Friday, January 8, 2016

Shambie Mpho responds

Shambie Mpho: Identity crisis has always defined me. I was born Mpho Victor Moropane (my great-grandfather's surname who raised me) in the bundus of South Africa, at a village called Shatale in Bushbuckridge. My bioligical father's surname is Sedibe yet later on I became Dibakoane (my step-father's son) and that was the parental rejection I went through all my life. No one really wanted to take responsibility of me. Consequently I became deeply critical of life and started questioning God. I am a University of Cape Town drop-out (1994 doing a Bachelor of Arts in preparation for a law degree), but have always been a writer from as early as 6 years (since I was an introvert, writing became my voice and an outlet to vent). I have sporadically published some of my poetry pieces and have performed alongside great poets and artists like Don Mattera, Dennis Brutus (late), Nadine Gordimer (late), Mafika Gwala, Robert Berold, Kgafela oa Magogodi, Lesego Rampolokeng etc.

DV: Is poetry an important part of South African culture? How did you personally get started writing poetry?

SM: Poetry, though not fully supported as seriously as it should be, is a very important part of the South African culture. I first became more interested in it during the apartheid era, sneaking into halls to listen to local poets recite pieces of Mtubaruka, Don Mattera, Langston Hughes, Can Themba, Casey Motsitsi, Ruyard Kipling, Allan Patton, Dambudzo Marechera etc.I believe that's when I really felt profoundly captured and hypnotised by how hard-hitting and magical the spoken word is! It became both spiritually and mentally fulfilling (as though an internal void has finally been filled!), it was so deep and inborn that I could hardly go a day without penning something poetic, just to get rid of the permanent bug inside! So yes, I guess that's how I started, during the apartheid years in the late eighties (88/89), in my early teens.

DV: I'm surprised that long-dead poets like the American Langston Hughes or the British "imperialist" Rudyard Kipling, who is best known for his stories about India, made such a profound impression on your early years. What do you think, poetically speaking, you have taken from these Western writers?

SM: Well, I believe that the love of your art would have you raising ghosts and digging into graves to search for lost meaning, and trying to patch up the past with the present, so you could map out the future! I guess stumbling into these classic poets was unintentional, it happened that with a mind always occupied by my craft, also being an avid reader (from food to basketball) I came across the writings of these powerful poets and I could not have asked for more! I remember IF (by Rudyard Kipling) and Good Morning Revolution (by Langston Hughes) both left an indelible mark in my psyche, and reading their works further taught me to remain myself in my writings, to be the writer that I am without self-censorship, to remain original in my quest to find my voice! Perhaps, to even reflect things as I see them without fear and not present them the way I think people should see them! Again, to be honest with my feelings without fear and to balance them with thought! It would be unfair not to also mention Robert Frost!

DV: Before we move on, what would you like to say about Frost?

SM: Yes, I also felt attached to Frost's work, especially the poem The Road Not Taken. I found him both deeply spiritual in that particular poem, and witty. There's something in his writings that feels yonder and poignant yet therapeutic! I rate him as one of the greatest poets I've ever read, besides the Pulitzer Prizes and his association with the great publicist Ezra Pound! He is definitely one of my earliest influences from my elementary years!

DV: A lot of your childhood parallels my own. Reading was always a highway to somewhere else, and writing allowed me to create that "somewhere" or at least locate it. Can you remember the first thing you wrote? I'm not asking if you can recite it from memory, but what did it feel like to do it?

SM: Yes I do! It was similar to a piece I once read by Don Mattera, a question directed to God, asking Him not to cry when I take off my shirt to expose my internal wounds...for who wants a wailing God? It was an innocent childish piece but very heartfelt because it reflected my whole feelings consolidated as one. After each and every piece I wrote henceforth, I felt the release of a burden and the warm sensation of toxins released! Very peaceful and rejuvenating!

