Finuala Dowling on the PEN SA Day of the Imprisoned Writer Event 2015
25 Nov 2015
By Finuala Dowling
Cape Town marked PEN’s 34th International Day of the Imprisoned Writer with a gathering of writers and songwriters at Kalk Bay Bookshop on Monday 16 November. With moving and thought-provoking readings and rousing speeches and songs, the event provided an opportunity to reflect on the importance of freedom of expression.
Three local writers – Claire Robertson, Jim Pascual Augustin and Sindiwe Magona – each had eight minutes to express their feelings in any way they chose on the theme of the evening. (Strange how unnerving such freedom can be!)
Before each free writer stepped up to the podium, Finuala Dowling described the arrest, persecution, torture and incarceration of one of their fellow writers from across the world: Raif Badawi of Saudi Arabia, Amanuel Asrat of Eritrea, Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina of Honduras, Khadija Ismayilova of Azerbaijan and Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong of Thailand.
Claire Robertson (The Spiral House, The Magistrate of Gower) read a brief extract from Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, followed by a longer piece from Robert Musil’s exquisite allegory, Flypaper. Anyone who has ever lived under a repressive regime will recognise the plight of Musil’s trapped flies:
They hold themselves upright, gathering strength and pondering their position. After a few seconds they’ve come to a tactical decision and they begin to do what they can, to buzz and try to lift themselves. They continue this frantic effort until exhaustion makes them stop. Then they take a breather and try again. But the intervals grow even longer.
Jim Pascual Agustin read seven of his prize-winning poems. These included one, ‘Goat, Rope, Rock’, which contained a poignant image of a goat tied by its foot to a rope:
But this is the goat that will not surrender
gnawing at the rope even as darkness reigns.
It will not give up while rope
taunts the limits of teeth. Even when I
am no longer by the window to witness
In a powerful speech, Sindiwe Magona – whose new novel Chasing the Tails of My Father’s Cattle has just been launched – unpacked, brick by brick, the full horror of what it means to imprison a writer.
The evening ended with student Emma Rycroft and Blacksmith band member Nielan Prinsloo singing ‘I Shall Be Released’, ‘Chimes of Freedom’ and an original composition by Prinsloo.
Several members of the audience signed up to hear more about PEN.
Photographs from the event: