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Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

MAY: STEAMIN’ POETRY MONTH

MAY is going to be a great poetry month with launches, readings and a big festival to look forward to.
phillippa poster
African Perspectives Publishing presents Phillippa Yaa de Villiers in a Steamin’ Hot Poetry session at Darkies Café in downtown Jozi on 3 May at 6pm. Running in conjunction with happy hour, the session explores rage and the erotic in a range of poems from her two poetry collections Taller than Buildings and the 2011 SALA Award-winning The Everyday Wife, as well as a number of unpublished poems. De Villiers will be in conversation with Professor Deirdre Byrne of Unisa’s English Department and editor of Scrutiny 2 magazine.
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Bernadette

Gender activist Bernadette Muthien will be launching her debut collection, Ova at The Women’s Gaol on 20 May at 3pm. A range of poets and performers including Myesha Jenkins, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers and Afurakan will be interpreting the works, with accompaniment from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy’s Jazz Band.

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At the end of the month the BUSHFIRE ignites. Swaziland’s highly acclaimed international music and arts festival this year features Ayo, Saul Williams, Nancy G and Flavia Coelho, and a range of South African poets including Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, who will be weaving their magic held each year at House on Fire, an inspired venue set against a breath-taking rural landscape in the heart of the Ezulwini valley. I am so looking forward to being there, and chatting to other writers at this unique and beautiful cultural event.
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Arja
Jozi House of Poetry’s theme is Writing and Money featuring poet and copywriter Afurakan T Mohare, television scriptwriter Tereska Muishond and Sunday Independent Lifestyle Editor and decorated poet, Arja Salafranca. The session, on 3 June, will be moderated by Myesha Jenkins and Natalia Molebatsi.

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NOT FREEDOM DAY BUT ALUTA CONTINUA DAY

anna akhmetova by amadeo modigliani
I can’t say that my idea of struggle is the same as that of a person
whose material conditions are completely different from mine. Who
works for a boss, who withholds wealth, who demands time and effort of
my body and mind. I work with the immaterial, the unformed thoughts
and stories and intentions that shape the actions (and ignore the
actions) of people. So please allow my interpretation of the work of
struggle. And please allow the loneliness of it: the only masses in
this writer’s life are in the head.

18 years down the line and we still ain’t free, I mean really free,
and the worst is that our future, our children are behaving like
monsters, in fact some children are monsters. The 15-year old rapist
who gouged out the eye of his 8-year old victim is a dreadful symptom
of the breakdown of families and the lack of care in our society.

We hold Nelson Mandela in high esteem because he suffered, he
sacrificed his life for this country, and because he does not exact
revenge. With all that was done to him, he did not retaliate in kind,
luckily for the previous incumbents. Archbishop Tutu tried to broker a
goodwill exercise where all would be forgiven and forgotten, but it
hasn’t really worked. The head can talk but the hands are busy undoing
all those nice words.
The nation is a dismembered body with each part pursuing its own
agenda. Healers and artists are standing by with sutures, but there is
no anaesthetic and nobody really wants to look, or to hear what they
see is wrong. We cruise on in a haze of PR truisms, bouncing over the
froth of social media, our real lives splashed in the wake.

I do this too, when I’m faced with something I don’t want to see, I
just ignore it… I’ll get to it when I’m ready. This week is my week
for committing to seeing what I’m looking at instead of gazing into
the middle distance (as Bobby Rodwell said to me when directing me in
Fanon’s Children) and imagining, willing another reality to seamlessly
and without effort take its place. They call it struggle because it is
struggle. It requires force, physical and mental, emotional and
spiritual will to change, and it has to be sustained until the change
takes place.

My mind is like popcorn and keeps popping all over the place. I really
have to work to apply myself. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’m
taking Chinese lessons to practise consistency every week – plus I
love it, the characters and the writing. I have had to internalize the
amount of time and work it takes to change things. One of the things
that I want to learn from Chinese history and way of doing things is
approaches to combat. When you’re faced with an opponent who is twice
your size and intent on destroying you, what are your options, how can
you strategise to at least, survive the bout and come back for a
second one?

Freedom is a process that we have to constantly fight for. Peace lies
in understanding the struggle. As a writer and performer these things
are never set, never resolved. They shift from moment to moment.
Politics is an attempt to stop the movement, to freeze the struggle,
to force unity. I can see why it’s important, and it works up to a
certain extent. The focus of looking at one thing means that others
are not seen. For the 8-year old victim and the 15-year old
perpetrator whose lives are marked by a deed that neither of them can
fully understand, freedom will not be celebrated today, and for all
the other thousands of child-rapists and child-victims that didn’t get
on to the news, the struggle will have to go on.

I can’t say that I’m celebrating today. My son is sick in bed and I
have already told him my 27 April 1994 story. We will talk about many
things today, and taking care will be the main action. Try to bring
the body parts together, gently. If necessary, use force. If force is
used against us, accept and use the force to undermine. And try to
survive another day, another week, to sustain the struggle.

(This post appears originally on www.de-Scribe.posterous.com, with pictures and more information about me)

The uses of enchantment: why I’m going to Bushfire

I often get the bejeegles when I’m writing about something
controversial. Bejeegles are feelings that arise due to expressing
controversy, that provoke a physical reaction like wanting to pee in
your pants and simultaneously that come come, do what you want to me
feeling that drunk men often get just before being bashed in the chin
in a bar. I have a serious case of bejeegles about Bushfire.

aragones

Headline or sideline, the world is a frontline
the battle continues and we bow to our enemies
before we engage them in combat. Then we bow to them again.

I am not headlining at the Bushfire Festival 2012 because I don’t have
a big enough head, or a high enough profile (although I’ve always been
quietly proud of my nose). The dictionary defines a headliner act as
the one most likely to be covered on the front of a newspaper, and
therefore attract a huge audience. I will probably only get a
newspaper headline due to something highly improbable POET SAVES SHARK
FROM SURFMOB or DE VILLIERS SCORES and then it will be a different de
Villiers. Profile relates to the number of google hits that come up
when you type your name into a search engine, and the more hits you
get the more marketable you are, and the more marketable you are the
more tubes of toothpaste or hair relaxer or tomato sauce your face
will sell for someone. As a lowly poet whose skew face won’t sell
magazines, toothpaste, records or cellphone subscriptions, where I
perform and to whom doesn’t matter, except to ME. Which is why I’m
having this conversation with you, instead of just going to Bushfire
and dealing with what it meant afterwards.

Bushfire is an international arts festival held in Swaziland. Like
Harare Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe, it takes place in a country
that is well known for human rights abuses of citizens by the
government. At the moment, clashes between government and
pro-democracy groups have reached a climax and the Swaziland United
Democratic Front has called for a boycott of the festival for the
second year running. Last year’s Bushfire Festival went ahead despite
the boycott and the last-minute dropping out of some of the
performers. In response the Arterial Network has supported the
festival, and many artists are going to perform there. Nancy G, Swazi
artist, will be appearing there along with Saul Williams and his band,
and some other famous international entertainers. I have been invited
too.

When I wrote about this on my blog yesterday I received a lengthy
response from a personal friend and member of the SUDC, Steve
Faulkner, who encouraged me to boycott the festival. In respect for my
friend and what he stands for, I have given first preference to his
letter and placed it prominently on my facebook status. Honestly
however, I’m not going to do what he recommends because of the
following reasons.

My friend Steve says “It is also extending the boycott and general
sanctions campaign beyond cultural linkages to economic and political
targets to exert pressure on the Ruling Elite to stop victimising and
brutalising democrats, and to make way for moves towards a democratic
Swaziland.”

Which economic targets have they isolated? Have they managed to
pressurise any businesses from trading with Swaziland? Have they
managed to get any particular commercial venture (and when I say
commercial, I mean a business with a clear profit, not a subsidised
arts festival) to comply with the boycott? Why is it only the artists
who must be forced to make “a choice for their conscience” while
business continues as usual to Swaziland’s other service providers:
petrol gets delivered there, all manner of household goods, luxury and
otherwise are traded, but we are not allowed to sing and recite poetry
there? For me this is a double standard. What about Huletts, Albany
Bakers, Engen, Shell, all the millions of brands that sell stuff (at a
profit) to Swaziland? Why are they not targeted?

