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Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Jozi House of Poetry’s View from Okri’s mountain


Three poets, three views of South Africa, and the world. Kgositsile is a wandering sage who walks over mountains of poetry, with the creativity of a jazz musician who “comes from everywhere he’s ever been”. Afurakan is the real people’s poet, engaging head-on with the betrayal of the youth in an idiom that is unashamedly urban, proudly standing in the traditions of spoken word, hip-hop and the reggae canon, with its own kwaito twist. But it’s also just poetry. Kgositsile’s often-repeated assertion is that it is young women who are the remarkable voices in these times, and it’s clear to us Lebohang Nova Masango is a force for the continent to absorb. Her To-Do List for Africa, which Afurakan cites as his favourite poem, rages, exhorts, prays and praises our battered continent into a monument to hope. Her fluent, articulate style, which is tempered with her natural charm, humour and youthful frivolity along with the gravitas of Kgositsile and the vibrancy of Afurakan once again, gave the audience diversity of voices and an hour of spellbinding poetry.

“I’ve never understood why some people think writers have answers to their burning questions, or why some writers would have the arrogance to think they have answers to those questions,” began Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile, recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of South Africa, kicking off the discussion at the 9th Jozi House of Poetry session: The view from here.

In the introduction I had stated that Myesha and I had agreed on the theme after listening to Ben Okri’s Steve Biko Memorial Lecture, where he evoked the human journey as a climb up a mountain. We invited our featured poets to select poems that would give the audience the view from their part of the mountain. This is not because we think that writers have better vision, or because they have some supernatural ability to see beyond the petty ego of the ordinary human, but because it’s worth it to reflect, to stop and think, and this is what writers are doing when they put thought into words. Through reading, we also have a chance to reflect. The value of such an activity can’t be quantified. Writing may help people think more clearly about their lives, or it might be as futile yet pleasurable as masturbating.
If it’s so risky, why bother? “I write because I believe I can,” said Kgositsile. “…… I used to seriously question my authority to write and actually tried to stop writing totally. But one day, without even thinking about it, I found myself writing again.”

Thabiso Mohare, better known as Afurakan by his thousands of fans, works as a copywriter in a cutting edge ad agency. “I think people see creatives as problem-solvers, and assume that we have answers.” Trying to find answers to some of our most pressing problems might be helped by people with imagination, people who can enter a different reality and play with what is there, and re-create means of engagement. Whether not these means are more effective, is a risk that readers take when reading, but probably better than no reflection at all.

“Part of the problem with a lot of us is that, like some politicians, we finally end up merely talking about the symptoms of our social illness, which is common knowledge. Our supposed intelligentsia also don’t go beyond telling us that we are sick, which should be the point of departure of their analysis. They don’t even pose the relevant questions. For instance, could human life have any value under capitalism?” asks Kgositsile.

Afurakan is passionate about people, and believes in developing and inspiring young people. The founder of several poetry initiatives, including the highly popular and successful Word ‘n Sound, uses poetry as a weapon, as a scalpel, as a spotlight, to interrogate what pushes his buttons and what inspires him. “My point of departure is – I love people. Seeing anyone suffering hurts me, so writing about problems helps me to see them in a new way and try to come up with some kind of creative solution. Writing and sharing poetry is one of the ways that I unpack.”

For one of those young people, Lebohang Nova Masango, Afurakan has been a key player in her growing career. The 21-year old performance poet and anthropology student was the Word ‘n Sound 2011 National Slam Champion.
“For me, writing is therapy – creativity and expression, putting humanity to its best use. Quoting Audre Lorde, “silence will not save you,” writing allows us to take back our power to author our own narratives. It’s important to articulate who you are.”

“I think writers need to have an uncompromising stubbornness to explore what we’re most responsive to in our lives. How it is to be alive and responsive to the realities of lived experience in your time, might be more interesting than constantly asking yourself what it means to be an artist,” said the stubborn elder, uncompromising in his clarity and demanding that from everyone around him. “ … Writers are not mirrors. Mirrors are passive; they can only reflect what stands in front of them, if they are clean enough and not cracked. Writers, on the other hand, should strive to be creative. We also need a level of humility that teaches us that whether you realise it or not, when you write all you are saying is ‘this is who I am’. And if you are successful you might touch something human in the next person; the rest is just illusion.”

For a young person writing is fuelled by an urgent need to break down boundaries, “poetry is the one honest medium, the most honest discipline,” says Afurakan. “Hip hop is about the community – I can speak about my problems and my neighbourhood. Because of hip-hop and slam, more young people are writing and making themselves heard.”

Technology has made it easier for young people to express themselves and for those thoughts to be read in different formats, which is something to celebrate according to a member of the public who attended the session. Afurakan stresses the discipline of writing. “It’s important to stay in contact, and social media has made it possible to stay in contact with people across a wider geographical area. It has broken down boundaries between countries, but it’s like someone who gets a job and can afford a golf and goes back to the township to show off. We have a responsibility to understand the power in having made that move. I’m interested in writing being a tool for broadening power.”
For Kgositsile, the capitalist system will always create inequality because “under the capitalist system human life has no value versus capital.” When an audience member asks why a poem has not yet been written that will stop men from abusing women, Kgositsile’s sharp reply is that “if you want to contribute to stopping gender violence, perhaps join an organisation that is involved with that, you would be more effective joining the organisation than writing a poem.”
According to Afurakan, the word must pay its way in inspiring action towards freeing those parts of our society bound by inequality. But he is challenged by Kgositsile, and his demand for verbal precision, his stubborn commitment to say what he means and mean what he says.

“When you see human action and interaction during armed struggle, it is easy to speak of weapons. If you’re not at war it can be a little tricky. The images you create using language can affect people psychologically. … One of the dangers we are faced with today is there are a lot of people who feel powerless and either fold their arms or say ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, without ever asking ‘where do they come from?’ How did we get into this situation? It’s dangerous, for example, for South Africans to think of being homeless, because homelessness is a social problem with a specific history in the USA. Here in South Africa you can’t be homeless. You might not have a house – just because you don’t have a residence doesn’t mean that you are homeless.” For a man who spent more than 30 years in exile, the concept of home and its opposite – homelessness, has a historical, political resonance. We should carefully consider the use of words from other cultures and situations, especially the USA.

Lebohang is preoccupied with questioning the motivations of her generation. “I question post-independence youth,” says the passionate young woman, whose love poetry for Africa scolds and celebrates through the powerful images that ring through her poems “To-do list for Africa” and ‘The house that we built’. She demands presence and action, and also allows herself to be her age, and fall in love with the wrong type of guy. But mostly she wants the youth to honour those who won freedom for them. “Let their voyage not be in vain.”

Having a voice and a presence in the mainstream of life is not, according to Prof Kgositsile, necessarily poetry. So what is poetry? “Nothing about poetry has changed since there were people using language to communicate. As long as there are people with issues like greed, love, happiness, hatred… poetry will be there. All the major themes have been there and will always be there, among the elite of bourgeois society and among ordinary people. It even existed before the publication of books – as long as there are people using language, there will be poetry.”

Whew, what a relief, the flow is not dependent on us, poor practitioners, for it stretches as far back as human history and far into the future. And anyone – from an 8-year old to an 80-year old can use language to make poetry. It all counts as a contribution to the human reflecting on humanity, there are no limits to the ocean of poetry. But.
What, then, is poetry? For Thabiso, the writing must move him. Many of his poems are what he describes as ‘sparks’ to initiate dialogue. “The power of words is the effect that they have on us.” For Professor Kgositsile poetry cannot be defined. “If one had enough exposure, one could define a certain aesthetic ordering of sound, in the same way that music is distinct from noise because it is ordered according to aesthetic rules and standards. Rhythm is very important in poetry… Criticism or evaluation of any piece of work is very scientific – and the best way to explore these rules is to read work from every corner of the planet, expose yourself to as much work as you can.”
Our ‘unapologetically political’ Poet Laureate has this to say about his position: “It’s good to get recognition, but it would have meant much more if that recognition had been accompanied with some kind of mechanism to interact more dynamically with younger poets. Initially I wanted to travel to all the provinces conducting workshops with younger or aspiring poets.” Resources to do this work have not been available so we are extremely grateful for having an afternoon with our Poet Laureate.

Keorapetse Kgositsile earned his share of our door takings after the venue had been paid, and we thanked him with poems, including the gorgeous Music Man by Natalia Molebatsi, and with all our hearts for the invaluable wealth that he left in our minds.

Jozi House of Poetry would like to thank Lebohang Nova Masango and Thabiso Afurakan Mohare and all the generous, intelligent audience which continues to support our sessions, enriching us with their comments and encouraging us with their warm responses.

To-do list for Africa by Lebohang Nova Masango

What you missed…aga shem wena: Sexing the Word


Vangi Gantsho’s lament is a fire. It is a fire started in a shack by a primus stove that was knocked over by a careless hand. ‘I expected more from you’ is more than a poem: it is the actual imprint of time, this time, a time of betrayal and grand larceny; and her fierce grief is a call to arms.

The Jozi House of poetry crowd stood in the rain of those powerful words, after (again) watching police publicly mow down demonstrators demanding their right: a living wage. As I listened, each line wrung all my thoughts from me, and confirmed my growing suspicion that we live in different worlds, because how can the country carry on like this? But it does, and it did, and we were just at Jozi House of Poetry listening to our featured poets in the wake of the Marikana murders.

In the spirit of Helen Moffet’s rant about Women’s Day, , Jozi House of Poetry asked poets to push the boundaries of what they think as women’s roles, and women’s poetry. Move from mother to fighter, nurturer to surgeon, midwife to executioner. Ja, some ideas are going to die so that people can live better, and sometimes that’s a job for women. After an hour of luminous poetic inspiration, the audience was given a brief lecture by Professor Deirdre Byrne of Unisa, whose passion and main field of study is science fiction and gender. She quoted the feminist writer, Ursula Le Guin, whose essay, “Bryn Mawr Commencement Address”, describes the difference between the way men and women use language as the “father tongue” and the “mother tongue”:

Using the father tongue, I can speak of the mother tongue only, inevitably, to distance it ―to exclude it. It is the other, inferior. It is primitive: inaccurate, unclear, coarse, limited, trivial, banal. It’s repetitive, the same over and over, like the work called women’s work; earthbound, housebound. It’s vulgar, the vulgar tongue, common, common speech, colloquial, low, ordinary, plebeian, like the work ordinary people do, the lives common people live. The mother tongue, written or spoken, expects an answer. It is conversation, a word the root of which means “turning together”. The mother tongue is language not as mere communication but as relation, relationship.


Women’s poetry is not just about love stories and nurturing and feeling good about your body and your hair. Myesha Jenkins purred “I don’t feel that angry about things” but her measured poem about domestic violence was chilling – even more so when we discovered that the story was not a response to a newspaper article, but was about three cousin sisters, two murdered and one badly burned.

Do women write differently from men? We asked, and the response was most certainly, yes. Professor Byrne evoked the meaning of mother tongue, because it is through a female that all people learn to speak, and that language is our first language, it is intimate, emotional and specific, and precedes the language of the school, the community, the workplace – which are all places where males dominate. The mother tongue precedes the father tongue, which supersedes it because of politics – the social oppression of women. Because of their organic relationship to language, women are linguists. Traditionally it was women who carried the history of people in stories and poems which were passed down through the generations. Women’s words make every aspect of life familiar.

Yet Vangi Gantsho learnt to speak in public from her father. “It’s like the feminine writes it down and the masculine takes the space and uses the language,” she explained. Using language as a tool, as a strategic weapon, is not only a male characteristic, yet in our patriarchal world and in the words of William Shakespeare, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’, just as the fields where women dominate for example nursing, teaching and social work – which are all underpaid and undervalued.

According to Byrne, a woman is always writing out of social reality, as a subject, a person oppressed by patriarchy, as people confronted by the real challenge of their biological identity. Everyone is always writing out of their experience, and of course, the personal is political. Commenting on the phenomenal success of Feela Sistah, Myesha said people loved them because their poetry was about the everyday lives of ordinary women. “We engaged and exposed the familiar, and we were bringing that in a more concrete way, than our brothers, who grapple with emotions and tend to express themselves in proclamations and are fatally consumed by competition.”

Uh-oh… do we see the f-word rearing its spiky head? Dawn, a member of the audience asked: So is there a difference between women’s writing and feminist writing? Vangi is wary of calling herself a feminist – because she doesn’t like the idea of losing agency, being defined and limited. Also there is so much ignorance about definitions – as being a feminist is more about defending human rights than oppressing others. “you’re a feminist when someone calls you one – and in our society it’s more of an insult than a compliment.” The audience agreed that we need to take back the label “feminist”, free it from its connotations of “man-hating” and “marginal” and wear it proudly as a badge of courage as we uphold the cause and well-being of women.

