If memory is the weapon the words are the ammunition

2011-10-08 13:38

The Poetry Africa inter-national poetry festival, featuring 20 poets from 12 countries, enters its 15th year this week.

Hosted by University of KwaZulu-Natal’s centre for creative arts, it showcases a variety of poets to suit all tastes; from stalwarts such as Oswald Mtshali, spoken-word performers of slam and hip-hop genres, to djembe-accompanied rhythmic chanters.

Shailja Patel, an award-winning Kenyan playwright and theatre artist, also joins the line-up as the 2011 Letters to Dennis poet.

The Letters to Dennis programme was started last year as part of Poetry Africa, in honour of the late great poet and activist Dennis Brutus.

The Netherlands, Botswana, Senegal, Reunion and the UK are some of the countries whose poets will grace our shores.

Although the festival’s home is in Durban, other cities such as Cape Town, Joburg, Blantyre (Malawi) and Harare (Zimbabwe) will also play host.

Poetry has seen a resurgence in popularity over the last decade, despite established publishers’ refusal to support the genre because “it doesn’t sell”.

Of all the different kinds of writing, poetry has seen the biggest uptake by the youth, which is encouraging in the face of appalling literacy rates.

However, one of the criticisms of popular urban performance poetry is that the showmanship tends to take precedence over discipline; that today’s poets are mediocre writers who have a better stage presence than anything else.

This need not be discouraging as there are workshops that teach young poets the required skills to execute what can be a difficult undertaking – to tell a story or make a statement with an economical use of words. When done well, the result is sheer brilliance.

Many poets are social and political activists who seek justice and their work also acts as a form of protest. Acclaimed Chilean poet Raul Zurita recorded Augusto Pinochet’s tyranny against his people in Chile through his poetry and was arrested, detained and tortured for it.

 Brutus fought apartheid using his pen. Colombian poet Fernando Rendon founded the International Poetry Festival of Medillin with a team of organisers.

Today, Rendon’s festival is a weapon “against injustice and terrorism, a form of cultural resistance”.
Memory is the Weapon, memoirs by South African Don Mattera, is being released in audio this month.

Mattera is a poet whose outrage against the injustices of apartheid and colonialism received world-wide acclaim.

»?Poetry Africa begins on Tuesday in Joburg. For full listings, see page 5 of 7. For more information, visit www.cca.ukzn.ac.za

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