Justin Fox Reflects on the 2016 McGregror Poetry Festival

13 Sep 2016
Justin Fox Reflects on the 2016 McGregror Poetry Festival

By PEN SA Board Member Justin Fox

The fourth McGregror Poetry Festival took place from 26 to 28 August 2016, coordinated and run by a local team led by Billy Kennedy and Jennifer Johnson. McGregor hosts this intimate festival each year in a number of venues throughout the town, ranging from restaurants and churches, to art galleries and libraries. With the focal point at Temenos Retreat, all venues are within easy walking distance of one another and there’s a convivial and intimate atmosphere in the town.

The festival kicked off with a programme for schools on Thursday, 25 August. David Magner presented a poetry reading to a group of children at the McGregor Waldorf Primary School: classics such as ‘Jabberwocky’, ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ and ‘The Highwayman’.

This was followed up on the Friday with the festival hosting more than 700 children from local schools, including farm schools within a 20-kilometre radius of McGregor. There were puppet shows, story readings and a session in the town library with a group of volunteers who recited poetry. Older pupils were treated to a show, Ons Ko Vandaan, presented by a drama group from Wellington. To wrap up the morning, everyone gathered in the NG church for a performance of poetry and dance by McGregor’s The Next Step Dance Company and First Step Ballet.

Then it was the time for the festival proper to get under way. Dozens of poets read from their work or put on recitals of song and dance over a very creative and innovative 48 hours. One of the highlights was a young, visiting poet from the United Kingdom. Claire Trévien is the Anglo-Breton author of The Shipwrecked House (Penned in the Margins, 2013), and Astéronymes (Penned in the Margins, 2016). The Shipwrecked House was the reader’s choice in the Guardian First Book Awards and toured the UK as a one-woman show.

A number of PEN board members and authors took part in the festival. Adré Marshall and Geoff Haresnape presented a piece entitled Poems of the Third Age, in which they read a selection of their poems, which not only explored aspects of the grief and loss experienced as we grow older but also celebrated various compensations.

PEN member Patricia Schonstein was particularly busy with presentations that included the launch of the latest edition of Stanzas (the poetry quarterly that she co-edits with Douglas Reid Skinner), a session in which she looked at how she weaves poetry into her novels, as well as the launch of the third McGregor Poetry Festival Anthology, which Patricia also edits.

The festival featured poetry’s big guns and award winners, such as Kobus Moolman, Rustum Kozain, Athol Williams and James Matthews, but also new voices such as Nick Mulgrew, who presented for the first time a piece called biography, a 30-minute performance-poem interspersed with original guitar instrumentation. There were also performances by the likes of Mak Manaka, Hermien de Vos, the duo of Francois le Roux and Joke Debaere, as well as the Shaman’s Pilgrimage by television personality Ashley Dowds (which takes Pippa Skotnes’ digitized archives of the /Xam as inspiration).

This festival is growing from strength to strength and deserves the patronage of all those who love poetry. Cold starry skies, log fires and good red wine only add to the warmth of this delightful little festival.

(Image courtesy of McGregor Poetry Festival)