Poetry in Malawi has seen a major face lift, with people learning to accept English poetry as much as they accept that done in venac. This has seen the start of movements such as the Sapitwa and Vilipanganga in the major cities of the country. At the same time, there has been tremendous patronage to support the craft. However, this done not come as smooth as honey, there are still a bit of challenges being face. Therefore, I had a chance of interviewing three beautiful women, who are passionate about poetry, to discuss the face of the art in Malawi and the engagement or involvement of women in the craft. The ladies are:
They had interesting views to share, digest with an open mind and learn.
When did you start writing and what motivated you to write poetry specifically?
Ati: I started writing poetry in 2016 and what motivated me was a friend of mine who saw my interest in writing who then suggested that I try out poetry.
Tamiwe: I started writing when I was around 7 years old. I was always a reader and decided to not just read but write too. I always wanted to be a writer when I grew. I got more interested in poetry in my first year of college. I dated a guy who got me so interested in poetry and I just never stopped writing.
Thoko: I’ve always been a writer. Right from when I was a kid I would just scribble stuff everywhere and find freedom in my ability to voice out my emotions through words. However, I started writing poetry back in 2009. I had just started secondary school and was a misfit who was continually bullied and teased for being a misfit. After realizing that I had no one to talk to, I started writing poetry and filing it in the hope of finding an emotional outlet for all those heavy emotions.
Have you ever thought of making poetry your actual career?
Ati: I have never really thought of making poetry my career, I’d rather use it as a way of coming across and securing different opportunities.
Tamiwe: Down the line, that is something I see myself doing. Writing is such a huge part of me.
Thoko: Not really, although poetry has its own way of manifesting itself in everything I do. Because my work is usually intertwined with all these other facets of creative expression, I usually find myself including my poetic side in my work.
What difficulties do you find with the Malawian publications industry with poetry? Is mainstream publication easy?
Ati: Poetry is something I feel is not taken seriously compared to music. When it comes to publications, there isn’t really a sole poetry publisher but rather small sections in the newspapers. Due to this, it is not easy to publish work mainstream.
Tamiwe: I think there isn’t really a space in the publications industry for new generation poetry. Getting your name there enough and being able to publish your publish your collections and have people read it isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.
Thoko: I love how the media has found ways of including poetry, like radios with poetry shows and newspapers with poem segments. However, I feel that people have found satisfaction in having poetry as an addition to something else and not as a stand alone art. This perception makes it hard to vie for more – a bigger audience, bigger airspace, more poetry shows – and that directly affects the cycle of publishing poems and/or building a career out it
What is your thought about the gap between poetry done in venac (Chichewa) and that done in English, and their patronage?
Ati: I feel as though there really isn’t a balance between vernac and English poetry. It seems as though most young people want to emulate international poets and lose touch of their culture.
Tamiwe: I think poetry in our local languages is outstanding and it has gained popularity recently in the spoken word scene more than in written poetry. I personally write in both Chichewa and English and I want to do more of it.
Thoko: I don’t feel like there is much of an agonizing gap in all honesty. For the vernacular poets we have there’s also a good number of poets that write in English. There is a good balance and because there’s no pressure to write in one particular language, the reception and delivery of both has been good.
Being that we are all poets, what is your thought on female involvement in poetry?
Ati: Female involvement has been very low but there are more and more female poets coming into the limelight.
Tamiwe: I actually know more female poets than I do males. Maybe we have a lot to say and poetry is how we do that. I think women are doing quite well on the poetry scene although in the past male poets were more widely known.
Thoko: I know a lot of female poets, but for some reason they are not as popular as their male counterparts. However, I’m not sure if this is a fault of the women not pushing their art as much as males do, or a fault of society not creating as much of an inclusive environment for women to recite.
If the involvement is low, what are some of the issues attributing to that?
Ati: It could be because of the inability to express certain things due to fear. Poetry allows one to express themselves, past experiences and some females may fear to do so because they are afraid of what those close to them might think.
Tamiwe: There is of course more room for female poets but I think a lot of them are closet poets and just do not know how to really put their work our there.
Thoko: I personally think it’s women not pushing their art. The majority of the female poets I know, myself included, don’t feel the need or pressure to be ‘out there’ with their poetry and so they won’t put in work and will be okay with reciting without getting large scale recognition for their work.
And for those of us already doing poetry, are we doing the needful to uplift each other while also encouraging those on the blink of giving up?
Ati: I honestly feel as though we are not really helping each other. I feel like those poets who feel as though they’ve made it in the poetry scene do not really take account of upcoming poets but rather focus on fellow well knowns.
Tamiwe: I would like to think I am because people did the same for me and helped me get out of my shell and grow my voice as a poet. I still think I could do more.
Thoko: I personally encourage fellow poets to keep on working on themselves and their art, especially when I see them slacking. I’ve never encountered anyone that wanted to or was on the brink of giving up on poetry, and perhaps that is due to people not wanting to open up about their struggles.
And what of our education system, are our curricula set in ways to inspire more writers?
Ati: Our curriculum does help in improving our writing skills. However, they are not really set up in ways to improve skills for those wanting to be professional writers. They have to find their own means.
