Poetry queen back on stage

wordsmith: Acclaimed South African poet Lebo Mashile performs tonight atthe Joburg Theatre
wordsmith: Acclaimed South African poet Lebo Mashile performs tonight atthe Joburg Theatre

ACCLAIMED poet Lebo Mashile has performed in 22 countries around the globe but says she still gets butterflies in her tummy when she has to recite poetry for her home audience.

Mashile is scheduled to perform tonight at Arts Alive Festival's Speak Your Mind atthe Joburg Theatre.

The 35-year-old tells Sowetan that she has to work on her material over and over again to be sure about its quality because Johannesburg fans are critical.

She says that Johannesburg is where she first established her poetry career. "I am challenging myself for this year. I have new material and I am excited about it. But it has been stressing me and I have not been sleeping [much] because I have been writing.

"The people who love poetry in Johannesburg are the people who raised me in the art form. They have watched me over the past 14 years and it comes with a certain expectation," she says.

Mashile says the issues she always expands on in her writing - politics, gender and identity - will form part of her performance.

She performs in a line-up that includes rapper Tumi Molekane of Tumi and the Volume, veteran wordsmith Wally Serote, Jamaican icon Mutabaruka and new poets Mandi Poefficient Vundla and Gratitude Fisher.

The barefoot dub poet Mutabaruka, who is familiar with the local audience and is set to charm his fans, is known for poems and songs such as Dis Poem and A Girl Called Johannesburg.

Serote, whose poetry spans decades, will also be interesting to listen to as he is rarely on stage these days.

The yearly Arts Alive Festival, which began last week and will end on Wednesday, also features dance, music and other art forms.

Mashile says her inspiration comes from literary icons like Don Mattera and Keorapetse Kgositsile. She also values the world tours she previously shared with Mutabaruka.

She adds that there is a need between older and young generations of poets to share experiences. "I was listening to Mandi and Gratitude and they said there is no dialogue between the younger ones and the elders.

"Somewhere somehow, there should be a bridge between the two generations. There's a real need for inter-generational dialogue."

Mashile acknowledges the role local media has played in promoting poets as part of mainstream or popular culture.

She attracted fame on TV with herLatitude social documentary programme and is now a presenter of the kiddies show Great Expectations on e.tv.

Her 2005 debut poetry collection In A Ribbon of Rhythm won herthe coveted Japanese Noma Award. In 2008, she released her second anthologyFlying Above The Sky.

Mashile's poetry career began in 2003 while with female group Feel-A-Sista.

She has over the years gone against the usual conventional expectations of a poet. In 2009, she showcased her work on the National Arts Festival stage when she collaborated with iconic choreographer Sylvia Glasser in a music and poetry piece titledThreads. She also featured in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda and regularly works as an emcee.

"You do not see poets having TV shows in other countries and you do not hear them in round-table discussions on radio. It happens here and that has to be commended," says Mashile.

The mother of one admits she has been quiet and had cut down her once hectic schedule since she became a mom.

"I had a baby [and] after that my life changed.

"He will be four in December and opinions are starting to form. He wants what he wants when he does, and he has opened my eyes to a lot of things."


The Speak the Mind Poetry Session line-up features a mixture of veterans, exciting game changers and young, fresh voices in the spoken word fraternity.

Poets scheduled to take to the stage tonight at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein at 7pm include Tumi Molekane of Tumi and the Volume, Wally Serote and Mutabaruka, among others featured on the bill.


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