Also, the USA has bombed the hell out of Iraq and flattened Afghanistan, but people can go perform there, in fact are seen as serious artists if that’s their aspiration. No, man. That’s not fair!
And I wonder how many people will boycott the Reed Dance this September in solidarity.

Culture is how humans make sense of the human condition, through
music, performance, art, creativity, this is how we process our
reality.

Artists are like doctors who minister to the emotional and spiritual needs of
people, no matter what their creed or colour. If I am called somewhere
to present my poetry I go. I have been to Harare International
Festival of the Arts. I have been to the Havana International Festival
of Poetry. I have been to the United Kingdom and performed there. All
these regimes have their moments of grand larceny and oppression.
South Africa too has its own post-liberation embarrassments.

If the Bushfire Festival says that 100% of their profits go to
charity, they must be held accountable to that, and I agree in holding
them accountable. If the Bushfire Festival says that it employs a
number of Swazis who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to make a
living, then I agree in holding them accountable for that. But to make
them responsible for the organs of state, the quality of free press,
the king’s new jet, the right to protest …and all the other things
that are wrong with the country, is not fair. They don’t have that
power. They’re putting on a concert, not running the country.

We artists are not legitimising the regime, we’re doing some other business, we are engaging the souls of the people who want to come and see us. I believe in the power of the imagination to change people’s minds – but their behaviour may take a while to catch up. Artists are not
message-bearers or ciphers, they are humans gifted with reflecting the
human condition back to other humans, evoking their humanity and
compassion. The Bushfire theme is Call to Action: and I wonder what
that is. It might not yet exist: but that’s why artists are there. To
dream the invisible into reality – and it might only last a second or
the length of a performance, but just for that time, humans deserve to
see that life is full of possibility, if we can only allow ourselves
to imagine it.

Creativity is the Fire – the one true Fire – that evokes our
resemblance to a Creator. My entire intention is centred on getting
out of the way, to allow it to work through me. It is difficult to
quantify and there are no guarantees, but I believe in this fire – and
festivals fan the fire, amplify the voices that we hear and give
artists a chance to connect. I look forward to breaking the isolation
of a struggling artist by being with other people – accomplished
practitioners, whose whole life is dedicated to their art, and
learning from them.

Swaziland is an absolute monarchy, with a polygamist patriarch at its
head. The Bushfire Festival is a visionary, engaged artistic
phenomenon. Shutting down the Bushfire festival is shutting down the
myriad possibilities that could come about when people get together
and start dreaming a better world.

Finally, I’d like to say something about this conscience question.
Part of the coercive tactic of getting people to join the cultural
boycott, is playing into the fear of the repercussions. If I go, I
won’t be popular anymore. Nobody will see any merit in my work. It
will be the end of my career. These are all practical concerns, but
are they really my conscience? Is that all my conscience is, the
question what will they think of me?

What is your conscience? What does your conscience allow? Mine encourages me to give what I would like to receive: a free outpouring of love and spirit strength, courage and humour: humanity.

Bejeegles check? still there… but subsiding… (this blog first appeared on www.de-Scribe.posterous.com. Go there to find the secret life)

FEATURED POETS AT THIS MONTH’S JOZI HOUSE OF POETRY: LEBO MASHILE, MPHUTLANE BOFELO AND DONNA SMITH

LEBO
The Jozi House of Poetry is a monthly poetry session that combines
featured, established poets with an open mic. To further enrich the
experience, a discussion around poetry, politics and society is
moderated by the convenors Myesha Jenkins and Phillippa Yaa de
Villiers or a guest moderator, and it often erupts into a debate or
laughter. This month’s theme is Freedom, and features three poets
intimately connected to the idea: Lebo Mashile, who returned to South
Africa and explored freedom through the diverse communities that she
visited in her classic show L’Attitude, Mphutlane wa Bofelo, an
activist, teacher and prolific writer has the pursuit of freedom as a
life work and a guiding principle, and Donna Smith, Jamaica-born
lawyer and poet whose voice adds a new note to our song on diversity.

