As the crows fly. Emma Bekker

There were crows, who once ruled the earth. They had escaped from the ark of a terrible god,
their beaks seeking the carrion that was borne on the waves of a flood.
They had a taste for blood,
this black sorority of all that is pragmatic,
turning floodwaters into amniotic fluid.

They bored out eyes, opening the view to the unseen, their cries piercing deaf ears.

They were unpickers of the thorax,  scissoring through the last fibers of that which binds human to earth.

And then they taught that wily Gilgamesh a lesson that his seed is still struggling to plumb:
floating isn’t flight.

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Alternative transportation. Des

Brand-new BMX
Dad worked hard for you,
shiny and sticker’d,
bright paint, grease and glue.

Not allowed on curbs?
No bicycle lanes?
Give way! SUV!
God forbid it rains.

Oh, white elephant,
bought with blood, sweat, tears.
To get from A to –
in twenty odd years.

They say it’s easy
to exercise your new-car-smell-freedom
– like riding a bike.

Interview with Kobus Kotze

Unisa Poetry Society held a truly unique poetry event on Friday evening August 12 called Imbokodo at MB Studio Community in Pretoria. Five well-renowned poets, Athol Williams, Nkateko Masinga, Zena Velloo John, Kobus Kotze, and Mthunzikazi Mbungwana performed some of their poems in celebration of Women’s Month in South Africa. We interviewed the poets and asked them to share some of their work with us.

Alwyn Roux: Why did you start writing poetry?

Kobus Kotze: I guess for the same reason most men do. I was in love with the coolest girl in our school when I was 13 and thought writing her some poetry would do the trick. It didn’t. That being said, I have always been in love with reading and words and the way books and stories made me feel was something sacred, untouchable and deeply personal. I guess I wanted to see if I could, in some way, touch this abstract but yet so real world on a different level than just being a reader

Alwyn: How does a poem begin for you?

Kobus: Interesting question. I think it kind of just happens. I mean, things happen in our daily lives – you have a conversation with someone, you witness something inexplicable that keeps bugging you, you see a person that reminds you of someone or something or you hear a song that takes you to a place that freaks you out so much that you have this need to try and understand the not understandable. You have to write about these things otherwise, they either disappear into oblivion and the fact that you experienced them become obsolete or they morph into repeating thoughts in our heads that drive us insane.

Alwyn: Could you tell us more about your upcoming poetry collection?

Kobus: Yes, it’s a collection of poems telling stories about landscapes, people, and dreams. It seems it’s always threes, isn’t it? Think of Freud – the ego, the super-ego and the ID, or the Holy Ghost, Jesus and the Father or mind, body and spirit. For me, people, landscapes, and dreams make up my abstract reality or then private dogma. I believe we are all extensions of other people and when we write about other people we actually write about ourselves as well as our split personalities, hopes, and ideals. Landscapes are open and, especially in a country like South Africa, landscapes and place names have big political significance. Where the people I write about project my personal inward feelings. Dreams are obviously the fictional world that blurs the lines between everything. Think of people as the traditional Jesus figure, landscapes as the bigger God –like figure and dreams as the more mystic Holy Ghost or people as a body, landscapes as mind and dreams as the spirit (in a Buddhist sense). I have always been accused of being a bit too political in my writing, I hope to live up to that in this book. As an Afrikaans speaking white man and a pale male, I like to challenge the perception people have of me and my identity. The poetry in Afrikaans and will also include a QR Code or CD, we are still figuring that out, with a link to a spoken word album where some of the poems are paired with music. I was lucky enough to have the help of some of my favourite current South African musicians in this regard.

Alwyn: Please give us a short summary of your ideas expressed at Imbokodo on 12 August at MB Studio Community.

Kobus: The poems I prepared had to do with things from my personal life. I talked about the strangeness of living in a foreign land, I currently reside in Korea. The second poem was about a brother and son my mom, me, dad and sister lost a very young age and how that memory almost became a metaphor for rebirth through hardship for me. My mother was there that evening and, as selfish as it might sound, it is a poem I wrote for her and I wanted her to hear it firsthand. There was a poem about a young boy being both abusive and abused, just as the 80s political system did to our society. This poem, just like the previous two were both autobiographical, albeit both with a bit of a creative license. The last poem was a drug infused rant to be quite honest.

Alwyn: What do you think it is important to celebrate Woman’s Month in Poetry?

Kobus: It is always important to celebrate women.

Interview with Zena John

Unisa Poetry Society held a truly unique poetry event on Friday evening August 12 called Imbokodo at MB Studio Community in Pretoria. Five well-renowned poets, Athol Williams, Nkateko Masinga, Zena Velloo John, Kobus Kotze, and Mthunzikazi Mbungwana performed some of their poems in celebration of Women’s Month in South Africa. We interviewed the poets and asked them to share some of their work with us

Alwyn Roux: Why did you start writing poetry?

Zena John: I am an accidental poet. Poetry found me! I was noting down observations of the human condition and universal experiences, and these were identified as poems by outside eyes.