I can relate to Vangi’s wariness: having a label ‘black feminist poet’ might relegate a great writer to the fringes of literature. Myesha has lived through all kinds of marginalization and articulated herself so eloquently that the entire audience sat up taller in their seats, enlightened. “When a woman writes, she is trying to assert her power, and so she is challenging the power relations in society. There will always be those who want to remove those voices from the landscape.”

Vangi sees feminism, like black consciousness as ideas that help people find their voices. “It’s about me expressing myself,” she says. Writing is often an act of rebellion, a taking back of the right to define reality from her point of view.

Natalia Molebatsi said: “it’s about defending certain things, and opening up a space where we cannot be censored.” Jozi House of Poetry: Sexing the word saw women proudly bearing the label feminist as they pursued their passion in words still to be written, still to be shared. Towards a space of equality, where the mother tongue has the same power as the father tongue.


[Thanks to Zaheer Karolia for the images]

Sexing the word: Jozi House of Poetry investigates

From Keorapetse Kgositsile to Mphutlane wa Bofelo, South African women’s poetry is among the strongest in the world.

Does biology impact on how people think or write? Can one tell, just by reading it, that something is written by a woman? What are the striking aspects of feminine literature?

Unisa Professor Deirde Byrne will be answering these questions, and more at the Jozi House of Poetry: Sexing the Word, featuring Myesha Jenkins and Vangi Gantsho. Bring a packet of sanitary padsand get a R10 discount off your ticket on 2 September at 2pm. Be part of the line-up and read one of your poems in the open mic. Housed at POP Art Performance Centre, Main Street LIfe, Fox Street in the trendy Maboneng Precinct, the venue is surrounded by restaurants and bars, and the legendary market at Arts on Main is only a block away.

Lehloa: how snow feels up close

playing in snow

tasting snow

The images of Africans playing in unfamiliar snow have been beamed all over the planet,
and yes,
it was beautiful to see how that crust of white crystal unified our shattered city:
a continuous blanket of beauty, making even garbage poetic, photogenic.
Hands, tongues, faces turned upward to receive the blessing
of a brandnew sensation
without paying a cent for an air ticket, or a Schengen visa or a green card,
no, we all had white cards yesterday,
innocent, reborn, pure like a new moment, infinite potential,
and freedom will be
when we can celebrate snow
without the shadow of
how it aches when your hands are cold,
how bones shiver in bodies, fragile shacks that can’t warm
what lives within,
no matter how beautiful this layer of white makes them.

homeless person

Now we know how snow feels up close.

But oh! It was amazing to see Africa’s totems
Tau, Kwena and Tlou, standing strong in the snow!

lion in snow

Women’s poetry on SAFM in August

Myesha Jenkins
Poetry In the Air
Monday – Thursday
11:45 to 12:00 noon

Malika Ndlovu

Radio audiences you are in for a treat! Do not miss this one! English teachers, tune in to expose your learners to contemporary poetry.

You are about to be exposed to the best of South African women writers and poets. This is the first time that these incredible poets will be showcased on radio, in a programme designed specifically for the reading and discussion of poetry by leading South African women poets. It’s about reading, writing and thinking poetry!

SAfm and the Jozi House of Poetry have partnered to honour women during the month of August, when 16 episodes will be broadcast, Monday – Thursday, 11:45 to 12 noon, beginning 6 August. Each episode will create the space for a poet to read her poetry and discuss her work. Local poet and co-founder of Jozi House of Poetry, Myesha Jenkins will host each session.

The poets are old, young, performers, mothers, lesbians, immigrants – and they will all share their lives, histories and dreams – and most especially their poetry – with you! It is guaranteed to be a unique opportunity to hear them read their own work and discuss aspects of their writing.

Napo Masheane

Week 1:
6 August – Myesha Jenkins
7 August – Khosi Xaba
8 August – Nova
9 August – Napo Masheane

Makhosazana Xaba

Week 2:
13 August – Donna Smith
14 August – Sarah Godsell
15 August – Vuyelwa Maluleke
17 August – Vanessa Herman

Shafinaaz Hassim

Tereska Muishond

Week 3:
20 August – Natalia Molebatsi
21 August – Shafinaaz Hassim
Arja Salafranca
22 August – Tereska Muishond
23 August – Vangi Gantsho

Vangi Gantsho

Week 4:
27 August – Lebo Mashile
28 August – Naima Mclean
29 August – Malika Ndlovu
30 August – Phillippa Yaa De Villiers

Naima Mclean

POETRY IN THE AIR is directed by Posy Keogh with technical production by Mbavhi Matshivha.

