The AVBOB poetry competition is a smart way to pay it forward in a country where words help to heal the past as well as celebrate hope. DIANE DE BEER celebrates the way the company has opted to play its part:
If you think of projects companies could back to boost their philanthropic profile, poetry doesn’t immediately come to mind. But that’s exactly the route AVBOB, the funeral company, selected.
The link, of course, is the words. What do people need when attending a funeral or dealing with relatives or friends who have lost someone? And that’s what they have so cleverly done – while casting a wide net.
Not only did they decide to spotlight poetry, they also chose to feature all South Africa’s 11 languages in the process. What they have achieved even more smartly is to pay attention to the small stuff and to get it right.
It’s no small challenge to run a national poetry competition in 11 languages. And to then select 11 winners, one for each official language. Once these are selected, all the poems are translated and each year a poetry anthology is published to further celebrate the poems, and in the bigger picture, poetry as a whole.
Eleven talented poets were announced as the overall winners of the 2022 AVBOB Poetry Competition at a gala prize-giving at the Pretoria Country Club at the end of last month. The evening was a glorious celebration of the power of poetry to bring people together, to build community, and to offer uplifting words in times of loss.
AVBOB CEO Carl van der Riet in his keynote address described poetry as an art that has a unique ability to bypass the rational mind and logical intellectual process and to speak directly to the heart.
“We have a rich heritage of poetry in South Africa. So, as we each observe Heritage Day on 24 September, I would like to encourage all of us to also remember this unique part of our heritage which has served as such a beacon of hope and inspiration for people.”
Each winner received a prize which included R10 000 cash, a R2 500 book voucher, and an elegant trophy. Each guest also received a copy of the annual anthology containing the winning poems, I wish I’d said… Vol. 5, which was launched at the event.
Van der Riet explained, “The support of mother-tongue voices has been a primary aim of the AVBOB Poetry Project since the very beginning and so the editors were encouraged that 65% of all poems entered were written in South Africa’s vernacular languages.” He further noted that the AVBOB Poetry Library now contains over 17 000 poems, each of which earned the poet a usage fee of R300. That amounts to over R5.2m spent on building a cultural repository of poems available to those who need words of comfort and consolation.
The top six poems in each language appear in the anthology accompanied by an English translation. A selection of commissioned poems and four Khoisan poems from the Bleek and Lloyd collection round out the anthology. This comprehensive collection was compiled by the editor-in-chief of the AVBOB Poetry Competition, Johann De Lange, and the esteemed Xitsonga academic, literary translator and founding chair of the PAN South African Language Board, Professor Nxalati CP Golele.
De Lange said, “Poetry bears witness to our lives, our loves and our losses. It helps us traverse major transitions, giving us the words to name the feelings and to tame the emotions. It helps us to fathom what we must live for, define what we must protect, and focus on what we must promote in a changing world.”
Viewers around the country participated simultaneously via livestream on AVBOB Poetry’s social media channels.
The 2022 AVBOB Poetry Prize winners are: Clinton V. du Plessis (Afrikaans), Letitia Matthews (English), Nkosinathi Mduduzi Jiyana (isiNdebele), Sipho Kekezwa (isiXhosa), Nomkelemane Langa (isiZulu), Pabalelo Maphutha (Sepedi), Kgobani Mohapi (Sesotho), Molebatsi Joseph Bosilong (Setswana), Prisca Nkosi (Siswati), Mashudu Stanley Ramukhuba (Tshivenda) and Pretty Shiburi (Xitsonga).
To order I Wish I’d Said… Vol.5 SMS the word ‘POEM’ to 48423 (at a standard cost of R1.50 per SMS) to have it posted to you at a total cost of R240. Alternatively, email your order to email@example.com or find it at selected bookstores. Visit www.avbobpoetry.co.za to find elegiac poems for reading aloud at funerals or to include in memorial leaflets, and to register to enter the 2023 AVBOB Poetry Competition (which closes on 30 November 2022).
AVBOB POETRY PRIZE WINNERS IN MORE DETAIL:
Clinton V. du Plessis lives in Cradock in the Eastern Cape where he works as an accountant. He is a prolific poet with many poetry collections to his name and his work has appeared in translation in the international arena. Listening to stories on the radio was a powerful formative influence in his childhood. He particularly loved listening to PH Nortje’s Die groen ghoen and was desperately keen to read the book. His father, who was a labourer on the railways, persuaded his boss to borrow the book from the library on young Clinton’s behalf. His winning poem Leemte is an achingly tender tribute, written in honour of his father.
Letitia Matthews feels blessed to live on the southern border of the Kruger National Park with her husband, Peter. She’s a freelance web and graphic designer who found that helped her through heart-breaking losses. As a cancer survivor, she realised that loss also leads to new life and adventures. These experiences showed her how to navigate bereavement. Her poem Time Of Death comes from the dark nights and empty days that eventually led to her embracing life again.
