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McGregor Poetry Festival 2014

The McGregor Poetry Festival 2014

So much has happened in the last two weeks and notable amongst them all was my visit to the McGregor poetry festival. The festival was organised by Billy Kennedy at Temenos, an interfaith retreat centre in the town.

Temenos is an oasis in this little Karoo town. It is itself a festival of landscape, plants, flowers, water, trees, birds and a celebration of the human spirit. I love so many of its nooks, where one may sit and rest, ponder and doze, and especially the Well and the Little Way Chapel.

Hundreds of people converge on the town during the festival, to listen to poetry, converse with poets, attend workshop presentations, go on meditative walks, listen to music, read poetry in pubs and attend readings.

This year I was so busy presenting, that I missed out on so many other presentations.

My poetry workshop was held in the Little Way Chapel. Some 22 attended the event which was from 10.00 -12.30 and was billed as Conversations with the Soul through Poetry. I began by reciting The Snake by D H Lawrence, and enjoyed the rich discussion that ensued. We then allowed the poetry of T S Eliot, and Rumi to seduce us into further conversations. I love the Lady of Shalott by Tennyson and had hoped that the participant would be equally mesmerised by it, and the world of shadows, but I doubt if I convinced them. Then we rehearsed poems to read and completed a ritual of reading the poems as we stood in a circle. We finished at 1.00 pm just in time for lunch.

Here is an Eliot quote from East Coker that I seem to be using a lot lately:

Old men ought to be explorers Here or there does not matter We must be still and still moving Into another intensity For a further union, a deeper communion Through the dark cold and the empty desolation, The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

I was delighted with the turnout to the Eucharist in the Little Way Chapel. People were solidly packed in for a Eucharist that I had mostly written for the occasion. I invited people to read before we began.

Amongst the readings were The Destruction of Sennacharib by Lord Byron, Start Close In by David Whyte, St John of the Cross ( translated Roy Campbell ), and Mary Oliver. Also amongst them was my poem of praise: Benedicte South Africana

Here is the poem by John of the Cross:

St John of the Cross ( translated Roy Campbell )

Verses written after an ecstasy of high exhaltation.

I entered in, I know not where,

And I remained, though knowing naught,

Transcending knowledge with my thought.

Of when I entered I know naught,

But when I saw that I was there

(Though where I was I did not care)

Strange things I learned, with greatness fraught.

Yet what I heard I’ll not declare.

But there I stayed, though knowing naught,

Transcending knowledge with my thought.

Of peace and piety interwound

This perfect science had been wrought,

Within the solitude profound

A straight and narrow path it taught,

Such secret wisdom there I found

That there I stammered, saying naught,

But topped all knowledge with my thought.

So borne aloft, so drunken-reeling,

So rapt was I, so swept away,

Within the scope of sense or feeling

My sense of feeling could not stay.

And in my soul I felt, revealing,

A sense that, though its sense was naught,

Transcended knowledge with my thought.

The man who truly there has come

Of his own self must shed the guise;

Of all he knew before the sum.

If anyone is interested in the Eucharistic prayer which I wrote, please ask and I’ll let you have a copy.

My poetry reading was on Sunday afternoon from 1.00 -2.00 pm and was entitled Sommer a cupful of life. This is a poem about growing up in Woodstock, Cape Town in the 1960’s. It celebrates childhood and life, and has many innocent, humourous and poignant moments which engage the audience. I’m planning to publish the poem in the next few months.

I also took the opportunity to celebrate two friends of mine who died recently, both clergy in the Anglican church. The first John Oliver who died quite suddenly a year ago, and who attended the poetry festival last year. John had been a great champion of the Interfaith movement in Cape Town. He is richly remembered at Temenos: one of the meditative walks is in his honour.

The other person is Henry Frieslaar, who died quite suddenly a few month’s ago in Simon’s Town, when he grew up in the Simon’s Town dockyard and where he served the final years of his ministry. Both men were a wonderful inspiration to me and to many other people.

Here are two extracts from the poems I wrote in their honour:

Wandering Minstrel

For John Oliver

Wandering minstrel in the streets of District Six

guitar-guiding your Anglican followers

through Palm Sunday and the Passion of the Seven Steps

to place our cross above the University and the Bay

the cross of all our displacements and longings.

Our history of forgotten homes and vacant streets.

You have fathered us through the winters and summers

of our future,

your gentle voice of reason

like the Christ on the Emmaus road

interpreting our doubts

Henry Frieslaar

The blacksmith’s forge

Where Hephaestus mixed

fire and metal to run like water

through incense spitting chambers

weaving his magic into

a sword of life and death

this wonder worker

whose craft fashioned the future

of horse and sea and track

storyteller in dockyard and village



This blacksmith saw the church as his forge

who struck the anvil for his lord

the wonder-worker who weaved his magic

in town and country

the creative craftsman of Christian community

who fanned into flame

the fire of forgiveness and love


so that many of us

found faith, matured like wine

were laughed into a wholeness of being


Bob Commin

One comment on “McGregor Poetry Festival 2014

  1. Steve says:

    I never thought of McGregor as being in the Karroo!


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