The Jozi House of Poetry is a monthly session which provides a woman-friendly, non-competitive platform for poets and the literary community. It features several (male and female!) poets reading and performing their work, discussion and an open mic. It is currently housed at the POP Art Performance Centre in the trendy Maboneng District. The July Session is themed: Life, God, Dreams: finding inspiration and will feature Michelle McGrane, Mphutlane wa Bofelo and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers.

CONTACT: Myesha Jenkins at 011/487-1829 or 082/764-8208, email

Jozi House of Poetry presents: Life, God, Dreams: finding inspiration

“Religion is a popular misunderstanding of poetry.” Joseph Campbell.

The great scholar of mythology suggested that all mythologies are metaphors of the mystery not just of being – but BEYOND the categories of being and non-being – beyond ALL dualities. Beyond all conflict and judgement, the human finds peace in this mental, psychic space . Too French for you? Don’t worry, poets have made a map.

Hungry to connect, people use language to mirror and discover patterns of empathy, curiosity or love. We connect with each other, with ideas, with people long dead, and others yet to come into existence. We connect with nature, all sources of energy that evoke the miracle of life itself, and the evocaton of this miracle has an emotional effect: feelings of trust, hope and possibility – some call it religion, but we call it poetry.
Michelle Mcgrane
Michelle McGrane, Mphutlane wa Bofelo Mphutlane wa Bofeloand Phillippa Yaa de Villiers will share their maps at Jozi House of Poetry on 29 July at 2pm for the mystery session, and bring your own map to share in the open mic. cover charge R50 or R40 with a pack of sanitary pads.

Midwinter session of Jozi House of Poetry on 1 July: from Page to Stage

Is writing for performance different to writing for the page? This month at Jozi House of Poetry three poets share their poetry and their process. Back from the USA for a brief visit, poet/actor Antonio Lyons joins poet/director Napo Masheane and poet/editor Natalia Molebatsi for an afternoon of verve and inspiration. All poets have published poetry, and Antonio and Natalia have released CDs of their solo performance. Natalia and Napo both feature in Struik’s 2011 classic poetry anthology Letter to South Africa: Poets call the state to order. Bring your poem to share at the open mic, and participate in a lively discussion hosted by Myesha Jenkins and Word ‘n Sound’s Qhakaza Mthembu.

Napo Masheane

Napo Masheane is an acclaimed theatre director and performance poet. With a background in theatre studies at the Market Theatre Laboratory, she has grown from a passionate student of theatre, absorbing everything she could about the stage from lighting to marketing to being a prolific playwright and determined director, with sell-out shows such as The Fat Women Sing and her own one-woman show, My Bum is Genetic – Deal With It. She is one of the founder-members of the electric spoken word collective Feela Sister, and her recent collaborations include bringing together an indigenous orchestra, working with jazz musicians and continuously building her theatre skills. She is the author of two books of poetry, Caves speak in metaphors (2008) and Fat songs for my girlfriends (2012), a highly acclaimed work with a foreword by Mongane Wally Serote. She has performed her poetry across the length and breadth of South Africa as well as in the USA, UK, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Senegal.

Natalia Molebatsi

Natalia Molebatsi is a prolific writer, performance poet, workshop facilitator and programme director who has presented shows such as An Evening with Alice Walker, Urban Voices, International Spoken Word Festival, and an evening with the father of Ehio-jazz, Mulatu Astatke. Since 2005, she has performed with acclaimed artists such as Simphiwe Dana, Sibongile Khumalo and Maya Angelou, Gcina Mhlophe, Lebo Mashile, Jimmy Dludlu, Tu Nokwe, Sello Galane, Napo Masheane and Thandiswa Mazwai. She has performed in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Holland, Italy, Nigeria, Senegal and Arzerbaijan. Last year she toured South Africa and Italy with her band, the Soul Making. website:

Antonio David Lyons

Antonio Lyons is a familiar face, with a number of TV and movie roles to his credit. He is a spoken word artist with a strong affinity to music, and his voice has accompanied a number of house classics. His second album We Dance We Pray was released in 2011 with acclaim for his ability to combine the diverse musical and literary influences to create a highly listenable experience for audiences. His one-man show We are here played to full houses at the Johannesburg Theatre in 2011, and he is currently studying towards a Masters in performance at one of the USA’s finest universities. He has performed across Southern Africa, in Europe, the USA and in the Caribbean.

And don’t forget to bring a packet of pads for Pledge-a-Pad, and get a R10 discount on your tickets!

