by Lebogang Mampie
Art imitates life. Depending on which school of thought you embrace, life imitates art. Whichever way you look at it, life and art come together in an aesthetic amalgamation that pleases and appeases the senses. That was the experience on Saturday, 27 August in a trendy Africafé in Sunnyside, Pretoria.
What started out as skepticism on my part about poets competing with one another slowly grew to appreciation, to admiration, then inspiration. It was the Intervarsity Spoken Mind competition. The eight contestants were from Tshwane University of Technology’s Street Poets Society and the University of Pretoria’s Penseed Poets and Writers Forum – four from each institution.
Walking away with first place was TUT Street Poet contestant, Given “Illustrative” Masilela who won himself a Writers Write Course worth over R5000, a Sony Handycam, books from Lebogang Mashile, Rantoloko Molokoane, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers and Natalia Molebatsi. Second place went to Phomolo “Flex” Sekamotho, also from TUT and third and fourth place to Lwazi (UP) and Tumi (UP) respectively.
The affair was a journey of the soul; into the hearts and minds of aspiring young poets, poets whose desire it is to change the social status quo and spark a revolution towards a new way of being, a new manner of existence. The apparent absence of female participants provided for a very one-sided view and mode of expression on society and its ills.
Judging the contestants was Myesha Jenkins Phillippa Yaa de
Villiers, Natalia Molebatsi (who had to leave early) and Raphael d’Abdon with Thabiso “Afurakan” Mohare as mc.
The competition proved to be intense and the judges appeared to have tough decisions to make. “Judging a poetry competition is a big responsibility because you’re dealing with people’s dreams” said Phillippa. The contradiction inherent in a poetry competition is that art is subjective; it is portrayed through the perspective of the artist and interpreted through yet another subjective view held by the observer.
So how does one judge a poetry competition? ‘Objectively’ responds Myesha, “as a contestant you need to ensure that you have all the elements in place: good content, good delivery and paying attention to the construction of the piece through good use of language.”
Matthew Mokoena, founder of the Spoken Mind, explains that his aim with the competition was to use poetry as a medium to facilitate social change. “First we need to remove the ‘ego’ from words, plant a new seed and show the world that poets aren’t just about expression, but about changing people’s lives.”
The main point of a poetry competition is to add value to poets, to grow and develop their talents and not to put the poet down.
“A lot of work still needs to be done” added Afurakan “it’s exciting to see that young people are in love with words and the challenge is to provide them with the skills to use those words effectively. The subject matter needs to expand and be more versatile as people write more and more about everyday things.”
Diversity, in writing for delivery, is something I have noticed is not very prevalent, especially at the competition. Through the years I have attended and been involved in poetry sessions and events, the content and contexts have remained relatively similar. The growth and expansion of content to which Afurakan refers is imperative. Not only does the content need to evolve, the way in which it is asserted also needs to diversify.
Righteous indignation screams a poet’s passionate stance and expresses his/her certainty about the way the world is and how it should be, yet nothing in the world is certain. What I am pleased has changed however, is the face of the poet. Earnest young people from all walks of life with a burning desire to be heard are coming out of the woodworks and imprinting their messages on those who care to listen.
It occurred to me a while ago, that poetry was becoming a fad, the latest trend, and that anyone who could string words side by side and make them rhyme thought (or branded) themselves a poet. This was not so on Saturday. Poetry has changed her mind about the way in which she wants to be presented and represented, she has declared that she will not be sullied by insincere con-artists pretending to love the art form; that he will continue to rise above mediocrity and affirm his existence to the world in a manner that honours and embraces all.
The performing artists: Vangile Gantsho, Rantoloko “The Truth” Molokoane, Afurakan, Donald “Neosapian” Mokgale to mention but a few, gave the contestants and audience a glimpse of the verity that words can hold, of the diversity that forms of expression can take on. One could not possibly have left untouched by their talent.
It bears mention that despite the fact that a winner emerged, there are still leaps and bounds that need to be taken and diversified regarding slam/competitive poetry. Matthew emphasized that through this competition every single participant was rewarded, not because they were winners, but because they were never losers to begin with.