Poetry for Life national finals - Franschhoek Literary Festival 2015



Yonela Fakashe, 2015 winner of Poetry for Life 



Yonela with Finuala Dowling, poet and Poetry for Life judge




Yonela with Jackie Kay, Scottish poet and novelist and Poetry for Life judge



Western Cape Semi-finals  











Western Cape Regional Rounds 









Gauteng Preliminary Round










Poetry for Life (PfL) held the finals of its inaugural competition on 15 May 2015 at the Franschhoek Literary Festival. PfL is the national South African High-School Poetry Recitation Competition, affiliated to similar competitions across the world: Poetry by Heart (PbH England); Poetry by Heart Scotland; Poetry Aloud (Ireland); Poetry Out Loud (USA); Poetry in Voice (Canada). They will be joined next year by Talk the Poem competition in Jamaica.  The idea and format for PfL was based on the well-established version of this competition in England, and the international poems were chosen from the Poetry by Heart Anthology.  However, the South African poetry selection is unique to PfL.

In the initial year of PfL, contestants from Gauteng and the Western Cape Provinces took part in the competition.  In the Western Cape, excellent support was received from the Department of Education; both Provinces were also supported by the Independent Examination Board Schools.  30 schools from all over the Western Cape entered the competition; we are extremely grateful to Denise Newfield for organising the Gauteng branch of the competition from which 10 schools entered. There were seven finalists at Franschhoek – two from Gauteng, and five from the Western Cape. This was a most encouraging start to PfL. Our vision for the future is to include competitors from all nine South African Provinces in the Finals.

The initial rounds of the 2015 competition were held within the schools.  The best competitor from each school progressed to the regional competitions, of which there were three in the Western Cape. In each round of the competition, after the school heats, the competitors had to memorise and recite two poems, from a pre-selected list of  a] international poems and  b] South African poems.  You can find all of these poems on our website (see below).

The top seven finalists performed brilliantly at the Franschhoek Literary Festival. They were supported by funding from ZAPP, a South African Poetry Project which originated at Cambridge University and at that stage was funded by the Commonwealth Education Trust. The competition was held in one of the largest Festival venues to a full house.  We were honoured to have as our judges Jackie Kay, eminent poet and novelist from the UK; Morag Styles, Emeritus Professor of Children’s Poetry at Cambridge University; John Maytham from 567 Cape Talk; and Nathan Trantraal, a South African poet and cartoonist.  The poet and scholar, Finuala Dowling, was the perfect host, making the students and audience feel relaxed and entertained. The audience for the event consisted of the competitors’ supporters, students from other schools and members of the public who were  mesmerised by the quality of the recitations. South African 16 – 18 year olds brought the words of poets alive in entertaining, moving and distinctive ways.

Yonela Fakashe, a matric student from Good Hope Seminary High School in Gardens, Cape Town, was pronounced the winner, for her rendition of Shelley’s Ozymandias and Daniel don’t die alone, by Finuala Dowling.  It was particularly poignant that Finuala was there on stage, both when her poem was recited and when the announcement was made.  The runners-up were Siphosami Kamwendo, from Sans Souci Girls’ High School, Claremont, Cape Town, reciting Invictus by William Ernest Henley and Style by Lebogang Mashili; and April Donnelly from St Peters College, Johannesburg, who recited Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc and Lebohang Nova Masango’s To do List for Africa. 

After the competition, and as part of their prize for entering the competition and reaching the Finals, the learners spent Friday night and Saturday at the Franschhoek Literary Festival. One of the highlights for them was attending the Poetry at Essence reading and dinner; they performed their poems alongside seasoned and local poets. The contribution of the young people was highly appreciated and they came across as some of the best performers of the evening, partly because they knew their poems by heart and could, therefore, connect with the audience. They also attended several shows at the Festival, including “What makes me an African”, where they were lucky enough to meet and talk to Professor Jonathan Jansen and Moeletsi Mbeki. 

PfL would not have been possible without the initiative from Georgie Horrell, Fellow of Homerton College, Cambridge University, England, and Meg Fargher, Head of Somerset College, Western Cape, whose vision and drive to expand the capacity of learners beyond the printed page, and to make South African poetry more accessible to teachers and learners, initiated this project in South Africa.  We are very grateful to the ZAPP team members and the teachers working with them, under the guidance of Prof. Denise Newfield, for their careful selection of the South African poems and for their organisation of the Gauteng Regional competition; to Fazeela Haffejee, Head of English for the Western Cape Department of Education, and all her regional heads, for promoting the competition with passion; and to the South African poets who so generously made their poems available to us, some of whom actively helped us.  Space does not allow me to mention all their names.

 We hope that this competition will grow from strength to strength, and that within a few years many of our learners will leave school with the words of poets in their hearts as well as ringing in their ears – for life.

Celia van Druten  

July 2015