isiXhosa poetry centre stage

"Writers who stick to their language are liberating themselves." So said poet, Mxolisi Nyezwa, at a reading by three Eastern Cape poets at The Eastern Star Gallery last Friday.

The reading was hosted by the National English Literary Museum (NELM) and the Rhodes MA in Creative Writing (MACW), and all three poets - Ayanda Billie, Mangaliso Buzani and Mxolisi Nyezwa - are connected with the MACW programme. 

Nyezwa, one of the MACW teachers, explained the significance of drawing influences from traditional sources, yet still appealing to a more contemporary crowd.

He pointed out that it is important for isiXhosa poets to be grounded in their own language in the same way as English writers are in theirs, but that many poets avoid their mother-tongue because they want to be politically correct or more widely read.

In fact, he says, they should give themselves the freedom of using their own language.

Robert Berold, the coordinator of the MACW, supported his views saying, "The MACW aims to encourage writers to write in the language or mixture of languages in which they can most easily express themselves and reach their audience". 

The audience in this case was extremely enthusiastic as the three read in both isiXhosa and English.

Ayanda Billie stomped the floor, snapped his fingers and sang a chorus in his poetic tribute to Eastern Cape jazz composer Zim Ngqawana.  

His poems, influenced by the late Mafika Gwala, are dedicated to factory workers, Billie himself being a quality inspector at Volkswagen in Uitenhage.  

In his final year of the two-year part-time MACW, he is writing part of his thesis in isiXhosa, while some of his classmates are writing in Afrikaans and Sesotho. 

Mangaliso Buzani followed with poems full of love, surprise and amusement from his recently published book, "Ndisabhala Imibongo".

Buzani, who completed the Rhodes MACW with distinction in 2013, had to stop reading several times because the audience was cheering and laughing.  

Finally Mxolisi Nyezwa read his startling and prophetic isiXhosa poems. 

Nyezwa, who has an international reputation for his English poems, ended with a reading of his poem sequence ‘Malikhanye’, in memory of his deceased infant son.

The reading left many of the audience in tears.

These new directions in isiXhosa poetry represent a break away from traditional forms, with poets now stretching the boundaries of the language. NELM and MACW are planning to hold more such readings in the future.

Ayanda Billie reads performs a poem in English dedicated to the memory of Port Elizabeth-born jazz maestro Zim Ngqawana.

Mangaliso Buzani performs a poem in IsiXhosa, Dlala Moya! Dlala! about the wind playing havoc with a woman’s dress to the delight of surrounding men.


This aricle was published in Grocotts.

Last Modified: Thu, 18 Jun 2015 02:58:41 SAST