Thursday, February 03, 2005

South Africa to African-America: 2 Poets Correspond (Letter #4)

03 February 2005

Riperile Ayo (Good night Ayodele, that’s in my language, Xitsonga).

I. Who is Mr Howick?

Thank you for a heart-rending missive. You asked, who is Howick? I asked Gabi, she didn’t know. I wanted to ask Malcolm, I forgot. Perhaps I should have visited the tourist office to find out the history of this area: Howick, Lidgetton, Balgowan, Caversham, Pietermaritzburg… The answer is, I am inadequate.

I can only make assumptions: Howick was a white man who probably served in the colonial army as general. Maybe a missionary who taught people to pray with their eyes tight closed. Perhaps Howick was a writer– a poet who never got a chance to be published widely! Ignorance is not an excuse. I am a South African, and should fully comprehend this country’s history.

Notwithstanding, Howick should simply be renamed after a bird or lush vegetation and the name must be in Zulu. Once again, I shout my slogan: Africa for Africans! I support the move of changing names of towns and streets and so on. It’s important that we do so. I wonder what would be the attitude of government if we had to change South Africa to Azania. The ANC has never liked Azania nor its BC exponents. So unlike other African states that changed names, we are still a Republic of South Africa or is it South Africa only?

When most African countries gained independence, they shed European names. Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. Lourenzo Marques became Mozambique. Southern Rhodesia became Zambia. South West Africa became Namibia. South Africa, what did we become? Same old stinking nameless Jack in the southern tip of Africa. If blacks are in control, why are the many voting black masses disgruntled and viewing their freedom as piecemeal? Who is in control? My sense is the ANC comrades are in office, not in power. The economy is still in the hands of industrialists and farmers who have tracks and tracks of fertile land, including ownership of mountains and rivers and caves!


The story of a six year black street kid at Howick is a tragic one indeed. Lack of language is a barrier, and often, the abnormal becomes very normal. Ignorance is a sickness and arrogant attitude must be cured. In this country, like many other developing countries, we have masses of underfed, hobbling kids who sniff glue to warm their thin bodies throughout the year.

The half-measured attempts to fight poverty by government seem fruitless. The government is encouraging the poor to start projects and small businesses, but when the courageous poor entrepreneurs ask for money from government funding bodies, they are often told the budget is exhausted. When they ask for credit from commercial banks, they are asked for collaterals. Frustration sets in. Good people, talents and sacred souls are but wasted. The six year black boy hovering in Howick will certainly grow bigger (well if he survives the HIV/AIDS pandemic and hunger) and join the army of the unemployed young South Africans. This time, the young man will be very ungovernable. He will not beg in the street. He will break people’s houses, hi-jack cars, rape beautiful girls and educated women. He will knife away those who dare to challenge his ways of making a living. He will break his parents’ hearts forever. No rehabilitation institution will be able to bring him back to life. He’ll be arrested many times. Stay long periods in jail. He’ll crowd the prison with his hunger for killing and money. He’ll be released on parole. He’ll go back again in prison (which me and you are probably afraid of.. like I said ‘I would kill a man if a prisoner attempted to penetrate my ass’.)

The story of a six year black boy is a painful one, especially when we are looking for a positive black future in a liberated South Africa. Blacks will forever remain slaves in their own land, when opportunities for growth are closed down. Piecemeal solutions won’t eradicate poverty and want. South Africa needs a political and community leadership with ‘balls’ to fix broken down families and communities. There is a need to dialogue about an appropriate economic policy that will be friendly to the poor; a policy that will secure the future of that six year black at Howick Falls.

All over the world, people are saying out loud, “Another World is Possible”. This must happen in the lifetime of that six year old black boy at Howick Falls, who probably lives in a derelict.

III. Of aloes and birthdays

When Malcolm told me of Gabi’s birthday, yesterday, and suggested a poem, I did so.

for gabisile nkosi

you are a burning aloe

your warm leaves
brave the dryness
and stillness of winter deserts,
deep roots firmly anchored
to the ground.

your staccato laughter
is like bursting aloe leaves
spreading seeds
across the land.

gabi, you are calm
deep sea of love.

Tell me what you think of this beautiful and respecting Zulu woman, who humbly says, “ngiyabonga”, njalo? For me, she’s amazing. She is kind-hearted. Shares her stories of pain and joy. Without her, Caversham can’t be complete.

IV. Print making

It’s now making sense to me. When Malcolm explained a range of possibilities to be explored with what we have already produced during workshops, I noticed the connectedness of process and the product. He also made my work certainly clear and manageable, and exciting. I love making books. Perhaps is the obsession of many writers to want to appear on the printed page, in bookform. Orthodoxy or innovative…just fine. I’ve trying to take care of what I’m producing. As you pointed out this morning, it’s not always easy to produce a solid literary work within three weeks. My writing process requires chiseling and chiseling and chiseling… which sometimes takes months before I’m satisfied with the final poem. Every poem that I write I leave it to ferment, gather steam, then explode. I go back to it, listen to raw music of the words; search for better phrases and lines; examine the structure; read it out loud alone in every space possible and then to a group of friends.. even strangers. When I am satisfied, then I can throw it away to editors of literary magazines like Kobus Moolman, the amazing spirit that visited Caversham yesterday.

