Despite receiving funding late and the elections making key people unavailable, Poetavango has done it again.

If anything, this year the Maun International Arts Festival was the best so far.

It’s amazing what a group of volunteers committed to the arts can do, Poetavango deserves some serious respect folks!

So what were the highlights for me?

1. The folks distributing Chimurenga Chronic in Botswana launched it at the book exhibition at the Nhabe Museum on the 27th.

I enjoyed the presentation and also getting to have a look at print copies of the magazine, I’ve only seen it online.

(I’m planning to do a future column about the magazine and how Batswana writers need to get themselves involved in it).

2. On Tuesday the 28th I ran the full day writing workshop.

To be honest, though I’ve run workshops at the Festival in the past, it always included other facilitators, so I wasn’t too keen on an 8-4 pm workshop run only by me- I was sure even I’d be sick of hearing me talk by the end of the day.

I’ve had a hectic past few months with craziness and lots of work and had very little time to organise for the workshop, and yet, I think that may have been a good thing.

For the first time in a long time I actually enjoyed myself running a workshop, and I learned a lot too.

The people who attended seemed genuinely interested in improving their writing and it was quite a fulfilling experience for me.

3. On Wednesday I ran two workshops for primary school kids at the National Library in Maun.

I read to them and they wrote a book review about the story I read. It’s so interesting for me to hear how kids think.

There was a bit of a sad side, though. When the first group arrived, it took some serious coaxing to get them to read their writing out.

It was clear to me that these kids have been told there is a right answer and they fear giving the wrong one.

I wished so much that they could learn that failure is the only place that learning takes place and, in any case, your opinion can never be wrong- it’s yours! Oh what a disservice we are doing our children!

4. While I was at the library, there was also a music workshop taking place, run by the jazz trio brought to the Festival by the American Embassy.

I was told it was great, teaching both theory and practical tips about performing. I wish I could have attended.

5. Wednesday night was the Comedy vs Poetry event.

It was fantastic! I doubt anyone left there without having sore stomach muscles.

6. On Friday there was a half day poetry workshop run by our TJ Dema and the Nigerian/Canadian poet and coach Juliet Kego Ume-Onyido.

TJ covered numerous things among them performance tips and the editing of poetry.

Juliet spent her part of the workshop teaching us how to understand branding.

I’ll admit, I find the idea of branding in association with art, especially writing, a bit awkward, but after her workshop I think I understand the topic better and can appreciate its importance.

I’m hoping to do a future column about what she taught us.

7. The main event on Saturday had its ups and downs. It’s still too long; we left close to 2am, that needs to be worked on.

The best performances for the night from my seat were Priskath and Mr Poke (Poetavango members), TJ Dema, and South African poet and musician, Croc C.

I was also seriously impressed by KK’s (Kefentse Kefentse) improv with the American jazz band. There is a seriously talented and creative young man.

But it was great to the see the wide diversity among our poets and to see that things are improving every year.

The other thing I liked was to see more writers involved in the various events, not just poets.

This is our only arts festival and we really need to embrace and support it and the fantastic organisers, Poetavango.

Of course, the Festival ended on a sad note with two people from the US Embassy (sponsors of the Festival) drowning in Lake Ngami.

It is difficult to understand such tragedies; my heart goes out to their family and friends. May their souls rest in peace.

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