Word Is: My Homecoming

Word Is, 28 November 2014, District Six Homecoming Centre, Cape Town.


As usual, Cape Town is late! Mawande Sobethwa, the MC, breaks the waiting with an isiXhosa tongue twister:

Ndiqhel' ucheb' ixhego inkqayi
Ndingumqabaqava igqabi le vinegar qha ngomgqibelo bendiqaqanjelwa ngumqolo ndaya kwa gqirha wathi liqhakuva waligqabhuza
qaqa liziqikaqika kuqaqaqa eqolweni kwaqhawuka uqhoqhoqho

The poets huddle in a circle, murmuring something, then The Fruit Vendor takes the stage playing chords on his guitar and words emerge from the poets dispersed into space:

I am” Ziqu begins, vibrating soliloquies.

I am” Ngonyama dissolves into word that suspends word itself.

Mbongeni speaks of “Poets congregated – poetry died and spoken word watched.

I am a storyteller transcending through the turbulent times”Siyabonga reiterates that this is not a poem.

Dejavu: “I am a poet yo, loud mouth sister – you still frozen in time perfecting your rhyme.

Lindokuhle: “Imagination sets you free – made of gigantic words – exposing assets you can access.”

Shunshine: “Release its golden roses – when my humming was arising

Koleka: “Mama, when I grow up I want to be a terrorist – What if I told you God is an imperialist?

Kyle: “I am a poet who writes about girls and shit.

These were the words that stood at the door and said, “We are late but please allow us in for we are COMING HOME!”

Performance is a fate not every poet is destined to dance with. But here we are, charmed by words and bodies that utter syllables between razor sharp intellect and a sober spiritual order. Damn, my flesh requires me to be more attentive to Dejavu’s tranquilizing reiteration of the necessity to connect, affirm, and recognize the self as she screams Ngiiiiiiii-muhleeeeee. Do any of you understand the difficulty of transcending physical limitations? Moving between dissecting the self and bodied flesh. This is a homecoming!

Reckless words that are judging
She has to be short and light, so they can eclipse.
He was meant to be tall and dark so they can eclipse.
Love never changes it is the mind that cages.

Lindo's words left me suspending any preconceived notions I had carried about love.

I had to pay extra attention, make sure my ears are well waxed for verses of a new voice. Hearing a poet for the first time is like wanting to kiss a stranger that looks familiar.

Lebo opened his mouth and said:

these days, birth days, birth days…
where young men straight jacket their hearts with barb-wire
dear son – broken pregnancies – your son shall never meet the sun.

I could not believe my ears, was I hearing right? Did this young man just write a letter to the broken son? Both these pieces were an extended conversation of male figures and how they battle the negotiation between ideas of self as a reference to a father and to gender dynamics. There must be a road leading us home.

One day I will dress my soul – and not be satisfied – and ask, are we beautiful yet?

Shunshine beamed in her request, she filled the room with a translucent energy that searched the corners of whatever it is we call human. Are we home yet?

When it comes to Koleka Putuma, I want to write a book about her poetry. I would love to travel her mind and see the revolution that continues to parade up there. I am always enchanted by the way her flawless words can weave a negotiation of a way home.

Believe: Words can only say so much, look past the man I am and see the one I want to be.

Ziqu and Ngonyama plead with us to liquidate our fragmented vision of looking so we can see beyond this moment. It is always fascinating when a black man recites a poem in search of a woman’s heart, because too often, black women die in poems, killed by the cruelty of word. This was an interesting encounter, watching an intimate poem of yearning and finding a man sensually appealing outside the contours of his masculine body that requires me to see him as sexy. Maybe we are closer to home.


Chicken tastes like cowards passing the buck to others about who pulled society's triggers, busy pointing fingers, at writers who were brave enough to let ink instead of blood spill on papers. So if you wanna talk about pen pushers, well I’m the type of poet that pushes pens that rock papers and scissors.

Ngonyama interrogates the cliché that the pen is mightier than the sword, proving that writers need not only document the moment, but also the possibility for impact beyond the moment. Is this the home we were promised?

