Image: Stuart Paterson with Creative Writing MA students at Rhodes University, Grahamstown
Stuart A. Paterson, poet and Library Board member, has recently returned from a month in South Africa where he worked and performed with local isiXhosa praise poets, university students and schoolchildren. In our latest blog, he discusses his findings and shares a new poem.
Clanjamfrie, gallimaufry, breenge….none of these words come close to capturing the sheer scope of events I took part in during my recent time in South Africa. From township to tavern, non-matric to private school, boho bistro to outreach centre, Uni to Uhade, what began as planned programme became a singular experience of collaborative, improvisational joy.
Earlier this year, I received a grant from The Galloway Association of Glasgow, a charitable trust formed in 1791, enabling me to travel to South Africa on May 28th, where I was to be based for a month in Grahamstown, ‘The City of Poets’, Eastern Cape Province. Poet, friend and former Cheshire Laureate Harry Owen arranged a timetable of engagements forming the basis of my visit. The first of these, two days after my arrival, was as headline reader at Reddits, in Café D’Vine, Grahamstown’s long-running monthly spoken word night founded by Harry soon after his arrival in Grahamstown 12 years ago. It’s been a huge success, always selling out, always a rich cultural mix, as I happily discovered.
As a full-time writer, I carry out many workshops in schools throughout Scotland, via the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature scheme, encouraging pupils to engage in and explore their own everyday Scots language. In South Africa, I delivered a week of workshops to Year 10 and 11 pupils of St. Andrew’s College, founded in 1855 and with strong Scottish links including its own pipe band, who performed for me the day after Reddits.
After St. Andrew’s I spent a week at Rhodes University giving lectures and seminars on poetry, place and language to students on the Creative Writing MA course, encouraging poetry in English and isiXhosa. I showed my BBC film-poems and read from my own work in Scots, as well as talking about the history, literature and dialects of Scots in Ayrshire and Galloway, and the ongoing issues which minority languages face the world over.
And on June 7, I took part in the world’s first joint isiXhosa-Scots language performance, at Amazwi, the South African Museum of Literature. I performed alongside local Imbongis (praise poets) in an event organised and filmed by local newspaper Grocott’s Mail, South Africa’s oldest independent newspaper. Grocott’s is edited by Sue Maclennan whom I met at Reddits only the week before and where she immediately and unexpectedly suggested staging ‘Scots meets isiXhosa’. The film and report of this unique and exciting coming-together can be found here.
I was invited to give a talk and show film-poems to students of GADRA, Grahamstown’s re-training school. I met and engaged with local artists and craft workers in Egazini Outreach Centre. I was given a ceremonial performance and divining in Joza township, where Amagqira diviners looked into my soul while speaking to our ancestors. I was invited to and gave further readings at the ‘Village Bar and Bistro’ and ‘Round The Bend’ spoken word events in Bathurst, an ‘arts village’ full of studios and arcana near the Indian Ocean. And as a long-time fan of African music, it was an absolute delight to visit the International Library of African Music at Rhodes University and whilst there receive a personal performance of Dumisa playing the traditional Uhade.
I also wrote poems, fell in love with a Boerboel, hung out with visiting Irish poet and Blackwater Poetry Festival founder Gene Barry, watched Scotland unjustly lose out in the Women’s World Cup, strenuously avoided wall crab spiders and ate copious amounts of kudu. Most importantly, it felt like a beginning of things. Not a one-off breenge but the first step on what could be a stravaig for a wheen of us.
Ginger twitches sometimes in her sleep,
big belly undulating,
paws at work to keep up
with the trusting cat next door
that can’t believe or understand this massive
gentle hunk of animal is something less
than what she is, a Boerboel,
heart the size of Africa.
Ginger now patrols our hinterveldt,
guards the vulnerable
flock of all our memories
with tender, hellish loyalty
that sets a watch on nothing less