by AE Ballakisten
Listen to Lebo Mashile to get a grounded, sober view of life as a poet and what it takes to succeed. Like any artist of substance, Lebo talks with sincerity, her depth of insight delivered in simple words; she’s not here to impress, she’s here to do what few writers do, to open herself to her appreciative fans.
On a cloudless Saturday afternoon in Pretoria, I have the indulgent pleasure, along with a packed audience, of an open discussion between Lebo Mashile and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers. I’m biased of course, I am a serious Phillippa fan, she has serenaded my soul many times with lines that nourish the spirit and tickle the ears with sweet soft sprays of sunlight. She is the mirror that we must all look into, the dancer whose contortions we must mimic, the poet whose wisdom we all must put in our pipes and smoke slowly, eternally. But today we’re here to celebrate Lebo Mashile and so Phillippa plays host, interviewer and chief praise songstress.
Lebo starts by talking about being open, about listening, and instantly I’m hooked. “Poetry is like eavesdropping on the text messages that the universe is whispering …” now I’m nodding and smiling. I believe that the poet is the scribe of the spirit, but only Lebo can create such powerful images to bring ideas, emotions, thoughts into three dimensions. She is smiling too, this is where she wants to be, this is where she must be, this is her life, she is a poet in a human body. But she is clear, and emphasises repeatedly, that the craft of poetry requires massive effort, hard work, and discipline, like any other craft. This is the real Lebo speaking, she’s talking about sweat, about tears and sacrifice. Open to the text messages of the universe and willing to invest the effort to craft those messages into poetry – this is what I’m hearing her say. It is grounded, it is sober, and it is inspiring.
Here are a few whispered text messages that I eavesdropped from the Lebo universe:
The poet and her craft
“Passion for language, passion for humanity”
“I worship at the altar of literature”
“Love of reading is essential to being a poet, to being a writer, in fact to be good at anything”
“You need commitment to your craft”
The poet as person
“Movement and space shape who we are”
“As an artist you can create your own life, free from the conventional rules”
Books and poems
“Books are a communal experience”
“Every poem has DNA of its own and the DNA of the poet”
And then we are drawn into the golden circle, the private club, the VIP room where Lebo Mashile is singing her songs, her rolling, rising, falling, dripping, gliding, soaring, swaying songs that wakens your soul to the colours of beauty that would embarrass even the brightest rainbow.
I draw my head back down to earth while applause roars from the audience. I know that we can only inspire if we are inspired. Today I have heard the poetry of an inspired poet.