The session takes place at 2pm at the PopArt theatre, Main Street
Life, Fox Street, Doornfontein and tickets cost R50 each (R40 if you
bring a pack of pads). Jozi House of Poetry partners with
Pledge-a-Pad, which provides sanitary pads and tampons to orphaned and
indigent girls who miss up to three months of school due to not being
able to afford pads.

BIOGRAPHIES

Lebo Mashile is a poet, published author, performer, actress,
producer, and presenter. She has been forging her own creative
identity since her emergence on the South African arts scene in 2002.
Mashile has shared her poetry at most of the country’s major art and
literature festivals as well as worldwide in 17 countries to date. She
is the author of two collections of poetry. In A Ribbon of Rhythm, her
first collection went o to win Africa’s premier literary prize the
Noma Award in 2006. Her second collection Flying Above the Sky was
published in 2008. Mashile lives in Johannesburg with her son.

Mphutlane wa Bofelo holds a BA degree (English and Political Science),
Honors in Political Science (UFS), Project Management Diploma (Varsity
College) and has completed coursework for a Masters degree in
Development Studies (UKZN). He has published five books and his
essays, articles and poems have appeard in various print and online
publications. As part of the Nowadays Poets, Bofelo contributed to the
design and facilitation of the Creative Ink Project which was adopted
by eThekwini Municipality as a model of urban renewal through the
arts. He is also projects coordinator of the Slam Poetry Operation
Team and a part-time writing and political and social development at
Workers’ College in Durban.

Jamaica-born, trained lawyer and wordsmith Donna Smith has performed
at Cool Runnings in Melville, Horror Café and other venues in Newtown,
House of Nsako in Brixton and, in Braamfontein, the Simply Blue Visual
Vocals Poetry Slam, and Wits Amphitheatre,where she has been a
favourite in the line-up for the annual Jozi Spoken Word festival 2007
– 2009. She has performed in Pretoria, Cape Town and Soweto as well as
Namibia. She has published a book, a CD and a DVD and is one of the
artists representing Jamaica this year, the 50th anniversary of
Jamaican independence.

Go write yourself out of your paper bag

We get stigmas in our eyes then we can’t see straight. We can’t act. We can’t move towards what we desire.

Stigmas hurt, like the wounds that the Romans inflicted on Jesus’s hands. They confine us and raise us up to humiliation.

In modern times stigmas are myths that humans create to shut other humans out – from belonging to a group, or gaining access to resources. Our history is littered with examples of stigmatisation, but after the wounds have healed we don’t recognize them. We forget that they were inflicted in a certain way for particular reasons.

Stigmas start as a simple no entry sign on a door of opportunity, and the people to whom the sign is addressed realise quickly that they should stay away from that door, because it means disappointment. As much as one watches other humans open the door, enter and come out dressed in furs and smelling like perfume, we know the door is not for us. For the more rebellious the door represents a challenge, and we spend hours trying to find ways to gain access, even though the door is not for us. But the no entry sign has a way of becoming a force field, so for most people that door is not even considered as a possibility. The majority of people busy themselves with finding other doors that will let them in.

Television is wide open, libraries are constantly fighting to survive as most people don’t see the opportunities in books. In South Africa books have to take shape, grow voices and bodies and convince by their human presence that they deserve a place in every person’s inner library.

In South Africa publishers struggle to make a living, while the task of making books live falls more and more in the hands of the writers and their circles of readers. I had a fantasy that when I had a publisher I would sit back and collect royalties, but no, not at all. My small publisher is so cash strapped that she has no marketing budget at all. As a performing poet, I sell most books at readings so it becomes increasingly clear that it would be more cost-effective for me to self-publish.

But there is a stigma about self-publishing, also known as vanity publishing. My publisher, Colleen Higgs, is one of the leading lights of self-publishing having written the popular and useful Guide to Small and Self-Publishing in South Africa, which is a checklist of the do-it-yourself major processes that have to take place around the publication of a manuscript. No, it’s not enough to write the book! This book outlines in detail what she, as a pioneer of local publishing, did herself and shows everyone how easy it is.