Making your passion your day job debrief

There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either. Robert Graves

Yesterday I attended a workshop with an amazing musician, actor and personality, Idris Ackamoor. With a 40-year career, with lots of ups and downs, the first thing he told the assembled artistic hopefuls was: take yourself seriously as an artist. What does that mean? Get your chops. Inform yourself (that’s why I, a poet, was at a workshop at Samro courtesy of Urban Voices). Meet the right people. Register with the right organisations. Make work, and keep making work. Well, it’s a bit different for writers, some would say it’s harder. Some would say it’s the hardest work in the world! But maybe it’s just a question of breaking it down….

Last Jozi House of Poetry session attempted the impossible: to get poets to talk about money. Our panel, who all make a living from writing, read their poetry and talked about how they got where they are. After long hours of reading and writing, focussing on the job you want, working for nothing and schmoozing the right people, Thabiso Afurakan Mohare, Arja Salafranca and Tereska Muishond shared the details of their journeys.

“I write what I like,” said Salafranca, “but it wasn’t always like that. I worked long and hard to get into the position I am in now. The biggest compromise is that I’d like to give my own writing the same amount of energy that I give to my for-money writing, but that’s a universal problem for writers.”

I think of Naguib Mahfouz, Franz Kafka, Chris Abani and all the other writers who have won huge awards, whose work has and will outlive them, and think of all the dedication they have shown – because they all had day jobs. Mahfouz worked in government, Kafka was a clerk, and Abani teaches at university – a home that many people have found for their physical financial needs, setting their spirits free to create. Our poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile worked as a journalist, taught at university and currently serves as the special adviser to the Minister of Arts and Culture to pay his rent. There’s no shame in working! But you have to stay focussed on what you want. A writer who wants to be read, must read.

“You can see that many people who want to be journalists or reporters don’t read,” says Salafranca, who is the editor of the lifestyle section of the Sunday Independent. That’s one way that you can improve your chances to get employment: join the library and join the movement to read South African books, Read SA. The way that words miraculously translate into numbers in your bank account is not only dependent on luck or knowing the right people. Your own ability plays a major role. Remembering that jobs in the arts are among the most competitive (i.e. there more people who want to work as writers, actors, directors, etc. than jobs available) Qhakaza Mthembu, co-host of Word ‘n Sound asked what other advice Arja could give to young people who want to work as journalists. “Work for free,” said Salafranca. “Be very clear about who you want to work for, then bug them for opportunities to show your ability. Don’t be a stalker, but call them regularly, and then when you get the chance, do a great job.”

“Be open to learning,” says Tereska Muishond, who started as a scheduler on Scandal. Sometimes scripts would be submitted missing a couple of scenes, and she would write the scenes. Her head writer recognised her talent, and then started training her as a writer. She is now the resident writer on the series, and gets to write scripts and brainstorm storylines in workshops with other writers. TV writing is highly collaborative, so you can’t be too precious about your ideas. It’s about sharing and letting go, and doing what’s best for the story. “Sometimes you have to fight because you can’t believe that the character would do that.”

It’s all in the spirit of keeping the job, which is where Afurakan has found himself, working as a copywriter after pounding the pavements as a poet for years and years. “I learnt writing on the street and through practising with Flo Mokale. By following my passion, I did the 10 000 hours that proved to them that I’m good enough for the job. But the challenge is still working with some of the prejudices of the client, like when they day “a black person would never say that” and you’re a black person, and you’re saying it!” Copywriting, like TV writing, involves lots of rewriting – “the client knows what’s best for them, so you go back and redo it. Pick up your self-esteem and deliver!”

Notes that you’re given on your writing in the workplace are not personal. Thabiso grins: “as long as my name is on the finished product, I don’t care!”

Ways that you can tell yourself that you’re getting along with your goal to earn as a writer:

- if money is not there, accept whatever is offered – soccer tickets, books, whatever. Just get the piece out, with your name attached to it!
- volunteer at different places, get as many experiences as you can. Community newspapers, newsletters for organisations, school newspapers, etc.
- read. offer to read at the library. Read to old people, children, anyone.
- get into a writing group, try to publish something with them.

- Start a blog, write on facebook. Use the internet wisely.


