Conversations with Neosapien
Donald Neosapien Mokgale is a multifaceted wordsmith. Known for his ability to deliver poems with poise and precision. He has earned himself a reputation as an award winning writer and slam poet. We caught up with him and asked about inspiration, giving up on poetry and his one man play.
MindMap-SA: You started writing poetry in 2003, tell us a little bit about what was the catalyst for that?
I was in grade 10 when I started writing, I was attending a lot of cyphers and I was inspired by how words moved the crowd, I was in awe of how the arrangement and beauty of the words affected us as an audience then I had an epiphany to share my thoughts in a similar fashion. So I started writing about my issues then, the challenges of being a teenager in an age where technology was developing faster than teens were growing pubic hair.
MindMap-SA: You reference a lot of other writers in your poems and writing tell me a little bit about how you have been influenced by other people and their works?
I have been influenced greatly by writers I look up to because of their literary prowess and it is their writing styles that have influenced mine, how they employ their figures of speech, their usage of adjectives as well as how they perform their works, this has helped me find my style and discover what I like and what works for me, I learn a lot from them.
MindMap-SA: You go by the name Neosapien, tell us about that name and its significance?
Neosapien is a pseudonym I created when I was born again as a Christian. I became a new creature in Christ and felt it apropos to create a pseudonym I would go by to communicate this. Neo is a prefix which means new and sapien is a suffix I took from Darwin’s theory of evolution where he says that human beings are homosapiens, so in this context it means human, so when you put it together it means new human. So I write my poetry from neo-perspectives.
MindMap-SA: You took a two year break from poetry tell us a little bit about that?
Wow this break was totally unplanned; to be honest I had quit poetry in these two years because I had lost my poetry book which had poems I had been writing for two years. So I literally gave up and started rapping, I became a lethal lyricist and on my journey to becoming the best in the east rand I met two chaps who I formed a crew with and we called it Planet Universe. I called myself god of intellect and our genre of rap was intellectual. Haha funny enough I still come across people asking me for that material. You can find it on www.reverbnation.com/planetuniverse
MindMap-SA: What made you come back into the scene?
It was God. When I was born again, I immediately started getting invites to compete in poetry slams and my 1st appearance as a poet was in 2009 at the Urban Soul poetry slam where I took 2nd place with only one prepared poem and 2 freestyle poems. The winner was my mentor (in poetry). I have never consciously looked for a gig since because from there my brand started growing and people started inviting me to shows and soon I found myself having won quite a few slams and being recognized by the Joburg poetry scene in ways I did not even imagine.
MindMap-SA: My whole reservation with slam poetry is that it tends to be arbitrary and fall into one of two extremes (consciousness clichés or just meaningless punchlines) what do you think is the significance of pretty today?
Slam poetry is really performance poetry, it’s harder hitting and more in your face than traditional poetry. Its significance is to provoke thought, challenge the status quo, commentate on societal ills and current events, suggest ways to improve society, educate and inspire, entertain and inform. Africa is the birth place of storytelling and slam is a neo-form of the ancient art of storytelling.
MindMap-SA: As a poet I am sure many strange things have happened to you, tell us a little bit about some of the experiences you have had as performer?
Wow where do I begin…I remember an epic performance I had in Pretoria and after I completed my set the audience yelled “we want more!!” constantly and pushed me back on stage and the host told me that I was not going to be allowed to leave until I gave them more as per their request. After this performance I received one of the most humbling of ovations ever, just when I thought my night was made, I received a marriage proposal after that…to date I am still swimming in incredulity at that occurrence.
MindMap-SA: How do you prepare for a performance?
I pray. I recite the poem(s) as many times as I can, then I record myself on my cellphone and listen to myself until I start grasping them poem. I do this daily until I have grasped the poem, then I start rehearsing the actual performance. I do breathing and physical exercises in between and perform the work until I find it entertaining, then I know it’s ready. But prayer is really my secret weapon.
MindMap-SA: Tell us about your writing style, what informs it?