Oh but the standards will go down if everyone can do it so easily! cries my inner critic, throwing up her manicured hands. How will we maintain aesthetic standards!?

How indeed. Who decides what is good, and deserves a place in the canon? So many wonderful poets have been left out of official canons for political reasons. Why can’t everyone have their own canon? Can’t we all have our top ten poems that speak to us and our situations? And when we compare poems, can we also discover each other’s daily reality? And if poetry reveals the daily reality of people living so apart from one another, can we, at least say that in the sharing there is a togetherness? and in that togetherness is the root/route to community?

Clearly I have stars in my eyes, no sense of reality. Except… I’ve experienced this community myself, and I know it exists. I know that I’ve been feeling slightly nauseous for just over a week. After I wrote a poem this morning I felt a lot better. I don’t know if its any good: or if it will survive, but it was a fresh window into my day of refuted testimonies and flailing defenses.

The mainstream publishing world is having a crisis and technology is at the heart of it. Amazon wants to charge the BIG SIX PUBLISHERS big bucks to market their books. Here in the backwater, I’m looking at my dwindling pile of The everyday wife and thinking I must call up my publisher and ask her for another stack. But I must pay my bill first, which the only way a small publisher can survive. The frothings of the big six seem very far away to me. They don’t have much to do with what I’m trying to do, and what I consider feasible and meaningful. I happily put my books on the Kindle store. The market is becoming everyone’s again, instead of the wheeler dealers.

They say, If you want to hide something from a black person, put it in a book. The many black writers who are jumping bravely over the forcefield of stigma and self-publishing are simply looking down at their stigmata and shrugging their shoulders. I know this is very metaphor heavy and I should probably rewrite it and clean it up. And that playing with the word stigma/stigmata – a little forced, unwieldy. But I can’t stop now – I want to publish NOW get it out there, even if I regret it’s what I was thinking RIGHT NOW. Publishing and being damned dammit. I’ll take criticism from people that I esteem. Thank you very much for reading. Now go write your own post/blog/book.

MIND-MAP – SA: hello? Anyone out there?

How we grow

Jozi House of Poetry is part of a rich network of young African minds, exploring our situations and writing reams about how to change the world. One of our favourite productions is Mind-Map SA, run by Sihle Marcus Mthembu, a journalist with a passion for culture (and we don’t mean that one that collects wives like bottled spiders).

Take a look at the latest issue which features literature.

We grow when we are given critique and attention. It would be great if some of our literary luminaries would cross the street to the hotbustlingscuffle of slam, oral poetry and spoken word. After all, we come from the same mama: literature.

MARCH WAS BEING HUMAN MONTH

Poetry is alive and well and living in Tshwane and Johannesburg. Saturday evening saw an intimate gathering of word lovers sharing the fire of poetry, with diverse voices starting with Given Illustrative Masilela, the devout Christian who won the 2011 Spoken Word/Consciousness slam to me, the unashamed atheist. For some reason the session was intensely spiritual, and secular voices broke bread with all and sundry inviting them to sit down and listen to tales of humanity, of being dumped, falling in love, discovering life in all its wonder, betrayal, anger, and always the resilient spirit of creativity pulling us forward and onward.

Starting with Masilela and talented Ras Xitha, to the inspired long form raptures of Rantoloko Molekoane, the first section of the show was closed by the inimitable and hard-hitting Vangi Gantsho. Then the lyrical Natalia Molebatsi, Myesha Jenkins who just launched her second collection, Dreams of Flight and myself, all warming the stage for headline act Saddi Khali, Def Jam poet turned photographer, lyricist and wordsmith and all-round good guy.

Like all good poets he is a social commentator toasted in the oven of a rich oral tradition that stretches back 400 years and back to west AFrican roots and the birth of the African diaspora. For the young, slam-loving audience it was good to have his and Jenkins’ perspectives on the USA and the state of art and politics. He is not a fan of slam himself although he was once a def jam poet. He doesn’t do slam anymore because he didn’t agree with the values, the dissing and the fronting that are quite adolescent and give slam poets a kind of sameness. The emphasis on competition brings judges of this art form too much power: and the judges are rarely well read or well versed in poetry, and might base their assessment of a piece on the basis of the beat and the rhyming pattern of the poem, and whether or not the poet is good looking.