Alwyn: How does a poem begin for you?

Zena: A poem spills out of me onto the screen or page. It is almost a subconscious moment, a channelling of sorts. When this creative force is done, a poem has appeared. I don’t edit or re-write; it’s a once-off. The moment has come and gone.

Alwyn: You are part of a very exciting collaboration called “Beyond spice”, and you recently published your first poetry book. Could you tell us more about the collaboration and the main themes you explored in the book?

Zena: I am honoured to be part of a collective of six South African Indian women from Pretoria, who decided to pool our artistic talents into one book. I had been writing for years and decided to publish my collection of poems.The young art collective created imagery around themes within my poetry. We touched on the nuances of life, love, belonging, spirituality and all things mystical, in an attempt to reveal the sometimes hidden, creative world of women in our community.

zena-john_group

Top, L-R:  Shenaz Mahomed (Fine Artist), Kershnee Velloo (Artist), Raeesah (Designer, Illustrator, Photographer) Bottom, L-R:   Jayna Mistry (Fine Artist), Zena John (Poet), Shaskia John (Artist)

Alwyn: Please give us a short summary of your ideas expressed at Imbokodo on 12 August at MB Studio Community.

Zena: I traced a line from the past to the present, alluding to the Indian indentured labourers that arrived in SA 150 years ago, and our unbreakable bond with all those that have gone before us. Bringing in elements of the soul and spirit world that hinge on our physical reality, I whispered the universal truths that bind us all to each other.

Alwyn: Why do you think is it important to celebrate Women’s Month in poetry?

Zena: Poets and other artists are keepers of the intangible threads that filters through all life streams. In our current reality, the Divine Female energy is consistently overlooked. We need to harmonise the celebration of women in all facets of creativity, and poetry brings the consciousness of society to the forefront. Poets are musical philosophers.

I AM

I am the free flow
I am the energy
I am you and I am me
I am is the most powerful thought in the universe
I bring to life that which has lain dormant for centuries
I sizzle through water drops
I dance on rainbows
I am the smile on your child’s face
I am the wrinkle on your oldster’s skin
I am life bursting forth from the green shoots
I am the wail of a newborn
I am the last sigh of the soul that travels beyond
I am infinity in a star
I am a wisp of thought gone in a second
Neither here nor there
But everywhere
And nowhere

© Zena John.

Lifesong

I wrapped myself within the african continent
tugging at its northern most point
tweaking its southern tip
to reach a comfortable
belt of awareness
home
I danced with the south asian sub-continent
giving flight to centuries of bell-jingling footsteps
toyed with the moon glistening on its holy waters
and found my soul hidden
in its duet
with the
sun

© Zena John.

Interview with Nkateko Masinga

Unisa Poetry Society held a truly unique poetry event on Friday evening August 12 called Imbokodo at MB Studio Community in Pretoria. Five well-renowned poets, Athol Williams, Nkateko Masinga, Zena Velloo John, Kobus Kotze, and Mthunzikazi Mbungwana performed some of their poems in celebration of Women’s Month in South Africa. We interviewed the poets and asked them to share some of their work with us.

Alwyn Roux: Why did you start writing poetry?

Nkateko MasingaI think I should first by explaining why I started writing altogether. I was very shy during childhood, so I was accustomed to sitting by myself and reading books. Eventually, I started using the art of writing to express myself. As I grew older, I developed a desire to tell my written stories in my own voice and hence I overcame my shyness.

When it comes to writing poetry specifically, I started because it is my favourite form of storytelling. Whether it is a limerick, haiku, sonnet or free verse, every poem has a story to tell. I believe that if we don’t write our stories down, future generations will have no proof that we lived. So I write poems so that other young people will read my stories and be inspired to write their own.

Alwyn: Your first poetry chapbook, entitled “The Sin In My Blackness” was published in 2015. Could you tell us more about the title of the book and the main themes you explored?

Nkateko: ‘The Sin In My Blackness’ started off as a single poem about black consciousness, but as time went on I started writing more poems on the same topic, and eventually the subject matter broadened to explore my experience of black womanhood in the South African context.

I wrote the book because being a black woman in South Africa is a daily struggle and in this struggle I have searched through the rubble and found a beauty in blackness that I am willing to defend, a beauty that I will not allow to be contained or stifled.

The title of the book is part of my personal mantra: I refuse to succumb to the notion that I must hide my hair, bleach my skin or make apologies for the way I sound when I speak. There is no shame or sin in my blackness.

the-sin-in-my-blackness

Alwyn: Please give us a short summary of your ideas expressed at Imbokodo on 12 August at MB Studio Community.

Nkateko: My set at Imbokodo was titled “Lessons on Womanhood.” The message that I wanted to convey in those poems is that women deserve to be celebrated, irrespective of how they choose to live their lives. For too long, society has sold us the idea that women need to be ‘decent’, which is another way of saying we should be quiet, sit in a corner and behave.