Nkosinathi Mduduzi Jiyana is known in spoken word poetry circles as Gembe Da Poet. He comes from KwaDlawulale in Limpopo, and after discovering a love of writing poetry in 2018, established a reputation as a vibrant slam poet. His poem Ithemba alibulali encourages youth to be strong, to resist fear, and to remain faithful when grief strikes. He believes that by entering the poetry competition he is exhibiting his writing talent.
Sipho Kekezwa is a prolific and multi-award-winning author of children’s books, dramas, short stories and YA novels. He started his writing life as a voracious reader. Various of his titles have wearned significant acclaim over the years, but this is his first poetry award. His dramatic work, Ubomi, ungancama!, published by Oxford University Publishers in 2020, won the 2021 SALA Award in the Youth Literature category. Sipho’s winning poem ICocekavaras is a plea to heed common sense and to get vaccinated. After living in Khayelitsha for 26 years, he recently returned to East London to continue his work as a freelance editor, proofreader, translator, book reviewer and creative writing facilitator.
Nomkelemane Langa claims the majestic rolling hills of northern KwaZulu-Natal as his geographic and cultural heritage. Born in the deep rural village of Nkandla he now lives in Richards Bay where he freelances as a TV producer and presenter, Maskandi singer and guitarist, author, poet, crafter, actor and MC.
His winning poem Mhla lishona ilanga is an aching portrait of grief set between the last light of dusk and the first light of dawn. He started writing poetry in high school as a member of the Isulabasha Dancing Pencils Writing Club. He attributes his success to the ancestral promptings that guide his words.
Praise poems and powerful words were Pabalelo Maphutha’s inheritance at birth. He was born into a family of traditional praise poets and writers in rural Ga-Mphahlele in Limpopo, and grew up with a deep love of the written and spoken word. He began writing and performing his own poems in the mid-2000s, while still at school. He has appeared in various theatrical and film productions and is committed to serving his artistic goals with passion, focus, and dedication. His poem Se išeng dipelo mafiša reflects on the process of aging and death and will comfort all who have lost an elder.
Kgobani Mohapi comes from the eastern Free State town of Lindley. He has entered the AVBOB Poetry Competition every year since its inception to test his poetic skills against the best in the country and came second in 2019. His poem Ke o entseng deals with the issues lovers would ask after a separation. He was inspired to write poetry by his Sesotho teacher, Mr NJ Malindi. Kgobani is also a novelist, with a novel titled Lerato.
Molebatsi Joseph Bosilong is an educator and a published author from the North West province with an enormous passion for the arts. He is an engaged member of the regional writers community, committed to sharing opportunities and information with fellow Setswana writers. His poems appear in Volume 4 of the poetry anthology, ‘I wish I’d said…’ He used the form of the Mosikaro, which uses the first letter of the first word of each line going downwards to spell out the word Tsholofelo, which means hope. Tsholofelo is both the title and the theme of his poem, which pays tribute to the health workers who battled the pandemic and the hope for a vaccine to defeat the virus. He wrote this poem to heal from the pain of losing his mother.
Nomvula Prisca Nkosi started writing short stories and poems at a very young age. She lives in Ermelo, where she works at a hamburger joint. While she makes fast food, she has many deep thoughts. She decided to enter the competition to improve her writing skills and to give voice to her rich imagination. Her poem Imihuzuko explores the scars that tell of life’s injuries. “Some people lose hope while others gain strength through their suffering,” says Prisca, “and to share the experience inside me.” This is her first poetry award.
Mashudu Stanley Ramukhuba was born in Ha-Rabali village in Limpopo’s Nzhelele Valley. He attended Rabali Primary School and, later, Patrick Ramaano Mphephu Secondary School, where his love of poetry grew strong. He was inspired to enter the competition on the death of beloved family members. “When my sister died very young, it was hard to believe I would never see her again,” he says of his winning poem Maá¸“uvha a mudali. This carefully crafted and formal work honours his sister’s life. The poet reminds the reader in a wise and gentle tone that we are all visitors on this earth, and encourages us to consider our legacy. Mashudu is married and currently unemployed.
Pretty Shiburi is a poet making powerful connections. Born and raised in Madobi village in the far northern part of South Africa and currently studying electrical engineering at Westcol TVET College in Krugersdorp, this is a poet who makes sparks fly. Her darkly funny poem N’hwembe explores the idea of home and ownership by examining a pumpkin vine, which causes consternation in its wanderings into the neighbour’s yard. This playful metaphor demonstrates her love of her mother tongue and offers a wry glance at other wanderers.