08 October 2009

poetry africa 2009, (my) day two, durban

Right into the readings tonight; no mucking about with book launches or ancillary events.

Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre
University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College Campus
Day 4 of Poetry Africa 2009 (Thursday, October 8)

Running a little behind and literally running up the hill to the UKZN campus. Made it in time, though, as the program is starting late. Not sure that I want to be doing this -- being here, yes, listening; but writing? I'm still a little weary and perhaps have little sense of what I can (or hope to) accomplish here.

7:44 pm -- The program starts with Outspoken is "the dictator of the evening. Yes, I am from Zimbabwe, but that has nothing to do with it." And off he goes, riffing on Mugabe throughout…

"There are no up and coming poets," Outspoken asserts. And he nails it. So very obvious but I haven't been able to belch it up on my own to this point. No, we're all just working poets.

7:51 pm -- Nokulunga Dladla, a young woman, one of Durban's Showcase Poets, spins off on "Lies my teacher told me" and naming and "paradigm" and drowning in "European culture" and identity...

7:56 pm -- Phephelani Zondi, another Showcase Poet, and a young man of style and rapid fire delivery.

Both Dladla and Zondi are mixing Zulu and English -- in long stretches and not just sprinkling words here and there, of either in the other…
As if being punished for my ambivalence… my keyboard and mouse freeze up and I lose most of the early Tania Tomé -- of her at the piano, singing, moving, full body poetry; in Portuguese, her words splashed on the screen in English translation -- I can’t possibly process it all; and that first of her's was a poem about poetry, lines about rhyme and rhythm, in the upper register of poetic discourse (yes, it had that sort of flavor, the translation did at least) -- and I was thoroughly disconnected through my own ignorance of Portuguese and by the fact that I have only two eyes and they travel as a set...
Around 8:01 pm was when Tania Tomé stepped onto the stage.

8:22 pm -- Nina Kibuanda from the DRC (via Paris). Nina has a simultaneous translator… This is new…

Starts with "The Need to Write"

The translation is of his banter, his conversation with us; the poems are projected in translation -- not quite as distracting because… I can understand a little French, a little better?

"The Stranger"

These are very much dramatic readings -- less-so "spoken word"; though I’m not sure I could formalize the difference. But he is acting out his poetry, and building on it; not slamming it, not throwing it out there.
Interestingly, the news clippings posted in the theater lobby, that I discover and scan during the upcoming intermission, characterize him as a "comedian-slammer" and former rapper. And yet his work is more formal, more traditional in many respects, than the slammers that have come across the stage; and the work itself far less comical than... Loftus Marais' from last night, for instance...
Brings up both Tania Tomé and Jennifer Ferguson on two different poems. I've been wishing throughout that I was a faster typist or had a better memory, so that I could capture more of the lines, the better lines; I'll not pretend to be able to channel the performances.

Closes with the line "we will be back with words" (not weapons) -- strongest, fullest poet and performer of the night. Outstanding. And yet so much is wrapped up in the performance of it -- to pull the two apart and rely on the page alone after tonight? Hmmm…

8:54 pm -- Onto our break, or intermission, or rest. Not sure which tonight.

9:17 pm -- We begin again… A larger crowd tonight, for sure, and skewing a little older.

9:23 pm -- Ewok, "the fire spitter" (a turn of phrase Ewok broke out last night)… Starts much more subdued than his emceeing last night.

The guy's got some crazy talent. I don't really know how to write about it… "So much to be said," he segues from one to another of his poems, just in talking to us -- and I think this is where it comes from: so much to be said, running, chasing… not really chasing but running into... a pool, a pile, a mountain; though it seems, rather, to me, for me -- in me?? -- that the words are plunging over an edge and down, down, down…

Profoundly political and yet swallowed by this yawning chasm. Is it in me or in the poetry/performance? It's not a chasm of lack but of… darkness? Dark rage, righteous though it may be?
If I wanted to formalize it, make it something more akin to an academic exercise, I'd point out that Ewok's slamming, all the slam poets I've heard, deploy all the methods and tools of oral story-telling I learned in their purest form -- rhythm, repetition, built brick by brick, cycling round and on, hooks and ladders -- it feels almost stripped of ornament, distilled.
9:51 pm -- Lesego Rampolokeng: "I’m sick of poetry," as he drops his books to the floor. Damn, he's bouncing all over the place. Reading from a theater piece to start, hating "the black diddle class."

But he does reach down and pick up one of his books to read from…

Sound just washing through the theater; I cannot even begin to keep up, just grab a word, a phrase, and puzzle together what's just broken over me, in front of me. Like watching Shakespeare on stage as a child -- took away something, knew when to laugh and when to wait, anxious, but could never have told anyone a single thing about it. How does a rapid tongue tie mine?

"You premature ejaculate on the first line…"

10:14 pm -- And a wrap on my day two.

I returned to my room profoundly depressed by the evening. Much, I am sure, has to do with my own dislocation. But there was such anger -- justified to be sure, well-structured, wonderfully performed, compelling and even entertaining -- but such pervasive, powerful anger, that I left the theater depressed and... angry myself, with no sense that I had anything I could do with it.

And that has proven most distressing.

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