My writing style is informed by my thoughts on society, my diction and how I speak the English language. The verbiage of writers from yesteryear, I love wordplay. I always say “my toy cars were dictionaries and that’s how I discovered wordplay”.
MindMap-SA: What are some of the projects and initiatives you are working on?
I am currently working on my album which will have 15 tracks, 5 of which are poems while the 10 is neo-soul rap music. I am also writing my book which will be a compilation of all the articles I have been writing from 2007; these articles are my narratives on society and predominantly relationships, some of them have been published on www.ilikewhatiwrite.co.za and www.consciousness.co.za. I am also working with Spoken Mind (poetry organisation) together with Pledge a pad (charity organisation) to raise funds to buy children school books in Pretoria. Then I am part of Phiwe productions’ 21 Poets and a poem and I also work with The LazarusMan on a project we call Slam the city, where we take poetry in non-traditional spaces such as clubs and restaurants and so forth.
MindMap-SA: You are a multi-award winning slam poet, how do you mould your work in order to stay consistent and relevant?
I read a lot, I converse with lots of different people about everything, I listen to talk radio, I listen to music, I pray and let God lead me to write material that will be relevant. I also allow myself to absorb life as it comes, this always inspires good works.
MindMap-SA: Tell us a little bit about Thoughts of stranger and how the concept and idea for that came about?
Thoughts of a stranger was a one man play I put together and the idea was to showcase the thoughts of the various strangers we walk by on a daily basis. I played 13 different characters on stage, each character with a poem talking about their life/thoughts. I had the idea while travelling on a taxi, I was looking outside at the various people in Jo’burg, each one commuting to their destination and was fascinated by how each person has a story to tell and that while we are busy focusing on where we are going, we forget that. So I was inspired to conscientize people of that fact through poetry.
MindMap-SA: The one man play is very difficult to pull off cause it’s just you, how did you prepare for that role?
Wow it was very challenging! I had to research each character, I had to look for outfits for them, I had to learn the material every night before I went to bed since I had a full time job. I would even squeeze in time to rehearse during my lunch breaks, so I basically used up all the time available to me to rehearse the work and lastly, my secret weapon…I prayed…hard!
MindMap-SA: Are there any plans to revive it in the future?
No, I feel I need to create new works, come up with new fresh concepts. That play has done its part and now it’s time to move on to bigger and better things.
MindMap-SA: You have often commented on how you are not happy with the state of poetry, can you tell us what you mean by this?
Yes I dislike that poetry is not regarded as an industry by the government, how uneducated a lot of corporate companies are about it and its impact, how the poets who are currently ‘successful’ aren’t really aiding in repositioning poetry as the dynamic life source it is. Poets have a lot of work to do and it saddens me when they think poetry shows are the only place where they belong. There is a lot of support lacking in this industry, as a poet you practically have to fend for yourself and you can’t live as a poet either.
MindMap-SA: What do you think needs to be done in order make sure that the poetry scene starts to improve again?
A good start would be to set up a body in the country where all poetry matters can be discussed, where workshops can be held and where a database of exceptional poets can be found, here all corporate companies as well as government can contact this body when looking for poets to perform at events such xmas parties, award ceremonies, mergers you name it. Government needs to inject some of the arts & culture finances into it; these will open doors for bigger partnerships with NGO’s to educate society and raise awareness and funds for them and corporates who are already investing in the arts like Standard Bank. This will not only aid in nation building but will also ensure that poets are remunerated for their excellence. This is just the beginning; don’t get me started about festivals and how that links with national heritage.
MindMap-SA: What are some of the plans and initiatives you are working on for the future?
I am planning on going to the US to visit and perform there, I would like to perform at the legendary Nuyorican café and Def Poetry Jam maybe even enter the Young Urban Voices slam. I would also like to compile my anthology of poems and publish it (I’ve had too many requests for this), I am planning on working more closely with the government and corporates to educate them about what poetry can do and open channels for funding for poets as well. I would like to get on more platforms and be exposed more, be on television shows, radio shows, magazines and get my brand out there; I want to make a monumental impact in this country. I am also going to start following my passion in acting, just to name a few things.