shopping centre in Makasa towards her home, I marvelled at her support and enthusiasm for the project. Keeping me informed of the orders and her plans to take copies to Lesotho during the school break, there was only one less than positive Whatsapp message – three photos arrived of flooding around her home, with the message ‘The rain has filled our place with water’.

But undeterred, Lerato was back on track, planning the launch in Khayelitsha, which will take place in early September. A message on 30 June followed: People love my poem – they want to organise a book launch and there are more orders, this time from the Nursery School where I worked for three months.

Later I was informed that they too would like to organise a launch soon. On 1 July, she was selling copies at her church and took a photo [see left] with the caring woman who took her in after the escape she describes in her poem.

On the 9th of July, Lerato was headed for Lesotho to see her mother and her children, taking with her 10 books.

First stop was National University of Lesotho, where she sold books, took photographs of herself in significant spots, with friends, and celebrated success with her friend Majane and Wendy Radebe, now Deputy Principal at the Millennium High School.  [see photos below] A friend from Botswana also asked for a copy to be sent. Taking our anthology across borders, this Lerato! She notes in her Whatsapp “the book is trending’.

Two more nostalgic visits followed – one to St Stephens, her high school in Mohale's Hoek in Lesotho, where she tried to meet the deputy principal, Mr Michael Fulbright “to thank him for the scholarship she was given”. He was away but she organised a donation book and inscribed it. Being the digital familiar that she is, she sent me a short video of the inscription:

"For My School.

I would like to thank my teachers for the precious gift of education. My English teachers have outdone themselves in equipping me with basic skills in writing and grammar … My journey hasn’t been an easy one in Life, but I have conquered because of the education that has been instilled in me by you, my teachers. Even though my life was full of misery but now I’m starting to smile, all is well now. … I have completed a course of writing and have now started to fulfill my dream and write my stories."

The other visit was to “a very special place - the Nts'ekhe Government hospital in the mental institution section where I was admitted in 2010, it was a touching moment”. She went with her mother and her siblings’ children.

Most importantly, in this time away, Lerato says  “I had the best time and most importantly to open up at last with my mom and tell her the story of her life. Though she cried, we comforted each other and she's proud of the woman I have become.”

All in all, Lerato is a remarkable woman, and has so far sold over 30 books and has two launches planned – well and truly our best seller!

The Life Righting Collective runs courses to encourage self-exploration through life writing, raises funds for course fees and brings people together to share their stories and grow community.
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