AVBOB has decided to sponsor a poetry platform, but that would be a gross over-simplification. The truth is, neither AVBOB nor any other business can actually ‘sponsor’ poetry. All we can claim is that we wish to be associated with the power of poetry – and with the beauty of the human spirit.
To suggest that AVBOB can do anything meaningful for poetry would therefore be completely erroneous. Rather, it is the other way around: poetry can mean so much to AVBOB and its people.
Ever since its inception in 1918, AVBOB has belonged to ordinary people. Indeed, it was originally established for humanitarian reasons to help families in times of need during the difficult years after World War I, when people suffered bitterly. Today, 99 years later, people still suffer, and despondency is becoming an ever-increasing threat to our self-preservation. People are generally divided and riven with uncertainty. Work is scarce, and meaningful work even scarcer.
Loss makes people vulnerable, whether it is the loss of income or the loss of a dream at the death of a loved one – a mother, a father, a child – and, consequently, we are at a loss for words to say goodbye. And if we do not have the words to send off our loved ones, the ritual of parting is muted.
AVBOB's invitation to poets to write poems with an elegiac feel in all our official languages is thus, of itself, a strategic decision, aimed at building a bridge between those who have the words (established and aspiring poets) and those who so desperately need to hear those words (the bereaved). The sponsorship is thus aimed at providing a platform for poets, both unknown and lauded, to offer words of comfort through their craft.
To bring this poetry project to life, AVBOB are launching a website – www.avbobpoetry.co.za – on Mandela Day, 18 July 2017 at 1pm that will be completely devoted to South African poetry. The main features of the website are twofold. First, we want to publish as many quality new poems as possible, in all 11 of the official South African languages. These poems will be freely available to all lovers of this enchanting and everlasting literary form, and to all those searching for a verse to give expression to the complex and unique emotions they are experiencing.
Secondly, the website will form the platform from which we will launch a nationwide poetry competition. Again, just as AVBOB belongs to the people, so too does poetry – it knows no boundaries, and transcends all differences. For this reason, we have made a massive effort to make the competition as inclusive as possible. The competition will thus be open to all South Africans, in all 11 official languages, to celebrate the richness and diversity of all the voices of our land.
Should a poem be accepted by one of our editors, it will open up a world of exciting new opportunities for the entrant of the poem. First, every poem which is approved by the relevant editor will feature alongside other poems on the AVBOB poetry website, where it will become part of a library of content to provide words of beauty and comfort to the people of South Africa. As a token of our appreciation, an incentive of R300 will be paid for each poem selected.
In addition, all entrants of approved poems will be in line for the AVBOB Poetry Prize, in the specific language categories (there will be a winner in each language). The respective prizes will bring cash rewards.
This initiative is by no means accidental. “I am extremely grateful to say that, over the years, AVBOB has been a proud supporter of the arts in our country. We have always believed that the arts provide emotional and intellectual upliftment for our people, and that it is a way to liberate them from the difficulties of daily life” Says Frik Rademan, Chief Executive Officer, AVBOB. Ever since the pledge in 2013, the Foundation has donated 41 container libraries to underprivileged schools as well as developments of new schools that will be opened in 2018, in celebration of AVBOB’s 100th birthday.
Every person who enters the Poetry project will stand an equal chance for their work to feature alongside that of some of our most accoladed poets in a 100-poem print anthology, entitled “I wish I’d said”. The anthology will be published in August 2018. The title of the anthology will also be the theme for the poetry competition. This theme resonated deeply with us because all of us, at some point in our lives, have felt regret for the things we’ve left unsaid. Perhaps we wish we’d said, “I love you”, “forgive me” or “I will never forget you”.
Regardless of what this phrase means to each individual, it is our wish that the AVBOB poetry project will become a vehicle for people to finally express those unspoken whispers of the heart. When grief has rendered us mute, poetry enables us to capture the legacy of our loved ones for all eternity, and to express our loss in a meaningful way.
“Now is the time for us, as a nation, to take up the pen and not the sword. This is when we should focus on what unites, rather than divides us. And the AVBOB poetry project strives to do exactly that” concludes Frik Rademan.