Melville Was Made for Poetry

Poetry, like many other things, is different in Africa than in other parts of the world.

Thumelo, a South African poet, performs today at the Sophiatown Bar & Lounge in Melville.

African poets — at least the majority of the African poets I’ve seen perform around here — don’t “read” or “recite” their poetry. They express it. The words pour/tumble/erupt/spit straight from their souls into the air around them, flooding their audiences with emotion. We do our best to catch and savor every word, but they come at us too fast. So instead of listening, we just feel.

This weekend, the Melville Poetry Festival transformed my neighborhood into one big performance venue for artists and poets. The streets became works of art. Boarded-up storefronts became exhibition spaces. Bars and restaurants became poetry stages and concert halls. All of the events were free.

These funky ads for the festival, so appropriate for Joburg, were all over Melville. The other side of the sign says “More than”.

An abandoned tennis court in Faan Smit Park became a larger-than-life poem by Hennie Meyer, written in birdseed. Ruth, who speaks Dutch, does her best to translate it from Afrikaans for me.

When I say there is street art, I mean that literally. The art is literally woven into the cracks and crevices of the street. The artist’s name is Engela van der Hoven.

Sidewalk art.

Listening to live music and poetry at a bar called TranSky.

Young South African poets of the future take advantage of an open mic at The Loft. They are giving a rousing rendition of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

I spent lots of time at the festival and enjoyed all of it. But my favorite part by far was the poetry at Sophiatown Bar & Lounge. The poets who I heard there, the majority of whom were young and black, simply blew me away. One of the performers, a woman called Nova, dissolved me into tears. I wish I could quote some of her verses — which were about love, war, politics, pain, and everything in between — but I don’t know where to find them. The words wouldn’t read the same on this blog as they sounded coming out of her mouth, anyway.

My camera lens found Nova before I even realized she was one of the poets. She has quite a presence.

Cornelius Jones, part of a group called Word N Sound, performs at Sophiatown on Saturday. (Don’t be confused by the name — the Sophiatown Bar & Lounge is actually in Melville.) Cornelius was amazing, as was Andrew Manyika, who performed before him. I was so captivated by Andrew’s poetry that I neglected to get a good photo of him.

Lesego Rampolokeng, the headline act at Sophiatown on Sunday. I don’t know how to describe this guy, other than to say he is NOT boring. If you ever get the chance to see him perform, go. Your mind and your senses will thank you.

The Melville Residents Association deserves mad props, along with all the artists, business owners, audience members, and everyone else who made this festival happen. It was the perfect event for this community, and for Joburg. It made me feel lucky and proud, once again, to be a Melvillite (Melvillian? Melviller? Mel-American? Oh, whatever. I’m glad I live here. Go Melville.)

Previous Post Next Post


  • Reply Gail Wilson October 14, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Sounds amazing, need to do a trip there sometime it’s been too long.

    • Reply 2summers October 14, 2012 at 8:56 pm

      Come anytime! And give me a buzz 🙂

  • Reply MzansiGirl October 14, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    This post really makes me miss Melville. It used to be my hood when I lived in Jozi. Loved the sense of community. Go Melville 🙂

    • Reply 2summers October 15, 2012 at 8:57 am

      Did you live in Melville? I don’t think I knew that!

      • Reply Meruschka October 15, 2012 at 9:05 am

        Yes, 4 years ago, before I moved to Pretoria. I lived more on the Meldene/ Westdene side 🙂 Always amazed by how quickyl things change. So many of the restaurants/ bars have undergone at least 2 name/ ownership changes since I lived there.

        • Reply 2summers October 15, 2012 at 9:22 am

          Indeed. There’s only one certainty in Melville — that everything is always changing.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough October 14, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Oh, Heather, this sounds like a soul building experience. I would LOVE to have been there. Nothing like poetry “readings” for me, so this sounds even better, way better!

    • Reply 2summers October 15, 2012 at 8:58 am

      Kathy, you would have loved it!

  • Reply Dienna October 14, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    Your photos and words have brought this event and this place to life for me. Truly moving.

    • Reply 2summers October 15, 2012 at 8:58 am

      Thanks very much 🙂

  • Reply Fiver October 15, 2012 at 1:01 am

    Good to see you have your camera back.
    I seem to be missing all the good stuff. Soo jealous!

    • Reply 2summers October 15, 2012 at 9:00 am

      Yeah, you would have loved this! Sorry you weren’t here.

  • Reply De Wet October 15, 2012 at 7:50 am

    I love this post and the way you express the feel, the soul, the essence of these poets and their poetry as poetry can be so pretentious. This Melville poetry seem to be the true art, though

    • Reply 2summers October 15, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Thanks. I was never much into poetry before I came here. But like many other things, I’ve grown into it in Africa. Artistic expression really takes on a new meaning here.

  • Reply eremophila October 15, 2012 at 9:26 am

    I enjoy poetry very much, and would have loved being there. Your images really convey the atmosphere, and the one of Nola is superb! You’ve come such a long way with your photography – and I can sense Jon’s influence 🙂

    • Reply 2summers October 15, 2012 at 10:07 am

      Thanks so much, that really means a lot.

  • Reply Tenney October 15, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Great post. Your words and photos made me feel like I was there.

  • Reply Jeremy Gordin October 15, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Yeah, even we old white men really enjoyed it .. and your words and pix are great ..

    • Reply 2summers October 15, 2012 at 9:23 pm

      Thanks, Jeremy. See you soon.

  • Reply claire October 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    Stirring. You bring the moment to life, Heather. Thank yoU!

  • Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: