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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Poet aims to ‘spread the love’ at nature reserve

Poet+Rabbie+Serumula+reads+annotations+left+by+his+father+in+the+back+of+a+Louis+LAmour+novel+as+part+of+a+monthly+poetry+series+he+helped+to+start+at+the+Melville+Koppies+Nature+Reserve.+PHOTO%3A+THE+HAWK
Poet Rabbie Serumula reads annotations left by his father in the back of a Louis L’Amour novel as part of a monthly poetry series he helped to start at the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve. PHOTO: THE HAWK

Johannesburg, South Africa – On a chilly Sunday morning in early June, poet Rabbie Serumula stood under a lapa, a thatched roof pavilion, near the top of the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve, with an old American Western novel in hand.

“The Lonesome Gods,” one of Louis L’Amour’s many novels about the American frontier, belonged to Serumula’s father, who died in 2017. As he did with many of his books, Serumula’s father wrote a list in the back of the novel connected to passages he found worth noting: “Youth wonderful? P2,” “Reasoning P74” and “Passing knowledge P258,” among them.

“Everything is all there, like a bit of a constitution on how to live your life,” Serumula said. “The lessons that I have received are from crib notes that he had left there.” 

For Serumula, who grew up in the township of Soweto, these annotations are life lessons — gifts from the single father who raised him and his younger sister. 

The Melville Koppies seems like the last of a frontier itself. Located on the Western edge of the city of Johannesburg, the Koppies is a Johannesburg City Heritage site. Dating back over three billion years, it is the last of Johannesburg’s ridges, the others destroyed after the discovery of gold in the late 19th century. The land consists of indigenous high grasses, flowers and hiking trails for visitors. 

The ridges at the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve, where visitors can hike or take guided tours, are over three billion years old. PHOTO: HANNAH PAJTIS ’26/THE HAWK

Serumula, a poet, author and journalist, has been reciting poetry at the Koppies on the second Sunday of each month since January. During these recitations, Serumula invites conversation with the audience. June’s theme was related to Father’s Day.

“Whenever I think about my father’s influence in my life in general, in my career, to be specific, I think he has taught me to take my time to express myself,” Serumula said. “This is why writing is how I’m going about life.”

Serumula started reading poetry at the Koppies when Wendy Carstens, chairperson of the Melville Koppies, contacted him after reading his May 2022 weekly column, #PoeticLicence, in The Saturday Star, a daily newspaper based in the Gauteng province in South Africa. 

Carstens said she was struck by Serumula’s ability to write about familial values but also thought he might benefit from the Koppies’ healing properties. She invited him to visit the Koppies, which he did for the first time in July 2022.

“I found he’s particularly touching and interesting, and he just wrote about his gran in such a nice way,” Carstens said. “I felt that he needed a bit of TLC.”

The first poetry session took place in November 2023 after Serumula pitched the idea to Carstens. They mutually supported the beginning of poetry at the Melville Koppies. 

Wendy Carstens, chairperson of the Melville Koppies, gives visitors a guided tour of the Koppies, pointing out indigenous vegetation and describing efforts to preserve the space. PHOTO: THE HAWK

Jenny Grice, who works on Sundays at the Koppies as an administrator and guide, attended a session in May related to Mother’s Day. She said the conversation united people who shared thoughts and memories about their mothers. 

“Things in South Africa are difficult because we all are living in our little bubbles,” Grice said. “[Serumula] can talk across those bubbles and find commonalities that people can all share and think together on.”

Carstens said Serumula’s presence emphasizes the importance of setting aside all outside worries in the Koppies’ natural environment.  

“[I] always stress that the Koppies are there for nature, for healing, no politics,” Carstens said. “I was mostly impressed with the way [Serumula] would do a poem and then facilitate discussions.”

Jared Gower, a Johannesburg resident, has attended four of the poetry sessions. He said while poetry is often perceived as deep and difficult to understand, Serumula has the ability to form an open space with his audience. 

“I feel like a lot of people associate poetry with a very intense message,” Gower said. “This has a lot more of a personal connection…It also allows each person to speak, bring their poetry, ask their questions and engage.”

<script>

Serumula said he hopes these sessions bring joy to those searching for meaning and connection, just as his father’s annotated notes in his books have continued to teach him about life. 

“The whole idea is to put smiles on people’s faces, but really speak to that inner child,” Serumula said. 

“We say, ‘Spread the love,’” he added. “Magic happens when you laugh.”

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Kiley O'Brien
Kiley O'Brien, Assistant Features Editor
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    MichelleJun 22, 2024 at 9:48 am

    Love this story ❤️ very engaging and well written!

    Reply