All these critiques delivered in a gentle tone that belies the rigour of his craft. The New Orleans native is in South Africa taking photographs. “My background is in writing, and we are trained to look below the surface. I bring the same principle to my photographs.” says Khali whose portraits evoke wholeness and beauty in its subjects. According to Khali the devastation of Hurricane Katrina which displaced the majority black population, leaving gentrification in its wake, has robbed New Orleans of its soul and the rich diversity of people. However his beautiful photographs, which capture beauty of the human soul at one with its body, craft a path that keeps this poet living and walking the various byways of the cities of the world.

Jozi House of Poetry’s theme for March was Being Human, and we ran two sessions in order to accommodate the Popart Venue which had booked the show for 1 April instead of the usual last Sunday of the month. In future people who want to come to Jozi House of Poetry @ Popart will have to check the date, instead of assuming that the poetry session is automatically on the last Sunday of the month.

In March we looked at the human condition through the lenses of Makhosazana Xaba, Vangi Gantsho and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers. Xaba’s rich imagery leaps off the page and we thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Tongues of their mothers, her second collection and the source of all of her poems in this reading. Starting with her ode to Francis Rasuge, and her anger at the betrayal of the police and government – we all got shivers down our spines with the recent news of the discover of her bones – exactly in the grounds of her boyfriend’s house. Amplifying the sense of betrayal Vangi Gantsho’s poem-rant I expected more from you left the whole house shaken to the core and deeply satisfied, having tasted the truth.

The human response to the monument of public holidays was captured in Khosi’s Summer, a beautiful rendering of the first days of democracy and 1994, and 69 bullets, imagining voices of the victims of the Sharpeville massacre by Philyaa. On the side of dreaming and reclaiming our destinies, Tongues of their mothers was beautifully complemented by Vangi’s If we could remember them.

Open mic starred Miriam, Mandi Poefficient Vundla and the brilliant and multitalented and soon to be headliner Afurakan, and new and magnificent and lovely poems and we loved them all.

The discussion, moderated by Myesha Jenkins, explored the tension between the state’s role in creating and maintaining memory and poets’ role as the voice of human experience. Which would prevail? As long as we ‘outsource’ our experience to the government, corporates or any other body and give them the right to create the meaning for us, we lose agency over our stories and our memories, and ultimately, our lives.

The second session held on 1 April featured readings by Myesha Jenkins and Philyaa and open mic performances by Mthunzikazi, Saul and Vivienne (open mic virgins).

The next Jozi House of Poetry will feature Lebo Mashile, Donna Smith and Mphutlane wa Bofelo, on the theme of Freedom. The session begins at 2pm at Popart Theatre, Main Street Life, Fox Street, Doornfontein.

Jozi House of Poetry’s Love, Romance and Erotica

v-power cupcakes

Love and/or getting off with someone seems to be mainly luck and making good use of opportunity, but we all know that it’s so much more than that. Using the biggest sexual organ, the one between our ears, we listened and spoke about this magnificent theme that has given so much to literature and other art forms. Jozi House of Poetry’s Love, Romance and Erotica session kicked off with readings by Quaz Roodt and Dikson Slamajamjar and Myesha Jenkins, closing off with Raphael D’Abdon and Natalia Molebatsi.

Poets constantly create language, which is plain to see in the works of wordsmith Dikson. Quaz chose to expose himself, bringing personal poems freshly hatched and blinking in the light, poems of love and rejection instead of his usual philosophical/humourous fare. We spoke of women writing and men writing and the way that it is almost painful for men to expose vulnerable emotions: anger and enthusiasm, righteous rage and sarcasm are so much easier to express than fear, love, sadness, jealousy. D’Abdon’s masterful poem about masturbation rocked the house and got many upperlips a little sweaty, and he spoke about the difficulty of reading the poem out aloud. The poem was a tongue flicking over the body of the audience, arousing each part, peaking and finally sinking, satisfied into 50 minds.