DV:  That must have been about 15 years ago. In the time that has elapsed since then, what have you learned about the craft of writing poetry? Do you still get the same kick as when you wrote that one?
SM: Well, I have done a lot of things in my life workwise, from odd jobs to office work (Dept. of Justice), but all along in my work I find myself reciting the process! There is no way that I'll do a thing without feeling its rhythm and pulse, to the detriment of its progress in record time. I'll then subconsciously look beyond the product, deep into its heartbeat, which means I don't finish on time since I hold on to the song in it that only I can hear and the beauty that only I can see! In everything I do or come across I see beauty, be it mortuary trays to nature and its vegetation! I can safely say I am more conscious of my surroundings than ever before, which means I draw more inspiration from society than I used to. And that urges me to reflect, and the only way I  know how is through poetry! Which means I am more poetic than ever before!

DV: That sound like a very mystical way of being. You said that you were skeptical of religion when poetry entered your soul. So I wonder: what is your attitude towards God, and do you think it affects your writing?

SM: You know, growing up you go through a lot of processes that leave you with more questions than answers; my skepticism towards God was as a result of those processes. I believe it was a stage where I realised there really was "someone"above us, someone bigger than us, but that someone seemed silent to my situation and the injustices meted out to me! And I gathered from people around me that the guy in charge of us and life was named God. Yet people seemed not to question Him, instead they glorified Him even in their pain; fine, I also will glorify Him...but He needed to answer me after all the dancing is done! I believed in my tiny mind that I stuck to my end of the deal, but this big guy seemed stubborn to respond! So I wrote Him letters cause I thought maybe talk is cheap or perhaps I was too quick in prayer for God to grasp what I meant. But as I grew up I began to see and understand that God was actually beside me all along, talking, answering, saving and blessing me in ways different from my expectations! I also learned that I have been looking for Him in wrong places when He was actually living in me, He was always here, full of humour! And now He's my friend, more like a tag-team I guess.

DV: Has this relationship informed your writing in any specific, concrete sort of way?

SM: Yes it has, to the extent that I meditate and talk to God before and after writing any piece. There are feelings I have and things I see that I think are deeper than what the eye could see, things so profound it can only be a superior power directing me to them. As a result, I recently wrote more than 10 poems either saluting or casually conversing with God, in our own little space! Yes, God has become the bigger part of my craft, though I think He sometimes wishes me to shut up just for once! I think I talk too!

DV: What are your other main sources of inspiration?

SM: Just life in general inspires me. But I seem to perform better under pain! I seem to reflect pain better than joy, maybe because pain is all I know for the better part of my life! Though I do talk about the beauty of life, I mostly find it fake and I hate fakes! In a nutshell, I am more inspired by hardships.

DV: I think most writers of poetry would agree with you. Most poems seem to be about broken hearts and deaths, and I suppose broken hearts are a form of emotional death. And love poems -- but these are usually neurotic wish-fulfillments rather than odes to domestic bliss. It's hard to find happy poets or successful happy poems not intended to be humorous. What about your work schedule? Do you write every day, or keep a journal? Are you a hard-core reviser of your work, or more of a one-take artist?

SM: Exactly, you have amplified my thoughts and feelings...neatly summed them up! Brokenness define us! Yes, depending on my mental set-up, I would ideally write every day. Sometimes I do, sometimes I just observe to get a clearer picture of things, until I put words and meaning to it. I have my poetry journal, that I've been keeping for years, tattered but priceless! Every jolting feeling I have, I put pen on paper. I can't really move from being a poet to a critic or teacher or something. Though I have opinions and at times feel to advise, I seem to be stuck in my own shell, unless someone approaches for help which I may have, I remain in my poetic cocoon!

DV: Your comments and responses to what is published here would certainly be welcome! I guess we are close to the end of this session. Is there anything you would like to say to the readers of this blog?

SM: I guess for starters, I would like to thank you Duane, for affording us the platform to reach a broader audience through our poetry! I believe that it is through platforms like these that we are able to interact with fellow writers and poets and exchange ideas, cultural backgrounds etc, on a larger scale. I also would like more poets to come on board and remain active in reading and criticising other people's work, so we can grow and learn more. Poetry is a mission not a competition. We are the mirrors of society. Through it we build, destroy, expose, heal, incite, curb, you name it. To some of us it's even therapy, an outlet to vent either anger (pain) or joy! Let's just remain focused and vigilant in rooting out and correcting the ills of society. The world depends on us, we are the voice for the voiceless, if the voiceless need a voice. Our impact lasts forever.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Join the conversation! What is your reaction to the post?