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.

Poetry in McGregor 2021

LRC Writer

Written by Julia Norrish and Inge Van Niekerk

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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.

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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,
conversational trees,
cursedly curious cats,
tealight candles and incense awaiting in tiny temples,
hidden treasures at all forms of altar,
ambivalent cats,
tranquil water fountains flowing,
poems decorating the garden like Christmas,
crunching gravel,
warm laughter,
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.

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