When The Fruit Vendor performed “Pencil Pusher”, his words echoed our deepest daily challenge of working 9-5, the daily sacrifice to keep our dreams alive. “Hardships, broken promises, everyday we work hard at it”. Songs of empowerment are necessary – we are tired of being sad. Songs of promise, because we are done being broken. Songs of finding, because how long should we continue to search? Whose house is this?

Maybe I am being biased, but there appears to be something more honest about reciting in your mother tongue. Look at me still attempting to explain this in English, eishhh. Kodwa ke, xa na uyilanda inkaba yakho – awukwazi ukhamisa utyale. Ngoba kaloku, ubuyelembo. Ziqu understood this, as he praised his mother – his words meshed between church hymns and words that searched for his mother’s spirit. He found her engulfed and etched on his body. She might be home.

When Mbongeni utters, “let's go back to the truth”, I cannot help but wonder about the apparent national amnesia we are forced to suffer in this country. I have to stop myself from screaming. Black bodies are not allowed to shape their history. We are violated by monuments of John Cecil Rhodes and the like… where are the monuments of our Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe? I wondered if this is the truth Mbongeni was speaking about. He continues:

An old soul once resided in this body
I found a poem written – make them understand

At this point, I felt an ancestral shake of murmurs saying, “Write about me and tell them I am dying, tell them I am waiting for freedom, liberation, emancipation, liberty, revolution. We will find our way home.”

Miles Hodges once wrote “everybody knows you can’t trust a pretty boy with light skin”. This was Kyle’s opening line ... a disclaimer for what followed in his poem.

Where do I begin?
According to the history of my skin, these leftover scraps of melanin fed to sweet sixteen prom queens by their forefathers who abandoned human decency.
Separated privilege somewhere in between black barbed-wire fences and yes, there is no defense for whites only benches and I am sorry that dreams were leashed by ignorant Dalmatian dog owners.
But I don’t write to offer insight in slave trade, in front of a mic I’d never ignite race flames.

I wish I could insert the rest of the poem to piece together the deconstruction of self that Kyle’s poem had on one side, and the white guilt that required blackness to carry it on the other. But the question that smacked the blackness off my face asks what historical context do we assign to reimagine ourselves in a ‘post reality’ where the admittance of white privilege comes with a black lash? He is negotiating with our pseudo-intellectual and political landscape and maybe that will bring us close to home.

The revolution is waiting to happen inside our hearts
skin an extended metaphor of the soil.

The conversation that Siya’s performance had with Kyle’s allowed us to sink even deeper into that inward-outward dichotomy that rendered our physical limitation a constant reminder of history as we know it. Mbongeni's plea to go back to the truth became an echo of Shunshine’s reflection on the performance between the soul and our bodies. Siya was attempting to awaken something that died with the dream we were never able to dream. Hush, hush, hush his guitar echoed and we listened carefully to the heartbeat imprinting itself... hush, hush, hush and carry the words I give you as seeds you can plant to grow yourself, beyond this very point. I can imagine a home.

Dear Father…
We have been taught that our relation to woman is that of ATM and vending machines.
Father, I might eventually have sons of my own for whom I will build a home, I will teach them to trade smiles for God.

Sipho’s words continued where Lebo left off, having with himself a father-son conversation. It was becoming clear that for some boys, to be a son meant raising yourself to be a man beyond the lack of a father. The private is always political, it can't be separate – because the laws affect our bodies – and Sipho knew this. How do I then refuse that this is our path home?

Ngonyama tries to capture the entire experience before he recites his last piece: “This place always throws me out and says the beauty is out there – this moment is celestial, this moment is golden – this spiritual space we just all went to”. The lines of his final poem seem to open the door for poets, writers and lovers of words:

There are too many stories between us, I write this with my fingers in resilience.
Only the strong see the next day, write, write, write your legacy on wings of angels
Gamble with our lives
Recite our sights so eyes can see the beauty
So no, I cannot swallow your pain, I cannot fight your battles for you.
I can only send you the strength to fight for yourself.

It has been a beautiful journey home: to experience some of our greatest young poets.

I hope that the words poets puke are the pillars of who they are, because dear God if it is not so then lies are lived on stage.

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