And then the poetry! Our minds were expanded with Salafranca’s rich, personal poetry while Mohare and Muishond got our feet tapping. A rich diversity of voices as Tereska brought her whole family onto stage for her final piece, Ghetto Girl. Mohare’s paen to the security guard who abandons his family to protect yours was beautiful and moving, and Salafranca took us on a journey of the soul reading from her various publications. Being together, then single, then in love again, and always the quest to tell the story, reflect the shape of the heart.


Make passion your day job

JOZI HOUSE OF POETRY THIS SUNDAY 3 JUNE 2PM features a rare phenomenon: poets who pay their bills with their passion: writing.

Founder of the Word ‘n Sound series of platforms, his venture for the past two years, Thabiso Mohare works as a copywriter to feed his poetry habit. He surrounds himself with young poets and creates opportunities for them to grow while simultaneously building his performance and writing repertoire. afurakan

Award-winning poet and writer Arja Salafranca has published two collections of poetry and a collection of short stories, as well as contributed to a number of journals. She works as the editor of the Life section of the Sunday Independent, a job not at odds with writing.arja

tereska Tereska Muishond is the resident writer for the tv soapie Scandal, and is a founder of the spoken word duo !Bushwomen. She has performed her poetry at Badilisha Festival, Poetry Africa and various other poetry festivals and events nationally.

We are told that “there is no money in poetry. But then there’s no poetry in money either.” (Robert Graves). But we live in a world where it is possible to be a poet and a creative person and be financially functional. There are however a thousand ways to skin, cook, eat and remember a cat, so after feasting on their luminous poetry we will be talking to these poets about how they found their way to maintaining themselves. Come and find out how passion can actually pay bills, really really. You might have to toe lines sometimes but…it’s worth it when you look at the school fees, car payments, and dental work that is covered when one asks the muse to lend a hand in making someone else’s dream come true. Do you compromise your integrity, or lose the plot when you shine someone else’s shoes? What is your bottom line? What words will you not help to be born? How do these amazing poets keep their integrity? Is integrity something to keep or something that is constantly under attack from various forces? How important is it anyway? And so on… will be some of the questions we’ll be asking of these poets.

Come to PopArt Theatre At Main Street Life, Fox Street, Doornfontein 2pm-5pm Sunday 3 June for a rare treat: poets who pay their bills! You will pay a mere R50 for a seat at this wonderful conversation, with a discount of R10 if you bring a packet of sanitary pads, which we donate to institutions where many of the girls miss up to three months of school because they can’t afford these necessities. After you’ve had your mind expanded and your soul illuminated, you will step into the radiant kitchen of Pata Pata or Chalkboard and eat celestial vegetarian food or divine pizza and then you will ascend with the youth to the top floor of Main Street Life to boogie the night away. If you’re an elderly poet who’s already had some red wine in the afternoon, you will sidle into the forgiving night, leaving the youngsters to their spanking.

Three grown-up (and one small) poets explore FREEDOM at Jozi House of Poetry: What you missed

One of the by-products of a poetry session, says Donna Smith quoting Khalil Gibran, is that it creates a space of togetherness. And April 29′s Jozi House of Poetry was no exception. Featuring Donna Smith, Lebo Mashile and Mphutlane wa Bofelo, the poets came together to share their reflections on Freedom in the spirit of the 50-year celebration of Jamaica’s independence among our own Freedom Month celebrations.

Space, for the poet is always a paradox: as a human deeply attuned to the human condition of fear and loneliness as well as hope and love, space can sometimes be too much, or too little, especially between people in close relationships, the main theme of Donna Smith’s poetry.

Jamaican-born activist Smith combined music with her poetry which carries the infectious inflections of her native land. Manoeuvring through paradox and ambivalence is grist for Smith’s mill: Poetry is what keeps me alive versus how to pay the bills? How to conquer fear and doubt?
She chants: I don’t know which is worse
Burdened soul or empty purse.

As an activist she embraces her potential to free herself: as she says ‘I am the lock as well as the key’. Perhaps all artists are activists but Smith and wa Bofelo are organised. Mphutlane wa Bofelo evokes the journey of a human seeking a higher consciousness with his masterful poetry. Some of my favourite lines:

My past is not behind me
my past is under my feet.

I am a presence
human beyond borders
a boy with the heart and smile of a girl.

Griselda’s song explores how people can die of a stigma. He really seems to embody the Kgositsile lyric: armed struggle is an act of love.