My poem “Hollow men” talks about the consequences of silent womanhood. I believe Zora Neale Hurston said it best when she said: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” As women, we need to allow ourselves to be loud and take up as much space as we want to because the world can be cruel at times but speaking up is an act of kindness to ourselves.

Alwyn: Why do you think is it important to celebrate Women’s Month in poetry?

Nkateko: In August each year, South Africa honours women for fighting for their right to have a voice (to vote and make decisions in the running of the country), so we need to celebrate that by making female voices heard. Representation of the female voice must be all-inclusive so we cannot say we are celebrating women if we do not honour the work of female poets. Our work is important and the issues we address through the written and spoken word are also important.

Alwyn: How does a poem begin for you?

Nkateko: I write about things that I’ve gone through and things that people around me have told me, so a poem will either start off as a reflection after I’ve processed a personal experience or an idea that comes to mind after a conversation with someone. From there I’ll jot down a few lines and the poem will basically write itself because I will leave it and then go back to it when a new idea comes to mind.

Poem 1:

How to be The Other Woman

You must learn to carry children who cannot fit in your womb And just as quickly let them go.
You must learn to be a bride without a groom; Wear a veil and walk slow, Impossibly slow, So painfully slow that you die before you reach the altar Because no man is waiting for you there.
You must learn to hold a pot, a kitchen cloth, a broom For the times when phone calls are answered in another room.
You must remember that you are first a woman Before you are a woman who is not put first.
You must learn that he is not the water to your thirst And that you are not cursed And that your heart will not burst.

You must learn your place.
You must plaster indifference on your face
And say “It’s okay, it’s okay”
so many times that it sounds like your heart beating,
Tastes like a meal you are re-heating,
Looks like an enemy you are defeating For the hundredth time
For the same crime.

You must learn her name
And say it until your mouth bleeds.
You must go to Home Affairs during your lunch break
And cry like a child
Because you cannot bear to not be her.

You must learn to knit while you sit on your bed.
Create something that can be destroyed by the pulling of a thread. Weave loss intricately into the fiber of your being.
Stitch pain into that tapestry
Because you are the other woman:
Not flesh of his flesh
But a thorn in the flesh of another woman.

Poem 2:

Hollow men

you were a riot within yourself;
hating your own spine,
wishing it could not bend.

you were quiet because
you did not know
there were a myriad poems
in the gap between your teeth,
a plethora of stories
on your tongue

you did not know that your voice
would make shells of grown men,
make them wish they could
drain their marrow
and say ‘welcome home’while handing you the keys to their bones.

and when you found out
that standing still also required your backbone,
that your stories were all fables
where you gave men fangs within locked jaws
and yourself, wings,

that hollow men were called ghosts and the women who enticed them
inherited haunted mansions,
it was too late.
to escape the hollow home and to restart the riot within yourself.

Athol Williams. Beggars

BEGGARS

I begged there every day,
at the same traffic light,
corner of Rivonia Rd and Outspan Rd,
for scraps,
for coins,
for mercy,
from those in BMWs and Jaguars and Audis
with a crumpled cardboard sign that read:
PLEASE HELP. NO FOOD. NO JOB.

I’d be on bended knees
that struck the earth,
cushioned by the hard, jagged asphalt,
my head bowed low,
my face pitiful.
I’d imitate the queen,
and wave the royal beggar wave
to draw attention
like an idiot
as fumes from five-litre engines
filled my empty stomach.
The crumpled cardboard sign in my heart read:
PLEASE HELP. NO HOPE. NO DIGNITY,
for I had dissolved a long time ago.

The faces in the cars would ignore me,
awkwardly, they’d turn away,
away from me,
away from their shame
and wave a dismissive hand,
“Fuck off,
go get a job!” 

I’d been offered a job
but I didn’t want it;
I’d rather stand there.
The faces were right,
I should fuck off
because I didn’t have to be there.
So I would be a beggar
and be ignored
and be sworn at
and get saliva-soaked leftover sandwiches
or a cigarette butt
or pneumonia.

Then one day I took that job,
abandoned my corner
to the relief of the faces
in the BMWs and Jaguars and Audis.

But I still see those faces,
only now they don’t ignore me;
waving, pleading, bowing, bending,
begging,
only now it’s not me.
“Please don’t take our things,
please don’t hurt us,”
they beg.

We’re actually all the same,
beggars;
it just depends on who holds the power
to grant wishes,
and who’s on their knees.
“Fuck off,” I say, cocking my gun,
“this is my job!”

All first published in Bumper Cars (The Onslaught Press, 2015)
© Athol Williams

Athol Williams. Magic

MAGIC

I want to perform some
magic; make a fountain
appear in the desert sand,
make a mountain turn to
nougat; defy gravity by
leaping from tree to tree,
or run faster than the
speed of dreams, or bend
the unbendable, or lift the
unliftable, or perhaps …
make those frightened men
who kill in vain to rid their
hearts of fear, to stop; to
lift their faces to light,
and to see … life.  Ah magic!

All first published in Bumper Cars (The Onslaught Press, 2015)
© Athol Williams