Babs Gons on her visit to Cape Town and participation in #cocreatePOETICA 2018 

Only when I’m standing in the middle of the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town, with the colourful Open Book Festival program in my hands, do I start to realize what an enormous festival this is. This is a place where hundreds of writers, poets, activists, dancers, playwrights and journalists come together to speak in panels, give readings, perform, have book signings and discussions with each other and the audience. 

In his open speech, one of the organizers Mervyn Sloman states that a festival of literature is a luxury. It’s true of course, the fact that we can afford to travel here, can take the time out of our schedules to discuss writings and books, afford books, and have reading time, means we are very fortunate. 

I start to challenge this notion in my head as the festival progresses. Because being here, meeting all these literature lovers, writers of different backgrounds, to hear the young generation preach, to hear the relevant discussions about intersectionality, feminism, social constructs, the use of language, identity, heritage etcetera, gives me the impression that literature and poetry is as necessary as bread and water. 

Speaking about water, it’s one of the main themes of this festival. Together with 9 other poets I’m part of a so called ‘Poetic Water Journey’. Water is a hot topic in Cape Town, as there is a severe water restriction policy going on. Showers are limited to 2 minutes and water needs to be recycled as much as possible. We are very aware of the shortage of water. On the first day of our journey we traveled to Muizenberg where a passionate ocean activist tells us about cleaning and protecting the oceans. A day later we sit in the banks of a college room at the University of the Western Cape, listening to a scientist who tells us about the use of water by agriculture, and other human activities. Following this lecture we are involved in a translation workshop with poet Antjie Krog. We translate our poems form Xhosa, to English, to Afrikaaps, to Sotho, Zulu and back. 

The following day is reserved for a trip to Devil’s Peak, where a spiritual water journey takes place. I’m not part of this element of the journey. In the mean time I attended a panel discussion about intersectional feminism with some of the greatest voices in the areas of social science and literature. 

The further the festival progresses, the more humble and grateful I become, so very grateful to be part of all of this. The days are filled with attending  performances, meeting likeminded souls, and talkings about books and writing. We close the festvial with a final performance of our Poetic Water Journey, performances of the poems we wrote inspired by are beautiful journey. It’s a beautiful conclusion to this amazing experience. Truly blessed. 

Thanks so much to the Open Book Festival, to #cocreatePOETICA, Het Letterenfonds and the Dutch Consulate. 

Here a fragment of my poem Water Makes No Sound. 

‘There are girls that flush while they’re peeing

Because they don’t want you to hear their humaness

I know mothers who cry while doing the dishes

so their husbands and children don’t hear their despair

I have heard people with broken hearts 

Cry under waterfalls for days

I’ve learnt to hold saliva silently in my mouth

So it can create a tideless sea between her and me

So she doesn’t hear the many questions

I swallow

Why is he not here? 

I swallow 

And the sea becomes wider

Where did he go?

I swallow

Sea gets bigger

Why you don’t care?

Sea now huge

Water makes no sound

It’s the sand

The land





Have you ever tried to open a door under water?

It’s like unlocking the chest full of hidden stories she holds

She makes no sound

She holds on to those stories

Drifting bloated on the surface

But I’m getting confused now

Am I talking about my mother or the sea?’


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