Poetic Licence


A couple of weeks ago, and for the third year in a row, I spent a tremendously enjoyable few days at a festival in the Western Cape winelands called Poetry in McGregor. As on previous visits, it was a veritable feast of poetry, spoken word and music.

On the Saturday afternoon, a crowd of poetry lovers filled the McGregor Backpackers for an open mic/open floor event called Groundings, based on a regular event of the same name held in Cape Town and hosted by the effervescent Roché Kester.

I was more than pleased to join this lively throng. And what an occasion it turned out to be. The diverse voices, styles, subjects, languages and performances made for a truly exciting afternoon – and all of it in celebration of poetry.

Rhyme locked hands with free verse; anger rubbed shoulders with song; powerful political themes danced along with lighthearted verse; laughter and pain sat together in mutual respect – and everyone left nearly two hours later feeling, I am certain, so much better about themselves and about the world we share with one another.

Near the end, as the event moved toward its natural conclusion, a female voice from a sofa at the side of the room began to speak: not a reading, but a declaration of such passionate power and verbal dexterity, such poetry, that it filled every corner of the venue. All eyes turned toward the speaker and every person there was held rapt.

Yes, it was political; yes, it was hot-blooded, fervent and incensed; yes, it was a call for social justice from a world and a government that does not speak for the majority – but it was no cheap rant. It was far more than that. Rather, it was a carefully constructed, meticulously crafted and deeply compelling piece of spoken literature performed from and with the heart. I consider myself privileged to have been there to hear it, and the prolonged applause for the speaker at the end showed me I was not alone.

The poet? Vangi Gantsho, daughter of the Eastern Cape and graduate of the Rhodes University MA in Creative Writing. Watch out – and listen – for her.

As a taster of her incisive, socially penetrating talent, here are two short poems from the 2016 McGregor anthology:


a trolley that strays too far

from Pick n Pay

may never find its way back

its stickers will fall off

the silver will rust

an old senile man will be the only one

to find use for it

when the wheels fall off

he will wrap it with a black plastic bag

make it home


and when he dies

it will wait

upside down

in a government alley morgue





on dying

In grade one, an epileptic fit put me into a coma.

A boy in my class told my father I was dead.


A woman in my mother’s church drives into a truck.

She breaks her arm. Dies two weeks later from other wounds.


A single star leads a young man to the blade of a noose.

He chokes on his blood and dies.


The first time I thought about dying, I was five years old.

My grandfather had a heart attack driving back from school.


When I was twenty-two, I walked thirty minutes to the train tracks

In my pyjamas. A train never came.


My box smells of cheap wine and sleeping tears.

This wind threatens to strip me of all my walls.


Vangi Gantsho


(from McGregor Poetry Festival 2016 Anthology, African Sun Press, 2017)

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