In the Garden of the Beloved: the theme of this year’s poetry festival in McGregor.
It was only afterwards, when I got home, fat with poetry, that I realised I’d arrived at McGregor dry-souled.
In the rose-fragrant Temenos gardens, there was beauty for the senses to feast on, every green pathway an invitation to detour from my destination and lose myself instead: cross paths with a peacock, meet a soft, grey cat, enter a tiny temple made entirely of blue and white light streaming through the stained glass walls, rest in the cool, dim-lit hush of The Well, a meditation room built around a bubbling fountain.
We were here, though, for the poetry and that offered a sensory banquet all its own. Who knew, listening to the love poetry of Malika Ndlovu, Nondwe Mpuma and Lara Kirsten – poems which spoke of tiny hairs standing on end, of mouths and tongues and dark earth and harvest – that it would have the audience sighing and whooping and clapping, unable to resist the erotic thrill that fizzed through the air at 9am on a Saturday morning.
Not only was there nourishment, there was remedy. Poetry as medicine for what ails us: our obsessive propensity for living only inside our heads.
Poetry compels our attention into our bodies, asks us to see what is invisible, feel what we don’t feel, speak the unspoken. It works on us, yielding a satisfying arrival at an inner congruence, a ‘yes’ as the words align, creating something whole, making sense in a place that doesn’t deal in logic.
At the Tebaldi’s open mic session on Saturday evening, the room was brimming with goodwill and kindness towards the 20 or so poets who read. We were all infused with a generosity of spirit – gulhartigheid, as Lara Kirsten had so passionately articulated at her earlier reading. What I liked as well was the diversity: we had readings from seasoned, published poets and those bravely reading for the first time in public. Topics ranged from encounters with snakes and raptors to profound grief and what being at home feels like, the shyness of awkward love and belly-laugh-out-loud humour. There were poems that had been written years ago, next to a poem freshly harvested that very day from the LRC’s poetry workshop run by Dawn.
Though it was quiet as each poet read, this was not a silent audience. There were murmurs, soft vibrating hums of agreement as words landed in the heart and reverberated. I want to say something about the power of reading poetry aloud – it’s through the unrepeatable yet palpable emotion carried in the human voice that the poem is brought alive inside our listening bodies.
Poems are wild creatures tamed through hard labour; dug for and unearthed, chased and wrestled with, birthed, fished out live and wriggling from deep pools. Speaking it aloud, expresses the aliveness of a poem, its own wildness, as if you’ve still got one foot on its tail to prevent it escaping. I do believe performance is poetry’s natural habitat in the wild.
We need the way poetry makes us feel.
Okay, many of us felt this in the end. If I were to complain about one thing, it would be the sheer surfeit of poetry and, honestly, how can anyone really complain about such a thing, so scratch that! I’ll say instead:
In the line of a poem by the late Candy Rohde read by her husband at the opening event, I left the festival feeling as if I were:
‘a field dipped in daisies’.
Daisies? So humdrum and commonplace! But that’s the work of poetry too… as if by magic, revealing the ordinary as ravishing.
Nina Geraghty is on the EXCO of the Life Righting Collective. She writes here in her personal capacity.