Lifetime achievement award for Silvertown poet

Legendary writer James Matthews, 88, was honoured with the Poetry in McGregor Award for lifetime achievement in poetry.

Legendary writer James Matthews, 88, feels humbled that he was honoured with the Patricia Schonstein Poetry in McGregor Award for lifetime achievement in poetry.

Poetry in McGregor, is an annual festival – now in its fifth year – held in the small village of McGregor, which is situated in the Breede River Winelands municipality.

Mr Matthews is well-known for writing poetry to speak out against apartheid. His book, Cry Rage, was his first book to have been banned by the apartheid government.

On Wednesday September 13, Mr Matthews was presented with the Poetry in McGregor Award at his home in Silvertown.

Being recognised for his work, Mr Matthews said, was humbling.

“I am very grateful that the people behind the Poetry in McGregor festival, felt that I could get an award like this. I feel strongly that what I do, should not develop into an ego. I have met too many people whose ego exceed their creativity. My poetry extends to the people,” Mr Matthews said.

He added that, over the years, his writing topics had changed – from being overtly political to focusing on love. “At times, I have no idea of a theme – it just develops as I write. I might just bring out a new collection next year. Who would imagine that someone at the age of 88 would write a collection of love poems?” Mr Matthews giggled, adding: “Aging is a beautiful phase. The younger people should respect older people, because old age is a badge of honour. The years bring out changes in what one writes.”

The one challenge age brought to Mr Matthews, is what he refers to as “mental epilepsy”.

“Mental epilepsy is a bad affliction for a creative person to suffer from. At times, when I read, the letters are wrongly arranged in my mind, and then I cannot pronounce it, or I go blank. For this reason, I cannot sit on a (discussion) panel anymore.”

When asked if he had any regrets, when he looked back on his life, Mr Matthews was quick to say no.

He added: “People who knew me 16 years ago, and who would meet me now, and say we must go to a pub for a drink, don’t know that I gave up alcohol 15 years ago. If I had a regret – it would be this – if I had stopped drinking earlier in my life, it would have helped my writing and I might not have this mental epilepsy.”

He also had some inspirational words to share with anyone who doubts that they can write poetry: “Poetry is within us. You just need to open your mind and let your creativity flow out like vintage wine.”