Two weeks ago I performed at the first McGregor Poetry Festival. I have long held the belief that listening is the key to profound and swift change within us and between us. I felt this swift change at the festival. My first performance was at the Edna Fourie Gallery, hosted by the artist herself. I first discovered Edna’s work on a trip to McGregor last year. Her work speaks straight to the heart and invites us to confront the deaths within us, we must undergo in order to truly know ourselves. The death of the ego. The death of fear. The death of old patterns that only keep us stuck. To make way for who we truly are. I chose poems that spoke to her artworks - large works that adorn the walls of this intimate and warm gallery. There were between 15 and 20 people in the audience that Saturday morning. And the exchange between my sharing of words and their listening has left me unutterably changed. Each person in the audience listened with such sheer open-heartedness. There was a deep sense of silence in the room after the performance, and I felt a desire to simply linger there and stay in that silence. There are no words that can hold what that silence is, it can only be felt. And through, I saw more clearly, why I have chosen this path with words. For the first time, I saw and felt what I have always known to be true - that true marriage of words and silence (listening) can effect a profound change. I am deeply grateful to everyone who was in the audience that morning, and especially to Edna for hosting the performance with such grace and care and opening her artistic home to all of us. The conversation between her visual art and my words is an ongoing one for both of us.
During my second performance at Caritas - the library at Temenos Retreat Centre - on the Sunday, I experienced what happens when I let go and surrender to the words. While reading my latest poem albertus street, I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of sadness and started crying. I kept reading, completely surprised by my tears. And yet, something had opened up in me, that I will never be able to close, even if I wanted to. So often tears frighten people. But in this instance, the people in the audience listened with such warmth and held me in my moment of vulnerability. After that, as I read or performed each poem, I walked the tender line between open-heartedness and fear. And despite my fear, the audience stayed with me, moved with me and held a space for the words to tell their stories. Poems are not like songs. There is no music to shield us from our listener. We stand bare, naked in our own stories and offer them willingly to those who choose to listen. I am profoundly grateful for how the listening of each person in the room that day, has changed me. I am more careful with my words. I want to listen more carefully to each person who speaks - whether through poetry, through writing a blogpost, on social media or in simple conversation. I want to recreate that space, where words and silence meet, in everyday interactions. So we may stand in our own vulnerability and not shy away from it. So it may show us who we truly are. A quote I came across yesterday, sums it up best:
To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength. - Criss Jami
Thank you to Billy Kennedy, Jennifer Johnson and the rest of the festival team, the people of McGregor, and all the sponsors for producing such a beautiful festival, making it a success on all accounts and for hosting us with such warmth, joy and care.