IV. Poetry at Jabula high school

It was wonderful to visit Jabula School. I reckon for a performance poet like you, you probably shed a tear of joy. The pupils came in droves to pray, and the poets pumped them with additional prayers. The pupils sung popular Zulu Christian gospel songs. Even the primary school children filed on the floor added their tiny voices. Pupils clapped and screamed. Ooohh. I realized I’d forgotten my light-hearted poems about love and so on, I felt the Mandela, Have You Ever Wondered poem still served the purpose I needed: to get the audience burst in song, in my presence and long after Vonani’s absence. I strongly think through rhythm, one is able to get people up, up, up and dance.

I liked your energy on stage. Hot gun powder. Fireworks. An explosion. Boom! Boom! Indeed home is colourful buddy! The dramatics really worked. I envy your energy and passion for words. Your powerful voice, and shift from character to the other was amazing. No need for electronic gadgets to amplify the voice. The content so refreshing. You are a poet with subject matter. It’s the reason pupils screamed. Even the children who covered the cement floor screamed.

I therefore invite you to submit 4-5 of your poems (old and new unpublished/ original work) to Timbila – a journal of onion skin poetry. If you have time, I would like us to work on a comprehensive interview about yourself, poetry, politics, the state of contemporary US poetry and spoken word, your experience here at Caversham Press, etc. I would be glad to include both selected poems and an interview in the next Timbila edition (which will come out before April this year). I’ll also ask the maestro to send me a few of his unpublished poems for the journal.

I am grateful for the opportunity to read a poem at the school. I am sure I’ve inspired some potential writers and poets. (Unless they saw a monkey yelling on stage. You never know what you look like when you are doing a poem!) I donated two copies of my poetry collection, “In the name of Amandla” and hope to donate more books that I publish under imprint of Timbila and Bila Publishers to the school library and the Creativity Centre initiated by Caversham. I hope the teachers will encourage potential poets and writers to form book circles and poetry reading clubs. Poets indeed need space to share. A platform to rant, evoke feelings and heal hearts.

V. Writers’ needs

Since we all agree that writers play second fiddle at Caversham at this stage, there is definitely a need to reflect on ways to accommodate writers fully. I am sure there is no ill-intention on the part of Caversham management to have writers on the periphery and secondary to visual artists… it’s just that a print-making facility is much more handy to fine artists. Of course writers and poets are important, and wanted badly here, otherwise we would not have been invited. It’s a natural battle to balance interests. Perhaps if I ran a similar facility, I would give poets (not even prose writers or those who write children’s interests ) a much more louder voice. It’s my area of passion. But I also need other writers and artists. It’s not an easy task. And I think Caversham is doing well (as one of the very few centers catering for the needs of writers and artists) in South Africa. Surely one man can’t do everything. There is a big shortage of thinkers in the world. What do you think?

But writing, like any other job, requires special tools. I was so happy when Ros showed me a Thesaurus the Caversham Press bought today. As a second/ third or perhaps fourth writer and speaker of English, this particular tool came very handy. Every writer needs to refer. Ass you pointed out the other night, for Caversham to satisfy the minimum standards of hosting writers; the following require attention: computers with Internet access, community workshops and readings, meetings with local writers, technical support in the form of a mentor editor, media coverage of the residency, a library with adequate books (well, we are not asking Caversham to build a state library… just some classical works, poetry anthologies, history, philosophy, art…in the writers’ cottage), a stipend (of course, but toilet paper runs out, the writers must not use leaves or newspapers just to save money!).

Some guidelines would need to be developed to establish what can be done in a writers’ residency. Importantly, writers must find ways to collaborate with artists. It’s an amazing experience. A writers’ residency can aim to achieve the following: dialoguing about Caversham hourglass model, writing, editing, publishing, and production of single editions of books and link up with a book publisher to produce in mass (a brilliant idea that Malcolm has shared with me). I think writers of all orientations must find Caversham as home. Well for, I will always motivate for poets (perhaps not too blindly!).

VI. Conclusion

Yes, let’s explore ways of doing projects together. Let’s collaborate with artists. There are benefits. Every opportunity created must be utilized to the fullest. Observe, appreciate, critique, question, reflect, listen, digest, write and read until your eyes hurt. Learning and sharing is what unite true humanity. Let us do all the things that are humanly possible.

Best regards,

Vonani wa ka Bila
Caversham Centre for Writers and Artits

No comments: