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Babs Gons in South Africa

A Poetic Water Journey

5 November 2018

Only when I’m standing in the middle of the Fugard Theater in Capetown, with in my hands the colourful programme of the Open Book Festival, do I start to realise what an enormous festival this is. This is a place where hundreds of writers, poets, activists, dancers, playwrights and journalists come together to give readings, do performances, book signings and have discussions with each other and the audience.

Literature: luxury or necessity?

In his open speech one of the organisers, Mervyn Sloman, states that a festival of literature is a luxury. It’s true of course. The fact that we can afford to travel here, that we can take the time out of our schedules to discuss writings and books, that we can afford books and have the time to read, means we are very fortunate.

But I seem to start to challenge this notion in my head as the festival progresses. Because being here, meeting all these literature lovers and writers from all different backgrounds, hearing the young generation preach, hearing relevant discussions about intersectionality, feminism, social constructs, the use of language, identity, heritage et cetera, gives me the impression that literature, poetry is as necessary as bread and water.

Water

Speaking about water, it’s one of the main themes of this festival. Together with nine other poets I’m part of a so called ‘Poetic Water Journey’. Water is a hot topic in Capetown, there is a severe water restriction policy. Showers are limited to 2 minutes, water needs to be recycled as much as possible. We are very aware of the shortage of water. The first day of our journey we travel to Muizenberg where we are spoken to by a passionate ocean activist who tells us about cleaning and protecting the oceans. A day later we’re seated in a classroom at the University of the Western Cape, listening to a scientist who tells us about the use of water in agriculture. Following this lecture we enroll in a translation workshop with poet Antjie Krog. We translate our poems from Xhosa, to English, to Afrikaans, to Sotho and Zulu and back.

Soms

Poem by Babs Gons, translated to Afrikaans by Adrian van Wyk

The following day is reserved for a trip to Devil’s Peak where a spiritual water journey takes place. I’m not part of this element of the journey, in the mean time I attend a panel discussion about intersectional feminism with some of the greatest voices in the areas of social science and literature.

The further the festival progresses, the more humble and grateful I become, so very grateful to be part of all of this. The days are filled with attending performances, meeting like-minded souls, talking about books and writing. We close the festival with a final performance of our Poetic Water Journey, performances of the poems we wrote inspired by our beautiful journey. It’s a beautiful ending of this amazing experience. Truly blessed.

Water Makes No Sound

More information

Being here, meeting all these literature lovers and writers from all different backgrounds, hearing the young generation preach, hearing relevant discussions about intersectionality, feminism, social constructs, the use of language, identity, heritage et cetera, gives me the impression that literature, poetry is as necessary as bread and water.

Writer

Babs Gons

(1971) is a writer, performer and theatre producer, and she has worked on a number of literary programmes and festivals. In 2007 she set up the Poetry Circle Nowhere platform with Lies Aris to bring together Dutch writing performers and performing writers. Gons can also be considered a spoken word pioneer and she regularly treads the boards herself with her own poems.

See all weblogs by Babs Gons