Local resident, Jaco Fouché, who is no stranger when it comes to literary prizes, recently added another award to his collection when he won the English language category of the AVBOB Poetry Competition with his poem entitled A feeling like leaving harbour. Over 29 000 poems in all 11 official South African languages were submitted.

The launch of the annual AVBOB Poetry Competition in August 2017 was aimed at providing ordinary South Africans with a poetry portal to express their common experiences of birth and death, of loss and love. The phenomenal growth of this competition, in all 11 mother tongues, confirms the power of poetry to heal and uplift, and affirms the fact that lines on a page can alter lives.

And lives were indeed altered when the AVBOB Poetry Prize winners of the second competition were announced at a gala evening held on 25 July. Each of the 11 first-place winners of the AVBOB Poetry Prize received a R10 000 cash prize and a R2 500 book voucher, sponsored by AVBOB. They embraced the competition for a variety of reasons, and crafted poems that comfort, provoke and challenge us all.

In Jaco’s case, the sudden death of a friend in 2017 inspired him to enter the competition, as a way to articulate and unpack his feelings of loss. Jaco is a clerk and retail salesman by day but has worn many hats, including those of computer programmer, barman and copywriter. He now lives in Hermanus with his wife, and freelances, writing short stories, reviews, novels and young adult fiction. 

Jaco has been honing his poetic craft since his early school days, and while prose is his passion, poetry has always informed his work. He has won several prizes for novels in Afrikaans, including the Eugène Marais Prize in 1997. 

The Poem

A feeling like leaving harbour

How wretched are the gloom and chill in the harbour / the tired stretch of water in the docks / where the black tide gleams and dully pushes / slowly carrying leaflets on salvation to the piers – lost scholar’s work sticking to stone. / Here discarded clothing washes up on shore / figures sit mute in the doorways.

Mind the cold stowaways, the exhausted stevedores / the helpless women, the defeated men, the sleepless children – life’s lost and waiting. There are remnants of a fire, the ashes cold and wet / and a piece of burnt wood is a relic to the careworn.

Then, at the end of the furthest pier / remote engines throb and hum / lights come on, a thousand inviting squares. The lost and waiting stir / the disabused are led to the gangway / and the soft voice of the faithful sounds.

How slowly this night passes / while you’re fearful of forgetting / what was young, happy, strong. Come with me, come with me then. Come out of that dark night / huddle here in the light, sit with me awhile / we will sing the things of the heart / as beloved from beloved part.

Presently, ropes are untied. Engines groan. The hull moves from the stone. The ship crosses the gleaming docks / passes the urgent light tower’s blink / on the protective harbour wall / and shudders at the first shove from the open, pounding sea.

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