South African Poet Diana Ferrus filled the Gendebien Room at Skillman Library with gentle melodies and passionate verses last Friday. The reading, titled “I’ve Come to Take You Home” was both entertaining and insightful. Ferrus, well-known in her home, South Africa, crafts poetry that addresses a range of topics, from daily struggles in Cape Town to the divisions that remain today due to Apartheid.
Ferrus began her reading with a moving poem about the late Nelson Mandela. The piece allowed Ferrus to frame the reading in context to South African social and political issues, in addition to the importance of history.
Performing in both English and Afrikaans, one of South Africa’s official languages, Ferrus delved into the importance of bilingualism, language, and literacy in her work. Her poem “The Journey” described an elderly, illiterate man who doesn’t know what stop a train is at. Ferrus realizes he cannot “fully see” in the same way she and other literate individuals can. “The Journey” was a powerful reminder that an education, and ultimately an experience gap, plagues communities from Easton to Cape Town.
Another element of Ferrus’s delivery was her use of song. Ferrus remarked that she usually performs with a band. Based on her reading, a band would have been superfluous – her a cappella performance of her work was breathtaking on its own.
A highlight of the reading was Ferrus’s expressive delivery. In her poem “I’ve Come to Take You Home,” Ferrus told the story of Sarah Baartman, an indigenous woman who was taken from her home in 1789 from South African to France. Baartman was objectified and degraded as a “monster.” Upon her death, she was displayed at a French museum. Ferrus’s powerful voice and facial expressions lent the horrifying story a terrific and memorable quality. Fortunately, Ferrus joyfully told audience members that her poem about Baartman was cited in the French law that returned Baartman to South Africa. Ferrus’s reading was a refreshing incorporation of history, politics, and poetry.