The AVBOB Poetry Gala evening on 20 June in Pretoria signalled a celebration of the human spirit, and of the power of poetry to heal and transform.
And that power is captured in a print anthology* – published by Naledi – under the competition tagline, “I Wish I’d said…”. The two winning poems in each language category will now live on alongside the work of seven accomplished South African poets, each commissioned to write a poem in each language category for the anthology. And, in the spirit of inclusivity, the 100th poem in the collection is written in Khoisan.
Why 100 poems? Because in this, AVBOB’s centenary year, they wanted to give back to South Africa in a deeply symbolic way.
But what inspired it all?
The inspiration for the AVBOB Poetry Project took form at the funeral of a two-year-old boy, who had died from a common childhood cancer. At his funeral, so great was his grandfather’s sense of loss, that he could barely speak. He managed to muster these two words: ‘Ta ta, kiewiet.’ ‘Goodbye, little plover, little bird.’
This loss of words in the face of the loss of a loved one is something AVBOB sees daily. It is a very human moment in which the mind, in the throes of a great sorrow, struggles to find the right words to articulate grief. The words used daily will not do. They come across as mere platitudes, empty phrases that cannot match the emotions at play.
“AVBOB asked, ‘how can we provide all our policyholders, all our people, with a way to give voice to their grief?’,” explains AVBOB CEO, Frik Rademan. “At AVBOB, we make a promise: ‘We’re here for you.’ We wanted to demonstrate this, to provide people with comfort when they are most vulnerable. And we found that, in times of great emotional stress, people often turn to verse to find a way forward. They look to psalms, songs and poems for consolation.”
This is how the AVBOB Poetry Project was born. The competition would serve a dual purpose: firstly, it would provide a safe place of catharsis. Here, ordinary South Africans could weave words about their own wounds. It could be a place for them to unburden, to share stories of their own loss. But it had to be more than this. For while AVBOB deals in death daily, they see themselves as traders in hope.
And so, the competition gave South Africans the gentlest, most inclusive form of bereavement counselling. And that was, indeed, the second aim of the competition: to create an online anthology of original poems that mourners could access and make use of, for funeral pamphlets or for personal consolation.
“The success of the competition suggests that poetry is alive and thriving in SA,” adds Mr Rademan. “If the social media response is anything to go by, there is a profound need for this sort of platform. And so, it is with great delight that AVBOB announces the launch of the 2018 AVBOB Poetry Competition, which will run from 1 August to 30 November 2018.”
In the words of the great English poet, TS Eliot: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
And so, it begins again. AVBOB encourages all those who were touched by the 2017 competition to spread the word and sow the seeds for the next season, and to bring the beauty of poetry back to its people once more.
Please visit the AVBOB online poetry anthology, which is freely available on www.avbobpoetry.co.za. For what was produced for AVBOB’s customers and policyholders, for poets across South Africa, and for all the bereaved across this nation, is a resource of beauty and solace that will endure for generations. In this, AVBOB’s centenary year, this competition marks a profound demonstration of AVBOB’s commitment to the communities in which they operate, of their willingness to give more, and of their ability to provide emotional and intellectual upliftment for all South Africans.
*The anthology can be ordered at www.naledi.online or 078 648 8616, and is available from most good bookstores. Alternatively, SMS the word ‘poem’ to 41199 (at a standard cost of R1.50 per SMS) to have it posted to you at a total cost of R200.