With the violent acts perpetrated against women this month, it’s clear that the concept of freedom has to include gender and the poets all spoke to gender in different ways. Lebo Mashile goes from the personal to the general to the land itself to explore theft, possession, betrayal and still, her golden voice reminds us that our liberation lies in our own pens: in the writing we reveal the truth, and from the truth, liberation. Again, a poet who is able to explore different, even contradictory perspectives in her courageous quest for truth. Her set was a continuous river of words, carrying us from Miriam Makeba, asking us ‘how many songs must a songbird sing’, and then a different take on exploitation, sexual exploitation of women by men. ‘I don’t know how many women you’ve put inside me’ and challenging us to listen to the ‘screams of men’: ‘We can live lies, but love never pretends.’ Poets speak the unspeakable: the pain of a woman raped because of a war that robs her of more than the land, it robs her of herself. The beautiful I dance to know who I am is the redemption song for 2012 as we return once more to our material situation: I just love the simplicity of this line: “The body is the soul’s physical address
The symmetry between design and purpose…/
and of course, with Mashile there are no limits because
‘the landscape of the body can’t be seen by the eye’…

A brilliant interlude showcases a young poet with an extraordinary gift. Quince Hopkins (8) was introduced to the congregation by her mother, trainer Caroline who has discovered her creative side living in Mzansi. She shared her blog about her family discovering poetry via Myesha Jenkins’ beautiful work, and how this led to the children, led by Quince, decided to make Sunday poetry day in their house. Quince’s poem revealed a deep understanding when she recites: ‘Comfort fights for space/ but fear hides in a hole’ – I hope I have remembered it vaguely – but it struck me as a lovely gift to the audience, a young, fresh poem from a young, fresh poet.

The discussion, always a moment of rich exchange, was particularly poignant because of our country’s spirit at the moment. Disappointed with the cheap orange chips of what has become our freedom, poets see only inspiration and opportunity in the ashes. For Smith, it is simple: Recognizing freedom can’t be separated from a process of self-acceptance. For all these poets, the personal is political and vice versa, and they all see themselves creating in the fire of the chaos of material reality. ‘It’s like peeling the layers of an onion,” says Mashile, who first fell in love with poetry when she was paging for purpose, looking for unity and unpacking identity on the way there. Her high comes from the awareness that everyone is an outsider, nobody fits in, and it is fuelled by ‘trying to dive off the edge of my own fear. I crave, and chase that’.

For Donna, freedom is giving yourself the chance to take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself is a revolutionary act. Wa Bofelo nods emphatically. ‘I come from a tradition where poetry was an instrument of struggle – at rallies there was always poetry. So for me Freedom is being able to have a sense of self beyond the constructions of society and economics, seeing yourself beyond that but not oblivious to that.” He reminded us that the Black Consciousness movement’s underlying message was ‘to instill a sense of love in yourself, to liberate you from the cocoon of race, class, ethnicity, etc and to affirm again and again that our primary identity is human identity.”

Once again the h-word comes up, and I remind people of how we use being human as an excuse more often than a badge of courage and potential. Mashile affirms our current confusion as a rich source for poets who listen to “voices that gave our society an emotional vocabulary to write certain things into being.” But she is not satisfied. “We’re not allowed to have the whole range of human feelings so we continue to act out the damage…”

In amongst the gems of the conversation we heard the writers reaffirming their commitment to their work, and to the free exploration of their expression:

Mphutlane: there is no strict border between private and public: it’s up to me to dictate my limits, it should not be imposed. …the act of writing is the act of claiming your right to think independently and critically.

Donna: Writers excavate, our task is to articulate our condition for ourselves and then for others to identify, reflect and grow. I stop writing when I need to listen…

Lebo: For SA expression is a dance between public and private: you hold people accountable and find yourself accountable. Literature is a time machine: a collapsing of time. My preoccupation is not with growing my audience but with being more and me myself… I don’t want to get distracted in trying to change others: this is my place and this is my (not always easy) job.

Open mic revealed gems: Vanessa Herman’s line ‘my heart is a riddle solved by my lover’s mouth’ and wondrous poems by Thandokuhle, Duduzile, Gillian and Monene… without people taking the gap to reveal their souls in words, there is no poetry folks. So thank you, and please join us at the next JOZI HOUSE OF POETRY featuring AFURAKAN, ARJA SALAFRANCA AND TERESKA MUISHOND (all poets who WRITE FOR MONEY), 3 JUNE, POPART THEATRE, MAIN STREET LIFE, FOX STREET, DOORNFONTEIN. 2PM SHARP. R50 (or R40 with a packet of pads…)