Cup O’ Thought, Collaboration and the Death of Durban Poetry
I don’t attend poetry sessions. Which is a shame considering that I am an avid lover of the written word. I would love to blame corporate bureaucracy for my absence but even that is not enough. A few months ago disillusioned as I was with the entire affair I decided to take a vacation from attending poetry sessions. Partly due to the fact that I am a strong believer in cultural excellence, and towards this end I hold the view that young people participating in the arts have a huge role to play in making our arts a success. Unfortunately over the last year or so as I vicariously scan the Durban performance poetry scene, I could not help but notice that the audiences were growing but the quality of content was not.
Now I do not like to think of myself as a snob despite the fact that I have been known to be quite pale at times. As a critic I feel I would be doing an injustice to the audience if I do not mention that there is a virus of mediocrity that is cursing its way through the veins of our slam poetry scene. This is clearly manifested by poets doing poetry for other things rather than poetry’s sake. More and more we are confronted with the reality that our young writers are focusing more on the popularity of the written word rather than using that popularity to manifest genuine original ideas. Which I why I was taken aback when a popular Durban based writer told me that he “only does poetry because it impresses the girls.”
I cringed slightly in my seat but opted to say nothing because after all this is polite conversation and the last thing I want to do is begin some rant about the importance of doing poetry for the “love and passion”. There is a view that genuine intelligence cannot be appreciated, hence you find a common dumbing down in order to accommodate everyone. As a friend of mine pointed out so eagerly recently “a few years ago we were still talking about changing the world, these days we are only talking about surviving in it”.
Admittedly I am only one of many who have become disillusioned with the whole culture. Many poets who at once were essential components of the movement and played a vital part in emphasizing the importance of aesthetic quality are also banging their heads against the walls. Many of them have either shifted with the times (much to their own discontent), moved on to other things and places or they have just dropped out completely.
This has been an issue that has been playing on my mind but I have avoided talking about because it’s a touchy subject. When I was in Grade 5 I was taught two things about poetry and to this day I still believe those things hold true. 1. Poetry is not everyone. I am immediately suspicious of any writer or performer that says that they write for everyone. Such a poet is still perhaps searching for their voice. Which is why I think that poets in Durban should stop trying to please everyone. You don’t see Saul Williams explaining Coded language do you?
2. Collaboration is an important part of the creative process. The issue of collaboration is a dicey one. My alarm is instantly raised when I see the various clicks that are being formed in the scene. Honestly I think everyone needs to calm down and act their age. Poetry is a mature affair and we are not rappers, hence this whole poets beefing with poets thing is never gonna fly. There is a distinct and urgent need for Durban poets to collaborate on projects that are going to add value to their art and ultimately attract a refined and cultured audience to their work. We would love to see more of our established writers taking a keen interest in fostering the young talent that is sprouting up in and around the city. Poetry is an art that translates and records cause and effect, and I fear every time I go to a session and I leave without having my perspective altered in some way.
As I said this has been something that has been playing keenly on my mind, which is why I was quite excited when I heard that Tumelo Khoza was hosting a poetry session that has a slightly different twist to the usual hu-ha that I am sure many poetry lovers have become accustomed to in the city. The Cup O THOUGHT is more than just a session It is an initiative that aims to foster ideas .who cares? I don’t know. Which is why I asked Tumelo why people who have shunned the culture (such as myself) should make their way to a tea garden in Marianhill to listen to a group of writers and run the risk of being disappointed. Speaking on what makes Cup O THOUGHT different Tumelo highlighted that the session was a building block that aims to build a culture of common dialogue about things that matter. “What differs this show to the rest is that it bridges the gaps between the provinces, bringing South African poets together to inspire each other, to teach each other and to learn from each other, but, more than anything else, to touch the people who are not too familiar with poetry from different cultures and communities” said Khoza. She also mentioned how she did not hold my view that the scene was not in good shape, but pointed out that more could be done to help nature new talent. “I don’t think that poetry in Durban has lost it’s essence. There have been plenty poets emerging from different walks of life who’ve come together, who meet on a weekly basis and share the spoken and written word. They may not be seen at shows yet by they will be seen in the very near future.” She said. “The one way that they could be recognised in society’s eye is through performance and publication, Cup O’ Thought is therefore a platform for many performance poets”
What really grabbed me about this was not only the line up nor was it the concept. But rather it was the fact that the event will be seeking engage some of Durban’s poets with established voices from other parts of the province. Something that we are in dire need of. The lineup includes a veracious mixture of Durban’s well know voices such as Ingonyama and Mxolisi “Zulu Love” Mtshali and Tumelo herself as well as other thought leaders from around the country. Including the well know and equally well respected Afurakan. Who will be invading the affair with his well measured spit fire renditions of all things idealistic. So there it is. I am going to attend a poetry session this weekend. And hopefully my trust in the written word will be restored. I will be giving you a penny (or should I say a cup) for my thoughts on the aftermath of the event.