Writing about erotica seems to be the province of older, more lived-in writers: while they’re young and beautiful they’re having far too much sex to write about it! But I suppose it’s also about the intention behind writing – how this changes each time one begins. And yes, perhaps there is a little nostalgia once one gets a little far from the real thing…

Myesha, Raphael and Natalia are editing an anthology of contemporary South African erotica, and they spoke about how the first submissions were closer to love than erotica. Myesha Jenkins with characteristic candour read poems that instantly evoked sexual organs, fully aroused and ready for action, and Natalia’s customary lyricism found its own way there. We spoke about erotica and pornography, and what is the difference? One audience member suggested that pornography starts with titillating the body, and erotica goes to the brain first. Pornography is shot under hard light and leaves no room for nuance or feeling. According to Audre Lorde, pornography is the direct opposite of erotica “for it represents a suppression of true feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling.”

She continues: “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.”

Sex and power are inextricably linked in this patriarchal society. Erotic writer and film-maker Gillian Schutte, who co-moderated the session, spoke of the politics of naming and the liberating power of language. Schutte’s sense of humour saw her also baking vulva cupcakes, similar to the ones in the attached photo. Schutte actively provokes by using language that is extremely explicit – one of the differences between erotic and pornographic countered D’Abdon. Writing is like having an orgasm, she suggested, because it creates a safe space to think and to be, and the pleasure of this is incomparable. Other writers don’t find the act of writing at all orgasmic, because they are concerned about finding the right words to express what they are thinking which makes them anxious – the opposite of aroused.

The session highlighted the different ways we enter sexuality from the society we emerge from, the shame and fear of sexuality, the taboos around homosexuality and female pleasure. It started as a little session about love and sex and ended up as an examination of power. Some members of the audience wanted to keep sexuality as a sacred space not spoken about, but the poets cantered into the arena blinking and naked. Visitors from Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Nigeria were inspired by the openness of the discussion, which sort of veered off literary concerns because we still need to talk, refine, define and capture the sexual experience in order to liberate ourselves. There’s work for everyone. The open mic featured poets from Lagos to Jozi and rounded off a very satisfactory session. We cherish the sacred space to write and share and allow ourselves to be tickled, touched, ignited and to open ourselves to each other, to create together new futures.

March 25′s session is called Being Human and explores the human condition in the words of Makhosazana Xaba, Vangi Gantsho and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers. Starting at 2pm sharp, the session will go on till 5 or until the final open mic candidate is heard. The session will be moderated by Myesha Jenkins.

Poet of the Day: Roger Bonair-Agard

roger

I take the right to make various days meaningful for such and similar reasons so today I’m devoted to Roger Bonair-Agard, because my friend Lesley Perkes bought the spoken word redux book and cd about 7 years ago, and we listened to it and fell in love with this poem How to spell freedom and so when he came to perform at Urban Voices my friend Myesha and I girlishly went backstage and gushed and then we took him to Constitution Hill the next day and listened to the guard tell how the prison was in the bad old days and we watched his face and he said he was moved, then he left to be invisible to us and to be who he is to all his other audiences and I thought that is time, that is how time tears us out and sticks us on another page that will turn, or burn, depending on our destinies. Either way, it will end.

In the fire of remembering I went to Youtube and downloaded steaming minutes of his words and I envied his delivery that certainty that absolute truth that was so carefully constructed there, and I wished that I could also be true and strong and sensitive and loud and long and I will, but not like him, and then I listened to his poem Atonement and it starts as a tribute to Shaun Thomas Dougherty who is another US poet although Agard is not really US but Trinidad-Tobago-an but he’s been there such a long time and his accent remains, his words were cast in the Trini furnace so they will be thus forever branded because this is our nature, we are things of clay, the hands that shape us compose our voices too, and I thought about Seitlhamo Motsapi and how this continent was once the crucible of humanity, and it took millions of years to create a viable population, and these poems that fall on this naked, howling earth, may never be remembered, even today so many people have no idea, they’re all at sea, so perhaps we should write poems in response to poems, in order to create a paper trail, so that the truth may be discovered, and then lead on to another, and hand over hand we carefully guide ourselves back to land.

seitlhamo