Tamiwe: I remember reading the The Unsung Song, Looking for a Rain God and other literature by African writers in secondary school. That visibility of African writers in my education really helped shape my voice and show me that this dream of being a writer wasn’t too far-fetched. I think that visibility is a gift to young aspiring writers.
Thoko: I think our system is more of a “learn what you need to learn and do what you need to do to succeed” type of system as opposed to one that harnesses and encourages talents and gifts in children. If you are an artist, you fight to make it as an artist. School doesn’t teach you how to be an artist or how to survive and thrive in the world as an artist. You either enroll in school to learn all that or you learn it all on your own.
What purpose does poetry serve?
Ati: Poetry serves many purposes. It allows people to express themselves and tell their story in a more creative way. It can also be use to sensitize people on current issues the world is facing for example gender based violence.
Tamiwe: For me, poetry is how I talk to people. How I tell the stories in my life as art. It is how I show people what is going on in my head and my heart, and possibly what is going on in theirs. I like to say, poetry is like an open heart surgery done in front of the whole world.
Thoko: I think poetry, as are other creative expressions, serves as a voice of the people. Each and every piece carries an emotion or story that someone relates to and more often than not, this is someone who would have not or can not articulate themselves as well as a poet. Like radio or TV personalities, musicians or sculptors, poets are the people’s voice.
Are the current movements doing enough to bring necessary attention to the craft?
Ati: I feel as though they are not doing enough.
Tamiwe: We definitely could do way more.
Thoko: There has been an increase in poetry shows, inclusion of poetry in artistic shows, and just a general increase of platforms aimed at exposing poets and their art. Websites and blogs geared at the same exist now, and I feel ike we are on the right path to getting more people into the world of poetry, and that’s a beautiful thing. Can more be done? Of course. There’s always room for improvement. But I am happy with what we have going on now as a country, and I’m looking forward to bigger and better exploits.
What doors has poetry opened for you?
Ati: Poetry has first of all gotten me a chance to meet so many people and appreciate their talent. With poetry, I have been able to publish my work in the local papers, an online magazine and an anthology. I have also been able to recite my pieces on radio and worked with very talented poets. Most importantly, poetry has allowed me to grow confident.
Tamiwe: Wouldn’t know how best to answer this question aside from the fact that it has helped me to speak up about the things I care about.
Thoko: I’m one of those poets that people term “closet poets”. But even then, I feel like poetry has allowed me the gift of sharing my emotions and thoughts with others. It is always delighting when after a show someone comes and tells you that they relate to your piece(s) or love how you write. I have received offers to work with other poets and artists, and though I declined, I am assured that more opportunities and a bigger platform, should I ever feel the need to have those, are available to me – all thanks to poetry.
One of a poet’s nightmare is writer’s block, how do you overcome it?
Ati: Looking for inspiration is my way of overcoming it.
Tamiwe: Well, I try to never force it. If the words won’t come to me, I let them be. I’ll try to listen to good music, I’ll really think about what I want to write what I am feeling, why I am feeling it, what I want to say about that and then I write. Whatever it is I write might not be a perfect poem in that sense, but now I have it on paper. I can iron our the edges and make it what I want it to be. And if none of that works, then the words will still be there tomorrow.
Thoko: I don’t. Poetry and anything literal for me is more emotion based, and so I would rather go a week without writing than trying to crack my skull over something that flows out of me naturally. Writing is like a river; it won’t stop flowing just because some rocks blocked its path. The water will find a way to flow anyway even without the aid of someone trying to remove the rocks. People should stop fighting writer’s block and allow themselves the pleasure of basking in the myriad of emotions it comes with – these serve as inspiration too.
Your 3 biggest poets in the country?
Ati: Q. Malewezi, Robert Chiwamba and Phindu Banda
Tamiwe: Wendy Hara, Upile Chisala, Phinduzaie Banda
Thoko: Mirriam Nkosi (Mimi), Upile Chisala (Being Upile) and Marumbo Sichinga, in no particular order.
Would you love to see more female collaborations?
Ati: Yes I really would
Tamiwe: I definitely would. I want to do more of them too.
Thoko: I wouldn’t mind seeing more female collaborations although this isn’t something I would necessarily push for unless there is something outstanding that makes women not want to work together. Other than that, I feel that people should be granted creative expression without feeling the pressure of having to work with a certain sex or a certain type of artist just because that is what society is pushing for. Art is about the quality of, the purpose of, and the art itself, not sex.
What body of work should we be expecting from you?
Ati: Written poetry, spoken word, articles and short stories for now.
Tamiwe: Let’s just say i’m cooking up some stuff. And i’m excited about my next collection
Thoko: I have a book titled Dear Dear Woman and it’s coming out next year. To sum it up, it takes the form of a memoir and inspiration/self-help book. I shared my stories in the hope of making other women’s journeys easier, intentional and purposeful. It is what I wish I would have been told when I was trying to make sense of life and is low-key a letter, hence the name. The plus side? I have included excerpts of some of my poetry and so poetry lovers will get some extra lovin’!
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Please read Tamiwe’s Poetry collection ‘Mpendadzuwa’ by following this link: