Local artists on overseas tour

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Graphic-artist Julia Skeen-Mann and husband poet and singer song-writer Chris Mann recently presented their unique image, text and music performances in the UK.

Drawing on experiences of ‘living in the hinterlands’, and basing their work on Epiphanies, a recent book of poems by Chris, they performed to church and university audiences in Oxford, Cambridge, Winchester and Coventry.

‘One of our themes,’ said Chris, ‘is reverse colonialism, whereby we push values and strategies learned from indigenous culture and harsh socio-political realities. We use open access forms such as the ballad and critical realism. Here’s an example.’

Small Town Spring-time Berg-wind Blues

Sleepless in the dark hours, I stumbled outside,
Heard a siren wailing, thought somebody cried,
Hot wind from the mountains, huge bright starry sky,
Some nights I can’t sleep for asking, Why, why, why?
Backveld talk that evening, business closing down,
Girl raped in a tavern, pipe-leaks underground,
Donkeys grazing litter, honking at the sky,
Some nights I can’t sleep for asking, Why, why, why?

Sat down in the gutter, thought about the past,
Thought about the future, how long would it last,
Beggar searching trash-bins, street-child running by,
Some nights I can’t sleep for asking, Why, why, why?

Same news on the radio – brawls in parliament,
Rich folk high on money, poor on entitlement,
Crook-eyed politicians, coal fumes killing air,
Some nights I can’t sleep for asking, Where to from here?
I’ve worked with broken people, earned some dirty looks,
Worked with pick and shovel, read some heavy books,
Met some honest buskers, some who rapped a lie,
Said they knew the answers, said they knew the why.

Smelt a whiff of jasmine drifting down the street,
Thought I’d write a love-poem, wash my lady’s feet,
Strange and lovely things make calloused feelings cry,
Some nights I can’t sleep for asking, Why, why, why?
Thought I saw sweet Jesus down an alleyway,
Breaking bread with beggars made me want to pray,
Hot wind full of stardust, star-cross in the sky,
Some nights I can’t sleep for asking, Why, why, why?

Oh strange and lovely things help backveld souls survive,
Strange and lovely things keep hope and love alive,
Hot wind from the mountains, huge bright starry sky,
Some nights I can’t sleep for asking, Why, why, why?

Chris ‘Zithulele’ Mann is emeritus professor of poetry, Institute for the Study of English, Rhodes. He and Julia Skeen-Mann are honorary artists-in-residence at the cathedral.

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